The Justice Department announced yesterday that it has asked the FBI to join a "criminal investigation" into how the 1980 Reagan campaign committee obtained presidential debate briefing papers and other information from the Carter White House.
Anyone at the White House then or now may be interviewed by the FBI in connection with the case, a Justice Department official said. He added that possible violations of the law could include theft of government property, receipt of stolen property with knowledge that it was stolen, obstruction of justice by failing to report a theft and the promise of a job in return for theft of a document.
President Reagan, traveling in California, referred to the Justice Department investigation when asked by reporters if he would apologize to former president Carter.
"That's what we've asked the Justice Department to find out," he said. "We don't know how any of that happened and I never knew there was such a thing, so we'll have to wait and find out."
Pressed further, Reagan added, "I haven't done anything to apologize for."
Former Carter aides said the nature of the Carter staff documents released by the Reagan White House so far indicate that more than one person may have been involved in passing information from the Carter White House to the Reagan campaign.
"Since we can't find anyone who had access to all of the documents--including Jimmy Carter himself--it is possible that there may be more than one person involved," said Patrick Caddell, former Carter pollster.
After tracing the origins and distribution of the documents that the Reagan campaign is known to have received, former Carter advisers have concluded there was no single place where all of the documents involved were kept. The documents were prepared at different times and kept in different places, and available to different individuals in the Carter White House and campaign organization, they said.
"I think that you can pretty well rule out that it was a single disgruntled person who got upset one time and sent one batch of papers to the Reagan people," Caddell said. Reagan raised the possibility several times during his Tuesday night news conference that the documents had been provided by a "disgruntled" Carter staff member.
"Whoever had access to this material also had access to other stuff," Caddell said. "We may have the tail here but not the donkey, and that donkey may be a very big fellow."
What the Reagan campaign wound up with, judging from the documents the White House released earlier this week, were copies of voluminous early drafts of suggested questions, answers and attack lines prepared for Carter by his advisers for the October 1980 debate with Republican nominee Reagan in Cleveland.
These versions were ultimately edited and condensed into a final debate briefing book of more than 200 pages that went to Carter the week before the debate. In addition, the Reagan White House found in the files of former Reagan campaign officials a sheaf of briefing papers prepared for Carter's vice president, Walter F. Mondale.
Lane Bonner, an FBI spokesman, confirmed that the bureau was called into the case Wednesday night "to investigate how the 1980 campaign of President Reeagan acquired the Carter briefing papers." He said he did not know how long the investigation would take, adding that "the scope is being worked out now."
Yesterday, Rep. Donald J. Albosta (D-Mich.), chairman of the House Civil Service subcommittee that also is investigating the case, charged that David A. Stockman, director of the president's Office of Management and Budget, violated the law by accepting debate briefing documents that Stockman said were "pilfered" from the Carter campaign.
Albosta said Stockman, then a congressman, had "pointed the finger at himself" by telling constituents in Michigan on the day of the 1980 debate that he had helped Reagan rehearse for the debate with the aid of a "pilfered copy" of Carter's briefing book.
"In the case of Stockman, it's pretty clear . . . . There's clear evidence of a violation of the law," Albosta said. "D.C. law would clearly indicate there was some violation in using this material for a private benefit . . . . I think the Justice Department ought to look at that. It might be a federal offense."
Carter's former domestic policy deputy, David Rubenstein, gave this account of where the various documents were prepared and who had access to them:
The lengthy Carter foreign policy briefing documents found in Reagan's campaign files were originally prepared in September, 1980, by Rick Inderfurth and Eric Newsom, two Senate Foreign Relations Committee staff members, at the direction of David Aaron, deputy director of Carter's National Security Council staff. They worked in a room on the fifth floor of the Old Executive Office Building, next door to the White House.
The documents were delivered to Aaron, who reviewed them and told the two authors to condense them. No one else on the National Security Council staff had access to the documents, Rubenstein said. The condensed version, dated Oct. 20, 1980, was sent to Carter.
Mondale's foreign policy briefing book was prepared by Dennis Clift, a career officer who now works in the Reagan administration's Defense Intelligence Agency. He served as Mondale's national security specialist and prepared questions and answers for Mondale's use in an anticipated debate with Republican vice presidential nominee George Bush. The debate was never held.
Clift worked in the Old Executive Office Building, completing the documents by September, 1980. Copies went to Mondale and his assistant, Eric Vaughn. Copies of these documents also were found in the files of Reagan campaign officials.
On the domestic policy briefing papers, Stockman has said he also saw, and used in rehearsing Reagan for the debate, documents similar to the domestic questions and answers contained in Carter's final briefing book. But Reagan White House officials said so far they have not found any such documents.
Rubenstein worked separately on domestic policy in his office upstairs in the West Wing of the White House, beginning in September, 1980. He developed a series of questions and answers, which were kept in a drawer in his office and were not copied or circulated to other staff members.
The final domestic issues briefing book went to Carter the week before the debate. Copies went to approximately 10 members of the Carter inner circle of advisers.
It was at that point that Carter asked for the first time that the final domestic and foreign policy materials be placed together in one volume.