Sen. Charles PERCY (R-Ill.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, last night issued a subpoena in an attempt to get indexes and logs of still-secret 1973 tape recordings between President Nixon and Alexander M. Haig Jr. while Haig was serving as White House chief of staff.
The subpoena follows a decision by the committee Saturday to take such action if less formal arrangements could not be worked out. The committee is holding confirmation hearings on Haig as President-elect Ronald Reagan's choice to be secretary of state.
Committee staff directory Ed Sanders said the committee had hoped to obtain a list of the Nixon-Haig tapes from the National Archives voluntarily, but there was not enough time to complete negotiations.
At the same time, Senate Majority Leader Howard H. Baker Jr. (R-Tenn.), another member of the committee, predicted that Haig will be confirmed, but he warned that "if we continue with an orgy of Watergate for the next several months it would severely damage" Haig's ability to operate at a time of danger around the world.
The Republican leader said "the last thing on earth that we should do is have a rerun of the entire Watergate hearings." That, he said, is what concerned him about some of the recent Democratic moves in the committee to gain access to the tapes.
Baker made the statements in an appearance on "Meet the Press" (NBC, WRC) one day after the committee worked out a compromise that resulted in last night's subpoena to try to get the logs and indexes of the tapes. This would be a first step in deciding whether individual recordings may be relevant to determining Haig's suitability for the top State Department job.
The committee action is not expected to keep Haig from being confirmed by the Senate before Reagan's inauguration Jan. 20, but it has the potential of keeping the subject alive after Haig is installed in office.
Noting that Haig had asked to testify under oath, Baker said he has "absolute faith" that there is nothing on the tapes that would contradict what Haig has told the committee. At another point, however, Baker acknowledged that nobody has ever managed to gain access to or listen to the tapes -- which are in custody of the National Archives -- even during the Watergate investigation and House impeachment proceedings against Nixon.
Baker said he wanted to make it plain that as Senate majority leader it was also his duty "within the bounds of propriety" to work for the confirmation of Reagan's Cabinet choices.
But the committee decision made Saturday, in which he joined, to use a subpoena to get at least the tape index was "proper and appropriate," Baker said. He said he didn't think it should or will lead to the kind of Watergate rehash that he fears would hurt Haig unnecessarily.
Baker outlined the compromise by the panel, which has a 9-to-8 Republican majority, in greater detail than was explained in the Senate hearing room Saturday.
Efforts by the Democratic minority to immediately subpoena 100 hours of tapes from May 4, 1973, when Haig became White House chief of staff, to July 18, 1973, when the tape system was turned off, were rejected. Instead, it was agreed to subpoena the index first so a determination could be made as to what specific tapes might be relevant. In exchange for the subpoena, Baker said, the Democrats agreed that they would not wait for that information to arrive before voting on confirmation because "it could be months or even years before litigation is ended."
In exchange for that, he continued, the Republicans agreed to pass a resolution that would technically keep the hearings on the Senate books as unconcluded so that the investigation does not become moot and a court doesn't rule against release of the material because the case seems closed.
Baker said Saturday he expects to move for a confirmation recommendation by the committee this week and he added yesterday that there "is no way you can undo a confirmation" once made by the Senate.
He said he did not anticipate that actual hearings would continue beyond the confirmation unless or until some relevant material was identified, though the hearings would continue to have official status.
The senator said it was questionable whether the committee would even get to look at the indexes. He said the committee had been advised by the national archivist, Robert Warner, that Warner does not believe Congress has the authority to subpoena those records. As Baker recalled it, the statute passed by Congress in 1974 on presidential recordings provides for subpoenas by courts in judicial proceedings.
Baker said he wasn't certain what would happen next. If the logs were made available, then the next problem -- one likely to cause another fight along party lines -- would be what in the tapes is judged to be relevant.
In his view, Baker said, this would include anything that bears on Haig's attitudes and views on foreign policy, or anything that contradicts Haig's testimony under oath before the committee.
Baker denied the Republicans were trying to suppress facts. Rather, he said, "they have gone the extra mile" in cooperating with the Democratic minority which cannot issue subpoenas on its own.
He also rebutted a questioner who asked it some of his Republicans colleagues had "abandoned Baker" in the battle over the subpoena request. The Washington Post reported yesterday that two Republicans had said privately they were not opposed to the Democratic request for some kind of subpoena action.
But Baker, who did not initially favor any subpoenas said yesterday, "I had an indication they would have stood with us had we brought this to a vote." He said his fight to stop the initial request for broad general subpoenas was to stop a Democratic "fishing expedition."
"I cannot tell you with certainty that every Republican would have voted with us on that," he said, but he said he believes they would have, as well as a few of the Democrats.