Ernest W. Lefever charged yesterday that critics have painted "a grotesque caricature" of him in order to attack President Reagan's foreign policy and predicted that the Senate will approve his controversial nomination as assistant secretary of state for human right.
"The attack on me is not an attack on me personally at all," he said in an interview on "Today" (NBC, WRC). "It is an attack on the president of the United States and his foreign policy. He did receive a mandate to do things differently."
In fact, his early morning television interview yesterday appeared to signal the start of a counterattack by the administration to give greater exposure to Lefever's views and his contention that the critics are seeking to attack the president through him.
Lefever is scheduled to appear on NBC's "Meet the Press" this coming Sunday. That is the day before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee returns from a recess and resumes consideration of his nomination.
Despite growing speculation that heavy opposition to the nomination will force has the support of Reagan and Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr. and intends to continue his fight for the job of watchdog over U.S. human rights policy.
During two days of tough questioning by the committee last week, critics charged that Lefeverhs advocacy of abandoning former president Carter's tough human rights stance in favor of a "quiet diplomacy" approach would mean taking a hard-line against rights abuses of communists regimes while soft-pedaling those by rightist dictatorships allied to the United States.
Unofficial head counts have indicated that a majority of the Foreign Relations Committee is likely to vote against Lefever. But, as he noted yesterday, he still could be approved by the full, Republican-controlled Senate.
The committee, he said, is "uncharacteristic of the Senate as a whole, and if we should fail to get through the committee, I am fully confident . . . that we will get by with a comfortable majority on the floor of the Senate.
Asserting that he is "the right man for the job," Lefever, a former clergyman and director of a private think-tank concerned with ethical questions, said: "I think people have become confused about who I am by a grotesque caricature, a very inaccurate portrait, developed about me from persistent critics. . . ."
Although he denied believing that he is the target of a communist conspiracy Lefever singled out various groups that he charged "have for a long time opposed the major thrust of U.S. foreign policy" and that he said have used letter-writing campaigns and "scandal sheets" to fight his appointment.
In particular, he singled out the Institute for Policy Studies, a Washington-based think-tank that he characterized as "Marxist-oriented" and a group called Clergy and Laity Concerned whose members he described as "radical clergymen, including even the president of the National Council of Churches."