President Carter paid a bedside visit to wounded civil rights leader Vernon Jordan today and voiced hopes for his recovery.
He said Jordan told him he recognized that the attempt on his life here last week was the kind of act that is always a possibility for people in public life and a danger that he was willing to accept for himself.
Flying here on a small jet after leaving Camp David this afternoon, the president spent about 15 minutes with Jordan in the intensive care unit at Parkview Memorial Hospital, then met with reporters for a 10-minute press conference.
Last week Carter called the shooting of Jordan in a parking lot outside the Marriott Inn here "an assassination attempt."
Asked today what he meant by the use of the word "assassination," Carter smiled and said he had looked it up in the dictionary after he got home because he recognized that questions about it had been raised in the press.
The dictionary, Carter continued, "said 'the attempted murder of a prominent person.'
"This is all I meant," he said. "I was not trying to define the nature of the crime, except [to say] that a prominent person was the subject of an attack."
He said he had not had any motive in mind in characterizing the attack as an assassination. "I have no way to know what the motive is," he said.
Carter also met here briefly with Fort Wayne Mayor Winfield Moses Jr., Fort Wayne police officials and the FBI special agent in charge, Wayne Davis.
Jordan, the 44-year-old president of the National Urban League, remained in serious but stable condition at the hospital.
At a briefing following the president's visit, Fort Wayne police officials announced that lawyers for Martha Coleman, Jordan's companion when he was shot early Thursday morning, have agreed to let her be interviewed Tuesday morning. FBI agents may also take part in the questioning, but the details have yet to be worked out.
Police Maj. Kenneth Van Ryn, second in command of the police department's investigation division, said he felt "Mrs. Coleman wants to cooperate completely" but has held back only on advice of her lawyers, Fort Wayne attorneys Charles Leonard and Robert Bechert.
The lawyers, in turn, Van Ryn asserted, "have not had time to sit down with their client." The police apparently did not challenge this reason for the delay.
Coleman, a 36-year-old white divorcee, was questioned by police the day of the shooting, but then went into seclusion on the advice of her lawyers whom she called from the lobby of the Marriott Inn minutes after the attack.
Asked if that was unusual behavior for a witness, Maj. Van Ryn replied laconically: "This whole thing is unusual."
Police said they want to question Coleman both about her background and about last week's events when she reportedly met Jordan for the first time in connection with last Wednesday's annual dinner of the Fort Wayne Urban League. Van Ryn said a number of matters have cropped up in the investigation that police were not aware of when they talked to her.
In his meeting with Jordan, Carter said he was glad to find him "doing so well." Carter said Jordan is able to watch television, expects to be allowed to start reading newspapers in the morning, but still can receive only a limited number of visitors.
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), Carter's opponent in the primaries, visited Jordan shortly after the shooting.
Jordan, speaking at the dinner before he was shot last week, had offered some sharp criticism of the president's shifting stands on various issues and said of Carter: "I think it's time he made up his damned mind."
"Vernon has sometimes been a very severe critic of the government," the president allowed, but, Carter said, "we've always maintained our friendship." p
The president called the shooting, as well as the rioting in Miami the week before, "certainly a reminder that we need to redouble our efforts" in countering economic, racial and social injustices.
Carter, however, declined to say whether he thinks the shooting of Jordan involved a conspiracy. "I don't have any information that I want to divulge concerning the criminal investigation," the president said. "I think that's best described by the legal officials."
The briefing that followed was, Mayor Moses announced, the last that officials intended to hold in the crowded lobby of the hospital. Today's session was attended by passersby, Sunday visitors, and some 30 black youths who had been picketing outside with signs such as "Bring Forth Martha Coleman Now." They moaned and jeered on hearing Maj. Van Ryn say there was no reason to think that she was not "cooperating completely."
"She answered everything we asked," the police major said at one point. At another point, however, he acknowledged that she refused in the first interview to supply the name of her current boyfriend.
"I believe her answer was she didn't want to get anyone else involved in this," Van Ryn recalled.
He said she has been answering some questions that police wanted posed right away, with her lawyers serving as intermediaries, but there is a long list of other questions still to be asked on Tuesday.
"It'll be quite an interview," Van Ryn predicted.
The man in charge of the federal investigation, FBI agent Davis, said he felt "frustrated" by the fact that the FBI hasn't been able to talk to Coleman at all yet.
But he said the 20-member FBI team on the case has had plenty to keep it busy, including numerous tips that did not pan out.
Following up one that may or may not pan out, Fort Wayne detectives tonight slogged through a driving rainstorm to discover what appeared to be a one-man campsite about one-quarter mile from the Marriott Inn parking lot.
It was located off an entrance ramp of Interstate 69, which runs right by the hotel, and consisted of a makeshift lean-to, a bed made of planking and foam backing, some soda cans and a page or two from a May 13 newspaper. No weapons or bullets were found, at least on first inspection.
The FBI is turning its attention away from the conspiracy angle that brought it into the case and appears to be concentrating instead on the possibility of a lone sniper who fired a single shot at Jordan and escaped.
FBI ballistics tests conducted this weekend indicate only one bullet was fired, perhaps hitting a metal fence before a fragment tore into Jordan's back. The fragments recovered from Jordan's body and from the pavement of the Marriott Inn parking lot, it turned out, weighed a total of only 163.4 grains, less than a normal 220-grain bullet from a .30-06 caliber rifle.
Davis said "absolutely not" when asked if the FBI was backing off from the idea of a conspiracy, but other Justice Department officials confirmed today that "no further evidence of a conspiracy" has been coming in to support initial suspicions.
As a result, the FBI is now basing its investigation not only on suspicions of a conspiracy to deprive Jordan of his civil rights but also on another federal law that makes it a crime to interfere with anyone's federally protected activities."
The FBI's Davis said his agents have already started questioning Coleman's associates, male and female, and are checking out other leads, but nothing that is expected to provide a breakthrough.
"To say something is promising at this time, I can't do that," he told reporters."We've got a lot of leads . . . but there's nothing hot at the moment."
As for motives, Davis said: "We haven't ruled out a political assassination attempt. We haven't ruled out racial motives. At the same time, we can't rule out a jealous suitor."
Summed up another FBI man: "It's going to be a long, tough one."