President Reagan said in an interview released yesterday that he would "not want to interfere" with American citizens who travel to Central America to assist the rebels fighting the Sandinista government of Nicaragua.
"I have to say it's quite in line with what has been a pretty well-established tradition in our country," he told Scripps-Howard newspaper editors and executives in an interview Thursday at the White House.
"Nothing was done legally about the formation of a brigade -- a communist brigade of Americans -- in the Spanish Civil War," Reagan said in response to a question about private efforts to aid the anti-Sandinista contras.
"In World War II, we had pilots being recruited to go to the Flying Tigers. I recall, if I'm correct, there were some people, even one very prominent actor . . . , who became an ambulance driver in the French army in World War II." Reagan was referring to Robert Montgomery, said a White House aide.
The president qualified his remark by adding that "I'm not a lawyer, so I've never asked about what is the actual legality of anything of that kind. But at the same time . . . , it's been a tradition and Americans have always done this. And I would be inclined to not want to interfere . . . . "
"I was giving you my own personal reaction to it," he said, noting that the Sandinistas have given "overt" support to guerrillas fighting the government of El Salvador.
Two members of a group called Civilian Military Assistance, which attempts to aid the contras, were killed in September when their helicopter was shot down over Nicaragua. The administration has said it was not involved.
On other topics, Reagan said:
*He would be "just as satisfied" if there were no changes in his Cabinet in a possible second term. He said some Cabinet members may want to return to private life, but "I'm not unhappy with anyone."
*"We didn't cut the benefits to the recipients" in the 1983 bipartisan compromise on Social Security. In fact, however, the plan called for a six-month delay in cost-of-living increases as well as some payroll tax increases.
*His aides gave him "the wrong steer" about the closing statement in his second and last debate with Walter F. Mondale, which was cut off before Reagan was finished. Reagan said aides told him that "because I was going last, that it didn't matter" that his statement ran over the allotted four-minute time limit. "I didn't know Mr. Newman was going to be so gung-ho, and he shut me off," Reagan said of the debate's moderator, Edwin Newman.
*He is a "devoted comic-strip reader. I read every comic strip in the paper," and has started reading Doonesbury again. Asked if he agrees with some readers' complaints that Doonesbury was criticizing him unfairly, Reagan said: "I have to tell you that I think some of your readers are absolutely right."
*Reagan said "it's kind of strange for me," being criticized for his environmental record, "because we started the whole thing in California when I was governor. And the federal government sent people out to see us because they said we were so far ahead of anything they were doing."