White House officials and Sen. Paul Hatfield (D-Mont.) denied yesterday a published report that the lame-duck lawmaker has been offered a federal judgeship if he will vote for the administration-backed compromise on natural gas prioring.
In a statement issued by his Washington office, Hatfield, who is vacationing in Montana, called the report in the Detriot News "absolutely untrue." He said the report "may be an attempt to intimidate me on this important issue" but did not say who he believes is responsible.
"It's ridiculous, it's just not true," said White House press secretary Jody Powell.
Hatfield, appointed this year to fill out the term of the late Sen. Lee Metcalf, was defeated in the June 6 primary by Rep. Max Baucus, so his term expires in January.
The Detroit News Washington bureau quoted an unidentified Energy Department official as confirming the judgeship deal.
"The offer was extended to Hatfield. . . in exchange for his vote on the natural gas bill," the official was quoted as saying. "If he accepts the judgeship, we assume he will vote for the compromise."
U.S. District Court Judge Russell E. Smith of Montana has announced his intention to retire at the end of this year.
David Turch, Hatfield's press secretary, said Hatfield has said he would be interested in the judgeship, if it were offered to him, along with "several options within and without the government" that he is considering.
Hatfield is a former state judge and former chief justice of the Montana Supreme Court.
The News quoted Turch as saying Hatfield had been contacted about the upcoming judicial vacancy without specifying by whom. Turch yesterday denied ever saying that.
"I am aware of no contacts," he said.
Another Hatfield aide, Tom Boland, said it "can't be denied" that Hatfield is highly qualified for a federal judgeship. But of the reported deal on the gas bill he said, "That's garbage."
Carter is in the midst of an all-out drive to win passage of the natural gas pricing compromise, an issue in which he had invested much of his personal and political prestige.
Yesterday, the White House released the text of a letter the president has sent to all members of the Senate asserting that "our nation's international reputation and economic well-being are at stake. The ability of Congress to enact into law a national energy policy has become, in the eyes of many, a test of our nation's will."