The political problems of President Carter and his chief of staff Hamilton Jordan deepened last night as CBS devoted the opening six minutes of its evening news telecast to a recitation of allegations that cocaine was used at a Beverly Hills party attended by some Carter White House aides and advisers.
White House officials have strongly denied that cocaine was used by any of the Carter assistants at the party, which occurred after a Democratic party fund-raising dinner in Los Angeles Oct. 22, 1977.
There were no major disclosures in the report, which aired on the CBS Evening News show that features Walter Cronkite. But the lengthy and prominent play of the story to a national television audience focused public attention on the allegations to a greater degree than before.
"That's the most horrible thing I've ever seen in my life, for CBS to have done that," said White House press secretary Jody Powell. He said CBS told him yesterday afternoon of its intention to air the story. "We begged them to wait," he said, adding that Jordan's attorneys have statements from people at the party denying there was any cocaine used by the presidential advisers.
Powell added that the CBS decision to highlight the Jordan-cocaine allegations "just provides a forum for someone with political motives to try to smear someone's reputation."
CBS quoted Jordan as saying he will not resign or take a leave of absence as White House chief of staff, even if the Justice Department seeks a special prosecutor to investigate the allegations that he used cocaine at the Beverly Hills party or allegations that he used cocaine, in the New York City disco, Studio 54, in June 1978.
The CBS telecast featured comments about the Beverly Hills party by the host Leo Wyler, and Harold Willens, both liberal Democrats who broke with Carter politically early this year and have been seeking an alternative candidate for the 1980 campaign.
Wyler repeated what he told newspaper reporters last week, saying the White House aides were "licentious" and that people at the party were talking about "hits," which he took to mean the use of drugs.
Willens told CBS he later spoke of the party behavior to someone at the White House who was "very high in the administration."
The network identified that person as Dr. Peter Bourne, Carter's former adviser on drug policy. Bourne resigned in July 1978, after admitting he had given a prescription to an aide using a false name for the patient. Willens said he told Bourne of the use of drugs and the "licentious" behavior, but Bourne told him there was nothing negative he could say to Carter about Jordan that would have any effect.
CBS said Bourne confirmed he dined with Willens and that Willens talked of licentious behavior at the party, but said Willens made no mention of drugs.
Sanford Socolow, executive producer of the news program, said the Jordan item led the broadcast principally because the circumstances of the party, "true or false, were called to the attention of the White House within a week of the party," but apparently there was no followup.