Warren Richardson, whose pending nomination as assistant secretary of Health and Human Services is in jeopardy because he worked for Liberty Lobby from 1969 to 1973, has told HHS officials that he realized soon after joining the organization that it was "anti-Jewish and racist" but didn't quit right away because he needed the job.

"In retrospect, it became clear to me long ago that it was wrong not to have quit earlier," Richardson wrote in a private memorandum to David A. Newhall, executive secretary of HHS who is reviewing the record to determine whether Richardson's pending nomination as assistant secretary for legislation should be dropped.

"I apologize for my inaction to all who have felt the vicious racist and ethnic stings of the Liberty Lobby. I never participated in those Liberty Lobby activities. I never agreed with them. I found them then, as I do now, to be vile," Richardson said. He added that he had not written or approved any of the alleged anti-Semitic or racist statements.

Richardson said that in the eight years since he left Liberty Lobby he has often regretted not quitting earlier, as soon as he learned of the organization's "anti-Jewish and racist" character.

The dispute over the nomination surfaced last week when Rep. Samuel Gejdenson (D-Conn.) and the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith and the American Jewish Committee charged that Liberty Lobby was an anti-Semitic and racist organization. They said Richardson's four-year tenure as the organization's general counsel, during which Liberty Lobby publications and statement charged that Jews were financing communism and that there was an international Zionist plan to rule the world, should disqualify him for the HHS job.

Gejdenson also produced an article by Richardson published May 18, 1971, in The New York Times that appeared to tie Richardson to some of the organization's positions.

In the article, opposing U.S. intervention in the Mideast, Richardson wrote: "Liberty Lobby will not tag along with the cowards who would rather countenance another national disaster than brave the screams of the pro-Zionist 'free press' in America." Richardson claims this sentence was inserted without his knowledge.

Yesterday, the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee issued a statement saying that Richardson's "eleventh-hour repudiation" of Liberty Lobby in the memorandum "is belated but nevertheless welcome." But they said that, in light of his eight-year silence and failure to condemn the organization's views earlier, there are still "hard questions" as to his judgment and suitability for the job -- questions the administration and Congress must address.

Gejdenson said: "I wish Mr. Richardson had come forth with this information sooner. I am heartened that he agrees with my characterization of Liberty Lobby as an anti-Semitic organization. Nonetheless, inasmuch as Richardson lobbied for Liberty Lobby's goals for over three years, I still think his appointment would send the wrong kind of signal to hate groups across America."

Liberty Lobby Chairman Robert Bartell angrily refused to comment.

In his memorandum, Richardson said that he took the Liberty Lobby job during a period of "stressful family circumstances," when his wife had been injured in an auto accident that ultimately necessitated five costly operations.

At about the same time, he said, his 14-year-old daughter had enrolled at the University of Maryland and he needed to drive her there. The pay at Liberty Lobby was extremely good, he said -- 50 percent "more than my current salary."

He said he didn't know then of Liberty Lobby's "racist or anti-Jewish views," and that the title of general counsel was pro forma, that he was actually a lobbyist. When he learned of the organization's views, he said, he started looking for another job, but it took several years to find one.