The attorney for a woman who claimed to have seen White House aide Hamilton Jordan sniff cocaine at a 1977 Beverly Hills party backed down today and said there is "no direct evidence" to support the accusation.
The lawyer, A. Irving Osser, met privately with his client, Lana Jean Rawls of Houston, in his Beverly Hills law office, and said afterward, "She doesn't have direct evidence that Jordan bought or used cocaine."
That is a different story than Osser has been telling for the past 10 days.
On Sept. 16, he was quoted in The New York Times as having asked Rawls whether she had seen Jordan use cocaine at the dinner party, attended by other White House and Democratic Party officials.
"She said, 'absolutely yes, ' " the Times quoted Osser as saying.
The following day, Osser told The Washington Post that he had informed Justice Department officials that Rawls bought cocaine for Jordan's group that night and received $500 from an unidentified member of the party.
Asked to explain the discrepancies between his earlier story and the present one, Osser said that he had not previously questioned Rawls, the 36-year-old divorced wife of singer Lou Rawls, in any detail. Osser said today there is "circumstantial evidence" for Rawls' earlier story, which he did not explain.
Osser said that Rawls will not be available for reporters to explain the contradictory stories. Earlier, he had promised that she would be available in Los Angeles for interviews or a news conference. He said today that she would fly back to Houston in a day or two without meeting the media.
Aside from these statements of her lawyer, Rawls was interviewed directly for an article that appeared Sept. 21 in The Los Angeles Herald-Examiner. That interview did not quote Rawls directly on whether she had purchased cocaine for Jordan or saw him use it at the dinner party, held at a now-defunct Beverly Hills nightclub known as Sergio's.
But when she was asked if she say anyone "snort coke" at the party, the story said she "nodded her head affirmatively and smiled," without ever specifically identifying who she had seen use it.
Osser said he had been seeking a grant of immunity from the Justice Department for his client so that she could not be prosecuted for possessing, using or buying cocaine. On the basis of the interview, he said, "her exposure [to prosecution] is very minimal" and there is no reason to request immunity.
The Justice Department has been investigating allegations of cocaine use against Jordan.
According to Osser's current account. Rawls was invited to the Sergio's party by John Golden, a friend of Jordan's and former Democratic National Committee official. Osser said she did not arrive at Sergio's until 11 p.m., leaving alone in her own car when the party ended three hours later.
The White House reacted to the recantation by questioning the motivation for the original charges.
White House press secretary Jody Powell also observed that Democratic fund-raiser Leo Wyler, who was highly critical of Jordan's behavior at a party at his house the day after the Sergio's party, is a part of the "dump Carter movement." Wyler has said Jordan and his White House group behaved discourteously, and has intimated they may have used cocaine at his party.
White House pollster Patrick Caddell, who attended the parties at Sergio's and Wyler's, said tonight in an interview with Los Angeles station KNXT that the accusations against Jordan were "charges out of the dark, out of the woodwork from characters with suspect motives who don't appear to have corroboration."
"If the public officials can be hounded out of office on the hearsay rumor of people without credibility, then we are going to pay a price in the political system that is going to be enormous," Caddell said.