White House lawyers delayed Justice Department access to President Carter's personal records in an apparent effort to hold up an investigative report on the administration's role in the Billy Carter case until after the election, according to sources.
The White House, in rebuttal, issued a statement yesterday saying that the president and the White House staff cooperated fully in the investigation by Justice's Office of Professional Responsibility. The president has agreed to an interview by the Justice investigators, but three scheduled dates were postponed "because the production and examination of revelent White House records had not been completed," the statement said.
Sources familiar with the interim report of the investigation, sent to the Senate's Billy Carter subcommittee Wednesday, said it clearly outlines difficulties the probers felt they had with the White House. The report even says Justice will resort to "compulsory process," an apparent reference to a subpoena, if necessary, the sources added. p
The still-secret report quickly became a topic of partisan discussion by the White House and a group of Republican senators. The senators demanded that it be made public. White House press secretary Jody Powell, campaigning with the president in Saginaw, Mich., accused Republican members of the Billy Carter subcommittee of leaking inaccurate descriptions of the report "before the sun went down."
Powell added that the Republicans were using the leaks on the report to "cover up" the announcement that Richard V. Allen, Ronald Reagan's foreign policy adviser, was leaving the campaign as a result of what Allen called distorted allegations about his dealings with foreign corporations.
The Justice report describes lengthy "negotiations" between the investigative office of Michael E. Shaheen Jr. and the White House, once source said, over access to presidential diaries and other documents. A White House official said that the Justice investigators sought access to much more material than the Senate investigators and there was some disagreement at first about what was "relevant."
After several members of the Senate subcommittee demanded that the Shaheen report be made public, either by Justice -- which asked the Senate to keep it private -- or by the Senate, Sen. Birch Bayh (D-Ind.), chairman of the subcommittee, asked Philip Tone, special counsel on the investiation, for an opinion on whether the report could be released.
Sources who have seen the document said it finds no "smoking gun" in the conduct of administration officials involved in the Justice Department handling of Billy Carter's case. The president's brother agreed to register as a foreign agent of Libya this summer after Justice investigators confronted him with evidence that he had accepted $220,000 from the Libyans.
The handling of the Shaheen report is delicate for both the Senate subcommittee and the White House so close to Election Day. And Republican members of the committee haven't hesitated to clamor for its public release. White House officials, on the other hand, charge that GOP members and their staff have leaked inaccurate characterizations of the report in an effort to hurt the president just before the election.
Among those demanding the report be released are Sens. Strom Thurmond, Bob Dole, Charles Mathias and Howard Baker, all Republicans.
One administration official suggested last night that the White House might join the demand for release of the report just to defuse the issue.