The Justice Department has been investigating whether a group of Georgians violated a federal law when they were paid by fugitive financier Robert Vesco to approach Carter administration officials about his legal problems, a spokesman said yesterday.
White House aides Hamilton Jordan, President Carter's closest adviser, and Richard Harden were interviewed by FBI agents about a month ago, other officials said. They were questioned about reports that they had been approached by Spencer Lee IV, an Albany, Ga., lawyer friend, on Vesco's behalf.
A column released over the weekend by Jack Anderson said both Jordan and another Carter confidant, Atlanta lawyer Charles Kirbo, were involved in what was first termed a "$10 million political fix."
Both vigorously disputed the allegations.
But Lee has acknowledged that he accepted money for representing Vesco for trying to arrange meetings with administration officials.
Vesco fled the United States after being indicted on charges that he plundered a publicly held corporation and then tried to buy his way out of legal problems with a $200,000 gift to the Nixon campaign in 1972. Efforts to extradite him from Costa Rica and the Bahamas, where he is living now, failed.
A likely focus of the Justice Department inquiries would be whether Lee or his associates tried to obstruct justice in their attempts to help Vesco with his current legal problems.
Justice spokesman Terry Adamson said in answer to a query that "certain aspects of the matters alleged by Mr. Anderson have been for several months, and are, the subject of Department of Justice investigation." He said it would be "inappropriate" to furnish additional details on the case.
The department's usual policy is not even to comment on the existence of investigations. Adamson said a departure was made in this instance because the public interest is served "by assuring that matters of this sort can be handled in the regular channels of the department's responsibilities."
He added that he hoped Anderson would turn over his documentation about the alleged political fix to the department for referral to the Criminal Division.
Anderson said in a phone interview that he showed his evidence to Attorney General Griffin B. Bell, Deputy Attorney General Benjamin R. Civiletti, and other Justice Department aides in a lengthy meeting Sunday night.
"They made comments that they would proceed with a grand jury investigation, and call the FBI in," Anderson said. He said he was unable to turn over the documentation, however, until he delivered it to a member of Congress at the request of his sources on the story.
Anderson also said he asked the officials why White House aide Harden had not reported Lee's approach to authorities. Harden has told reporters that Lee met with him in February 1977, and said "this group had offered him a large sum of money to represent Vesco and to arrange meetings."
Harden added that he warned Lee then that the association with Vesco would hurt him. He could not be reached yesterday to explain why he did not report the contact to others.
In a telephone interview yesterday from the Camp David summit, Jordan said he had been questioned by the FBI several weeks ago about the Vesco matter. On Sunday, however, he had told reporters at a White House briefing that he had not been so questioned by bureau agents.
"I was thinking in contemporaneous terms, since all this broke out about myself," he said. "I certainly gave the wrong impression. I didn't mean to."
Jordan said he was questioned by FBI agents for "about five minutes" four or five weeks ago. "They asked if I'd ever been approached (about Vesco) and I said no," he said.
He added that he had read about Lee's approach to Harden in a July article in the Atlanta Constitution and assumes that led the agents to question Harden too.
The Constitution story said that Lee had been hired by R.I., Herring, a Georgia businessman with ties to Vesco. Herring has since been indicted on federal fraud and bribery charges in an unrelated case, the FBI has been combing his records for months. Thus it is possible they turned up information about the Vesco dealings during that inquiry.
Jordan has hired well-known Washington attorney Edward Bennett Williams and hinted at libel action against Anderson. Williams represents The Washington Post - a possible defendant in any suit. He also has represented Vesco. He could not be reached yesterday for comment about the possible conflict of interest.