White House aide Joel McCleary, responding to a question from a group of Pembroke State University students, said today that President Carter's decision to build the blockbuster MX mobile missile is a political maneuver "wasting billions of dollars to placate" conservatives in Congress.
McCleary, deputy assistant for political liaison at the White House, made his remarks in response to a question on the missile and the strategic arms limitation treaty (SALT II) talks and signing ceremony in Vienna.
When McCleary opened his presentation before a group of about 50 persons in the college auditorium, he was asked if the proposed $30 billion MX land-based missile was a political ploy to pacify conservatives in Congress so they will support the SALT II agreement.
"Yes, you could say to a cetain extent we are wasting billions of dollars to placate that particular group in Congress," he replied. "But we will be saving billions of dollars because if the [conservatives] had their way, what we would spend [on defense] is mind boggling."
Later McCleary told the only reporter present at the speech that his remarks were intended to be off the record. However, no such understanding was reached before McCleary spoke.
A spokesman at the White House denied that political motivation was Carter's reason for approving the missile and said he did not believe Mccleary made such a statement.
"Not being there, it's kind of hard to comment on that," said Jim Purks, aide to presidential press secretary Jody Powell, "but that's not the motivation behind the administration's decision on the MX. I kind of doubt he said it. I don't know. Joel will have to speak for himself."