A spokesman for Puerto Rican Gov. Carlos Romeo Barcelo said yesterday that President Carter did not "drop in" on a meeting Thursday between the governor and presidential assistant Stuart Eizenstat, as charged by an aide to Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) in yesterday's Washington Post.
Kennedy campaign chairman Stephen Smith complained yesterday that President Carter is "blatantly" playing politics from his White House sanctuary while using the Iranian hostage crisis in an effort to muzzle criticism from other contenders.
In an interview tinged with the frustration and bitterness that has taken root in the Kennedy camp since Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) came under attack this week for his criticism of the exiled shah of Iran, Smith charged that Carter and his backers are playing "ward politics" in their use of federal patronage and contracts to bolster Carter's campaign for renomination.
Saying that he "never saw anything like it in 1968," when his other brother-in-law, Robert F. Kennedy, was challenging for the Democratic presidential nomination, Smith said, "I'm a little surprised at the audacity" of Carter's use of White House patronage. "It's being done so blatantly," Smith said, "when we're supposed to be in an era of new politics with a president who speaks of such high-mindedness."
Smith's complaints included a charge that the Democratic National Committee, though supposedly neutral, is paying for the printing and mailing of 100,000 Carter Christmas cards.
Democratic National Chairman John C. White said the committee paid $65,000 to distribute Carter Christmas cards last year and has been asked to contribute a like amount to the costs this year. But he said, "it's in debate now" with the White House. "I said I think it's appropriate to pay for the cards that go to elected and party officials, but I'm not sure about the whole list."
Smith charged, however, that because of White's public endorsement of Carter as his personal choice, "there's no way the Democratic National Committee can be neutral" in the nomination contest.
The complaints voiced by Smith were perhaps less important in themselves than as symptoms of the vexation Kennedy's managers feel this week as Carter successfully wraps himself in the mantle of a crisis-period commander in chief too busy for politics.
Their frustration was increased by the bipartisan backlash against Kennedy's comments on the shah, which were pounced on by Carter spokesmen and Democratic and Republican figures as a breach in the united support Carter has requested behind his efforts to gain the release of the hostages.
Smith did not comment directly on this point, but referred reporters to aides who were vocal in charging Carter with political hypocrisy in his use of the hostage issue.
"If he's so busy with Iran," said one of the Kennedy campaign spokemen, "then why has he had time to call all those country chairmen in Iowa this week?"
"If he's so busy with Iran, how come he had time to drop in on a meeting the governor of Puerto Rico had with Stu Eizenstat yesterday? You don't suppose that had any connection to the Puerto Rico primary, do you? Oh, no, not any more than the lunch he had yesterday with the pro-Carter labor leaders."
White House press secretary Jody Powell said that Carter had made phone calls and held meetings in recent days in connection with his campaign. "He is not devoting 24 hours a day to Iran," Powell said. "Other business is going on. . . If he can't travel -- and in our view he can't -- I don't think he should be placed in the position of doing nothing for his reelection efforts."
But the complaints from the Kennedy camp go beyond the specifics of Carter's use of the White House to what Kennedy aides call the manipulation of the hostage crisis for political purposes.
"I think this whole national unity thing has gone on long enough," said one of Smith's deputies. " . . . What do we do if those hostages are still there a month or six months from now? Just wait for the president to say the crisis is over?"
There is no question that Kennedy's managers were stung by criticism heaped on the senator's comments about the shah. Critical calls hit their headquarters -- some of them, they say, inspired by Carter's own operatives -- and campaign workers across the country reported what one New Hampshire Kennedy leader called "a sudden coolness" to requests for help in his cause.
For a late-starting, catch-up campaign like Kennedy's the loss of organizing momentum is a serious problem, even if there is no long-term damage to the candidate's standing with the voters.
But Powell insisted that "we have not urged people to cool it politically. We have not sought to deter Kennedy or anyone else from organizing, making speeches or any of that sort of thing. All we have said is that it doesn't do anyone any good to politicize the Iran issue right now. The senator's comments on the shah were exactly what we were talking about."
Many of the specific complaints Smith and his aides made about the political use of the White House were echoes of criticisms that opponents always voice about an incumbent president, the kind of thing that is taken in stride when things are going well for the challenger.
But Smith has assigned one of his assistants to collect and to document, where possible, complaints about possible abuses of official privilege by Carter and the White House.
One example, cited by this aide, was the fact that the White House ran two weekend seminars this fall to train advance men and women for their work, using government facilities for the seminars and government facilities for the seminars and government funds to bring the trainees to Washington.
Bob Dunn, the head of the White House advance office, confirmed that about 150 persons were run throuth the seminars "to expand the pool" of people available to help occasionally on "official travel" by the president, the vice president and the First Lady. But another person involved in the seminars acknowledged, "Of course, most of these people are also going to be used in the campaign."
Powell noted that alumni of a previous White House seminar, held in the summer of 1978, are now working in Carter's campaign as well as in Kennedy's. "So he has some advance people who were trained at the White House and at the taxpayers' expense," Powell said.