Top officials in Walter F. Mondale's presidential campaign ordered a campaign lawyer to secretly seize a notebook containing records of controversial Pennsylvania delegate committees days before the Keystone State primary, according to a new book.
Richard F. Goodstein, a volunteer lawyer in the campaign, surreptitiously took the records from a Philadelphia office at the request of two high-ranking campaign officials, who feared the records might establish an illegal relationship between the national campaign and the delegate committees in the state, according to the book by Jack W. Germond and Jules Witcover.
Goodstein and others involved yesterday confirmed that the incident occurred. But he and David Ifshin, general counsel to the national Mondale campaign, disputed the book's interpretation of the event.
"We felt the book was the property of the campaign," said Ifshin, who with campaign treasurer Michael Berman instructed Goodstein to take the records. "You can't say we stole something because it was our property."
The incident occurred at a time when the supposedly independent delegate committees had emerged as a major issue between Mondale, the eventual Democratic nominee, and Sen. Gary Hart (D-Colo.), and the Mondale campaign had begun a damage control operation.
The records were returned after Philadelphia District Attorney Edward Rendell, head of the Pennsylvania At-Large Delegate Committee, complained about the action.
In their book, "Wake Us When It's Over," the syndicated columnists said Rendell warned top Mondale officials that the theft, if it became known, could crush "Mondale's chances of getting the nomination."
" 'You guys are crazy. We've got this thing won,' " Rendell was quoted as saying. "I didn't mean just Pennsylvania. I said, 'It's over with, and you guys are futzing with something that could be construed to be another Watergate. You guys are absolutely crazy."
Rendell said yesterday that he has read portions of the book and the quotations attributed to him are correct.
Mondale won the Pennsylvania primary, but the delegate committee issue continued to dog him up until the 1984 Democratic National Convention. The events described in the book indicate how concerned his campaign was about the political fallout from the delegate committees.
The former vice president eventually ordered the delegate committees to disband, and last December his campaign, acknowledging a violation of federal campaign spending laws, agreed to pay the U.S. Treasury $379,640 for accepting excess donations through the committees.
The committees were ostensibly autonomous, grass-roots efforts set up to finance campaigns of Mondale supporters who were seeking to be delegates to the Democratic National Convention.
But Federal Election Commission reports indicated the supposedly independent committees were hiring staff members laid off by Mondale's national committee, sending money from committees in one state to those in another and accepting contributions from special-interest political action committees, even though Mondale had refused contributions from such groups.
In Pennsylvania, the delegate committees, in effect, became Mondale's field operation. Diane Thompson, a former Mondale staff member, was executive director of the Pennsylvania At-Large Delegate Committee.
Goodstein said he became concerned about how closely various delegate committees were working with the Mondale campaign when he went to Philadelphia to work for Mondale. He informed Ifshin about his concern.
Ifshin then made a quick trip to Philadelphia. There he met with Thompson and learned that she kept detailed records of delegate committee activities in a loose-leaf notebook.
Ifshin said he returned to Washington and discussed the matter with Berman. "There was a great concern that Mike Ford Mondale's political director who was running his Pennsylvania operation and Diane Thompson were operating beyond our instructions," he added. "We wanted to stop what was going on . . . . The fact was we didn't want people doing anything illegal."
The next day Ifshin talked with Goodstein on the telephone. Goodstein reconstructed the conversation for Germond and Witcover:
Ifshin: Look . . . if they're not going to keep things as separate as I think they should, get your hands on that notebook.
Goodstein: Well, what do you mean?
Ifshin: I want to see that book.
Goodstein: Well, I don't think they're gonna give it to me if I ask.
Ifshin: Well, just get it. Take it.
Ifshin yesterday described the reconstruction as "an overdramatization," but Goodstein confirmed that he had recounted it as reported by Germond and Witcover.
He said he agreed to carry out the instruction after being assured that Berman had approved it. He removed the notebook when Thompson was out of the office and took it to Washington. It was sent back to Rendell the following day, according to Ifshin.
"I acted as a lawyer representing a parent company which is having trouble with a subsidiary," Goodstein said in an interview. "When a subsidiary runs astray, the only way to stop it is to remove the instrument they're using to go astray. This was the instrument they had to carry on improper conduct and without that instrument they were hamstrung."
He said it was his understanding that the notebook would be turned over to Rendell. Asked why he took it to Washington rather than giving it to Rendell, Goodstein said, "It sounds screwy, but that was the idea and that was what happened."
"It was the middle of a campaign and the stakes were high," he added. "It seemed to be the thing to do at the moment."
Neither Berman nor Thompson could be reached for comment yesterday. In the book Berman is quoted as saying: "I thought better about it afterwards, frankly, but at the time I wanted to make sure our people weren't engaged in anything that was inappropriate."
Ifshin said in an interview that neither he nor Berman ever read the notebook before returning it to Rendell. "This is a tempest in a teapot," he said. "If Germond and Witcover are writing about it, it just shows how dull the campaign was."