Eight days before the 1980 presidential campaign debate between Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, a Reagan volunteer, Wayne H. Valis, sent Reagan campaign official David R. Gergen a memo that purportedly contained inside information from the Carter campaign about the debate themes the then-president would use.
"These notes are based on a Carter debate staff brainstorming session--middle level types--nothing spectacular, but interesting--from a source intimately connected to a Carter debate staff member," Valis said in a handwritten note accompanying the one-page memo to Gergen, his longtime friend.
"Reliable," Valis added. "I gave a copy to Jim Baker."
Valis, who was fired last March from his White House job as liaison to business and professional groups, now operates his own consulting firm in Washington. He said in an interview yesterday that the information in the memo came from a friend "who talked to a friend in the Carter campaign."
Valis said he kept a clipping file of negative news about Carter from 1977 to 1980 while he was a fellow, along with Gergen, at the American Enterprise Institute.
He called the file "a Wayne Valis hobby" done in his spare time, and said he gave it to Reagan campaign officials or the Republican National Committee. During the campaign, Valis added, he passed on all the negative information he heard about President Carter to Reagan campaign officials.
"I would talk to people on the Hill or who were on the other side who gave you standard stuff," Valis said. "In political intelligence you collect information of this kind. This memo was the only time I had information that purported to be inside discussion."
The Valis memo to Gergen, titled "Proposed Carter Tactics for Debate and Campaign Advertising," listed 10 points, ranging from "Carter plans to expose Reagan flip-flops" to a comment that "Carter's people are afraid" of Reagan ads stressing the then-high inflation rate.
This memo was made public yesterday among about 1,000 pages of debate materials found in the files of Gergen, now White House communications director, and Frank Hodsoll, now chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, who were then coordinating Reagan's debate preparations.
White House chief of staff James A. Baker III said in a statement also released yesterday that he did not recall ever seeing the cover note addressed to Gergen and had "no specific recollection" of having received the one-page attachment containing the supposed inside information, despite Valis' notation that he "gave a copy to Jim Baker."
Gergen said in a letter last week to Rep. Donald J. Albosta (D-Mich.) that he "never studied nor drew upon any private or sensitive materials from the Carter camp." He also said that he did not recall seeing a "Carter debate book" or "any other notebook from the Carter campaign."
Yesterday, Gergen said in another letter to Albosta that his recollection had been incorrect and that he wrote the letter "before completing a thorough search of all of my files."
But he insisted in an interview with The Washington Post that he did not consider the material he had received from Valis to be sensitive in any way and said that the memo had "no standing" with him in debate preparation.
"The flip-flop stuff was everywhere," Gergen said. " Reagan pollster Richard B. Wirthlin had told us that Carter would use that in his strategy memo. Everybody said that."
Gergen said he and Valis had been friends since the Ford administration, in which Gergen was communications director and Valis worked in public liaison.
Valis worked for the public liaison office again in the Reagan administration but was replaced as part of a virtual clean sweep made by Faith Ryan Whittlesey when she became director of White House liaison early this year.
Valis gave him the memo, which is dated Oct. 21, 1980, at the Washington headquarters of the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think-tank, said Gergen, who worked at AEI until he joined the Reagan campaign fulltime on Oct. 15. He said he kept his offices at AEI until the election.
While Valis said he frequently provided the Reagan campaign with bits of information "he heard around town," some of it from disgruntled Democrats, he said he did not believe there was a "mole" in the Carter campaign.
Laurence I. Barrett, who disclosed in his new book, "Gambling With History," that Carter debate materials had been provided to the Reagan camp, said yesterday that "mole" was a word of his own choosing and applied to anyone who provided material from the other camp, even if unsolicited and only once. In intelligence work, the term "mole" is used to describe a spy who has insinuated himself into a vital enemy operation.
"I don't think there was a mole," Valis said yesterday. "I think I would have known it if there was a mole."
Deputy White House chief of staff Michael K. Deaver, a key Reagan adviser who spent much of his time on the Reagan campaign plane, said he also thought he would have known if there had been a "mole" in the Carter campaign.
Gergen, who apologized to Albosta for denying in his earlier letter that he had any Carter campaign debate material, told him that "unfortunately, I wrote that letter to you before completing a thorough search of all of my files. I just didn't think I had anything there of relevance. That was a mistake I very much regret."
Gergen told The Post that he and an aide searched files in four locations for the documents, finally finding them in a file marked "Afghanistan."
Asked why he had so many files, Gergen replied: "Campaigns are magnets for paper. If you're in the communications business, you save a lot of paper. I've got boxes from the last 12 years, including material from the 1976 presidential debates."
The one-page memo given Gergen by Valis that supposedly represented the Carter debate deliberations gave several examples of "Reagan flip-flops" and concluded this section by saying: "Where Reagan has changed his position, Carter plans to portray Reagan as indecisive, as a political opportunist, or as opposed to an enlightened set of policies (especially on such questions as ERA and minimum wage)."
It also listed some points that were familiar staples of the campaign, such as the statement that Carter planned to refer to the "Reagan-Kemp-Roth" tax bill as "Alice-in-Wonderland medicine" and a declaration that "he plans to continue to harp on the warmonger issue."
The memo also said that Carter planned to raise the age issue again by pointing out that Reagan's running mate, George Bush, had proposed, as a congressman, that congressmen have a mandatory retirement age of 70.