White House communications director Patrick J. Buchanan said yesterday that he took notes at a recent White House meeting in which Jewish leaders expressed concern about President Reagan's scheduled visit to a German war cemetery, but he described as "downright silly" allegations that the notes represented his views.
Kenneth Bialkin, national chairman of the Anti-Defamation League, said he sat next to Buchanan at the meeting April 16 and agreed with his account.
Bialkin said the participants' major concern was that, whatever Reagan chose to do, the president not be perceived as bowing to pressure. "I didn't see the phrase, 'succumb to Jewish pressure,' " Bialkin said of Buchanan's notes. "I did see the phrase, 'succumb to pressure.' It is not a fair conclusion to draw that Jewish pressure was a concern of Mr. Buchanan's. This is not an issue with us. We are unhappy about a number of things in the handling of the president's visit, but this is not one of them," he said.
Buchanan was responding to an NBC News report Thursday night that he was seen at the meeting repeatedly writing the phrase "succumbing to the pressure of the Jews."
The report by State Department correspondent Marvin Kalb dealt with political problems that Sunday's planned visit to Bitburg cemetery in West Germany has caused for Reagan and West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl.
"It was a meeting with Jewish leaders, at their request," Buchanan said in a statement yesterday afternoon. "The leaders themselves made the point that, whatever the president did, it was important he not be perceived as having succumbed to pressure.
"I scribbled notes on what they said. To suggest that fragments of my note-taking on what they said can thereby be construed as representing my position is not only misleading, it is downright silly."
White House officials traveling with Reagan at the economic summit in Bonn said Buchanan originally wrote a statement sharply challenging Kalb's report and accusing Kalb of leading a media attack on him. A White House official, however, warned him that such a statement would be unwise.
White House chief of staff Donald T. Regan, asked in Bonn if he still has confidence in Buchanan, responded, "Oh, certainly."