A personnel purge at the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency was discussed with Kenneth L. Adelman, President Reagan's nominee to head the agency, at two private meetings on Capitol Hill several days before his first confirmation hearing Jan. 27, according to a conservative congressional source who supports Adelman's nomination.
In one meeting, held in the office of Rep. Jack Kemp (R-N.Y.), this source said, Adelman assured conservative staffers that he would "take care of" concerns they voiced about several ACDA officials described during the session as too liberal, uncooperative or overly concerned with reaching an arms control agreement with the Soviet Union.
Two of the eight participants in the meeting insisted in interviews Friday and yesterday that such a conversation had not taken place.
At a second meeting with Michael Pillsbury, staff director for the Republican Senate Steering Committee, Adelman reportedly solicited suggestions for personnel changes, saying "there will be plenty of vacancies," Pillsbury later told several colleagues. Pillsbury would not comment Friday.
Adelman could not be reached for comment. He is under attack by some members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee following the disclosure last week that he received a memorandum in mid-January from U.S. strategic arms negotiator Edward Rowny targeting certain ACDA professional staffers for dismissal or transfer.
Adelman's possession of the memo was considered damaging by committee members because, in later testimony before the panel, Adelman said, "I have not addressed personnel issues."
Adelman also told the committee members that no one was talking about a purge and that such reports were just "rumors to make the situation more difficult than it is."
The Rowny memo, which has stirred further trouble for the Adelman nomination, appeared last week to be causing problems for Rowny, too.
A White House spokesman said yesterday that Secretary of State George P. Shultz has "full confidence" in Rowny, but several administration officials expressed doubt that he will survive the controversy over the so-called "hit-list" memo.
"It's difficult to see how he can have any credibility as a negotiator with this memo made public attacking four out of the six members of his delegation," one administration official said, adding, "I don't see how they can stay together, the delegation and the chief."
Rowny personally delivered the controversial memo to Adelman here Jan. 14, according to information given to the Senate committee. Adelman thereafter turned it over to Robin West, an assistant interior secretary designated by Adelman to study ACDA personnel issues while Adelman's nomination was pending.
Adelman maintains that he did not read the Rowny memo at the time but, in a covering note to West, he described the memo as "Ed Rowny's very confidential views on people."
Within a week after the memo reached Adelman, a copy appeared on the desk of Eugene V. Rostow, whose firing as ACDA chief preceded Adelman's nomination. Its contents also became known to ACDA employes and officials on the "hit list."
Asked about the memo in Geneva by colleagues, Rowny denied its existence, according to U.S. officials. Jack Mendelsohn, one U.S. negotiating official targeted, was "furious about it" and "told Rowny off in Geneva," one official said. Mendelsohn has since resigned from the delegation.
A White House official, asking that his name not be used, said the Rowny memo has not commanded the attention of the president or his senior aides because they "have enough trouble with Adelman." Rowny has disavowed the memo in a public statement as the work of staff members and not representative of his thinking.
But the White House official also said administration officials have had difficulties with Rowny. The official said that Rowny "seemed to have his own agenda at times" and that State Department and White House officials were "not sure of his reports" in some instances.
Adelman's meetings with conservative Capitol Hill staffers before his first confirmation hearing were part of an exercise to prepare him for questioning by the Foreign Relations Committee.
The meeting in Kemp's office was organized by Kemp aide Michelle Van Cleave and was attended by David Sullivan, a staffer for Sen. Steve Symms (R-Idaho); David Hoppe, staff aide to Rep. Trent Lott (R-Miss.), and others including a lobbyist for Rockwell International, according to sources.
One congressional source said that during the drill session, Sullivan, who had been on the ACDA transition team for Reagan, urged Adelman to take action against several current ACDA officials, many of whom were also on the Rowny "hit list."
Sullivan confirmed Friday that the meeting took place but denied that he had proposed names of ACDA officials to be purged. Van Cleave, reached yesterday, acknowledged that the meeting took place but said there was "absolutely no" discussion about personnel.
The conservative congressional source said that, after questions were raised about alleged personnel discussions at the meeting, staffers who participated agreed among themselves to deny occurrence of a discussion with Adelman about a personnel purge.
Adelman has told other administration officials that in early meetings with Shultz he expressed discomfort with personnel administration and indicated that "he was not good at changing a lot of people around," one official said.
Moreover, this official said Kenneth W. Dam, Shultz's deputy, told several ACDA senior staffers that Adelman "might makes a few changes" but would not in any way want to break up the senior staff."