Frank Hodsoll, who helped prepare Ronald Reagan for the 1980 presidential debate, said yesterday that before the event he received a large pile of strategy papers "with a cover document indicating that they had been prepared for use by President Carter," but that he does not recall who gave him the material.
In a letter to Rep. Donald J. Albosta (D-Mich.), Hodsoll also said "it is possible" that he was questioned by Reagan's debate coach about the ethics of using material from the Carter White House to prepare Reagan, but said he does not recall such a conversation.
Hodsoll, now chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, said that, contrary to the recollection of the debate coach, Myles Martel, he is certain that he did not tell Martel that "The materials were fed to our campaign by a 'mole' in the Carter campaign."
As Albosta's House subcommittee examined the latest response from a Reagan administration official on the 1980 episode, there were these other developments:
* Sen. Dennis DeConcini (D-Ariz.) planned to ask the Judiciary Committee today to create a special subcommittee to investigate the briefing papers controversy, according to congressional sources.
The sources said DeConcini, a member of the committee, will argue that the panel should follow the precedent it set in 1980 when it created a subcommittee to study allegations involving President Carter's brother, Billy.
* The FBI has obtained videotapes of Reagan's practice sessions for the October, 1980, debate from Reagan archives, but a media consultant familiar with the tapes said they do not mention the Carter briefing papers, ABC News reported.
* House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr. (D-Mass.), who has opposed Albosta's probe as a political liability for the Democrats, said he would resist any attempt by Albosta to subpoena documents in the probe. Albosta has said he may seek a subpoena for Reagan campaign materials stored at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University unless the White House grants him complete access.
"I don't think we should be investigating this matter," O'Neill told Independent Network News. "I just don't want panel members to overstep their bounds. The Congress has not authorized an investigation of this matter. And I don't feel the subcommittee should be in that field . . . .
"The worst thing the Democrats can do is make this a political issue...Then it would be Democrat against Republican. This is a matter for the White House to clean its own dirty linen . . . ."
* Albosta said he is concerned about "the inconsistencies" among administration officials responding to his inquiries. "There seem to be things that people couldn't remember, but as we go along they remember more," he said.
In earlier responses to Albosta, James A. Baker III, now White House chief of staff, said he received the Carter debate briefing papers from William J. Casey, now CIA director, but Casey said he had no recollection of seeing the material or giving it to anyone.
Albosta also said that O'Neill is expressing his personal views and has never discussed the probe with him. "He's never criticized the way we've conducted the investigation," Albosta said.
Hodsoll's response to Albosta was similar to his June 28 memo to White House counsel Fred F. Fielding in which he said the Carter camp's briefing materials on foreign policy "were provided to me unsolicited" and "I do not remember . . . who handed me the materials." He said he had found some of the foreign policy papers at his home and his "presumption" was that he also had received some Carter domestic policy papers.
A spokesman for Hodsoll said he was out of town and unavailable for comment.
In the letter to Albosta released yesterday, Hodsoll said he believed he was given the briefing papers "by someone in the Reagan-Bush campaign. I would remember now if it had been someone from outside the campaign." Hodsoll, who coordinated the preparation of debate materials for Reagan, said he had considered the papers "of only marginal interest" but they "may have influenced preparation of our briefing books in two or three instances." He said the papers mainly dealt with Carter's public positions and contained little debate strategy.
Former Reagan campaign consultant Martel said last month that he had urged Hodsoll to return the Carter materials because "we had something that we shouldn't have had." Hodsoll said he does not recall the conversation but that "it is possible" Martel "raised the ethics issue. But if he did, it must have been in passing or I think I would have remembered his so doing."
As for his purported remark to Martel about receiving the material from a Carter "mole," Hodsoll wrote: "I could not possibly have said that to him because I had no idea where the documents had come from, and he later acknowledged he was less certain on this score . . . . "
Albosta, responding to criticism from Rep. Benjamin A. Gilman (N.Y.) and other Republicans that he is on a partisan fishing expedition, said his main goal is to remedy weak ethics laws that allow federal employes to pass confidential campaign material.
"Gilman's simply out here waving the flag for the administration, trying to bust up what we're doing," Albosta said. He said he has not sought all the media attention he is getting and has tried to run an impartial inquiry with "a skeleton crew."
Christopher Matthews, a spokesman for O'Neill, said the speaker believes the controversy is deflecting attention from more vital economic and foreign policy issues.
"It's basically a political call that he would put his priorities elsewhere and not put our chips on a sideshow," Matthews said.
House Minority Leader Robert H. Michel (R-Ill.) said Tuesday that if the Democrats are determined to replay the 1980 campaign, O'Neill should "go to President Carter and urge him to run again in 1984, and I'll go to President Reagan and urge him to accept the challenge."
Other Democrats voiced support for Albosta. Rep. Leon E. Panetta (D-Calif.) said the inquiry was "fair and legitimate" and that "most members don't have a problem with the committee asserting itself."
In another development, former Reagan campaign aide Charles Crawford has denied that he told his friend, former Carter campaign deputy counsel Carol C. Darr, in October, 1980, that the Reagan officials had obtained Carter's debate briefing book, as The Washington Post reported Sunday.
Darr, however, maintained yesterday that not only did Crawford tell her of the briefing book before the debate, she also passed the word on to her superior, Carter campaign counsel Timothy G. Smith.
Smith said he recalled the incident after Darr refreshed his memory.
"The truth is that I didn't know anything about the briefing books," said Crawford, who was an aide to Reagan deputy campaign manager Robert Keith Gray. Crawford said he had not responded to earlier Post inquiries because he was out of town.
In disputing Darr's account, Crawford said: "Things like that happen to memories. They get clearer the more you think about it, whether they happened or not."