President Reagan today was described by aides traveling with him as being surprised and displeased by the media attention focused on the question of how his 1980 campaign obtained President Carter's briefing papers for the 1980 debate.
White House political adviser Edward J. Rollins said Reagan is "tired of it. He feels it's been blown way out of proportion. His people have been directed to give up any information . . . . He's been up front about saying that if anyone did anything wrong he'll get rid of them."
Reporters repeatedly shouted questions to Reagan about the controversy as he left an outdoor summer school class at Pioneer High School in Whittier, Calif., earlier today.
Referring to a New York Times editorial that recommended an apology to Carter, one reporter asked, "Mr. President, do you believe any apologies are warranted to ex-president Carter about the briefing book as some have suggested? "
"That's what we've asked the Justice Department to find out," Reagan responded. "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." He turned to walk away, but another reporter shouted, "Just man to man, do you think an apology would be a good idea? "
Reagan threw up his hands and said, "Let me find out how that happened and who is responsible."
The questions persisted as Reagan made his way to his limousine. Another reporter shouted, "Sir, the FBI has entered the case . . . ."
"I've said all I need to say," Reagan answered. "I've asked for this and they're doing it," he said, referring to the Justice Department monitoring.
"Will you apologize to Jimmy Carter? "
"I haven't done anything to apologize for," Reagan said, finally getting to the car. At this point, White House deputy chief of staff Michael K. Deaver moved to place himself between the president and the reporters.
Rollins said Reagan and his aides also were "very surprised" that so many questions at Tuesday night's White House news conference focused on the Carter briefing papers case.
He said he felt the Democrats wanted to "fan the fire."
In a question-and-answer session with members of the National Association of Student Councils in Shawnee Mission, Kan., Wednesday, Reagan told a student asking about his civil rights policy, "I'm glad you asked that question. I hope that at some press conferences it will be asked more often."
A Reagan aide said later that the president was trying indirectly to criticize the questioning at Tuesday night's news conference because he felt the White House press corps had gone after him "as if they were looking for blood."
The aide added that there has been talk among Reagan's advisers about reporters looking for a "second Watergate."
Rollins said he found it peculiar that allegations have come from former Carter aides Jody Powell and Hamilton Jordan.
"Jody Powell was thrown out of the Air Force Academy for cheating and Hamilton Jordan was under investigation for one year by the Justice Department," Rollins said, "and these are the guys who are making charges against us."
But Rollins credited House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr. (D-Mass.) with playing down the situation, saying that O'Neill is an "astute politician who sees this doesn't help anybody, it makes the Democrats look like stooges."
On Tuesday, O'Neill said he did not favor a House inquiry into the controversy over Carter's briefing book and the Reagan campaign's access to it.
"Briefing book or no briefing book," O'Neill said, "our candidate was extremely unpopular in the last election."