Edited excerpts of Michael K. Deaver's interview with staff writer Lou Cannon:
Q: According to the GAO report and the testimony yesterday, Drew Lewis had a White House pass, he had phones, he had an office, and I wonder how it was that you did not consider him a White House official?
A: Well, let me say first of all on the GAO report that in my opinion the report was a mouse. After five months of investigating, interviewing only 10 people, and never once asking for my side of the story, they issued their report. I think the report clearly indicates I haven't violated any law. There's no suggestion in the report that I participated personally and substantively in the substantive aspect of the acid rain issue itself, which is the real matter involved. Secondly, what the GAO knows about my influence in the White House is speculation. In any event I didn't use my influence with the president or the White House at any time. As to Mr. Lewis, the GAO document clearly shows that he was on the State Department rolls as a special envoy, not the White House.
Q: Well, actually, the GAO report, in my reading of it, doesn't show that, Mike. [The GAO makes] an argument that he could be considered State in one sense and they made an argument that he could be considered White House in another since he had this, this access.
A: Well, let me just say this . . . . From the very beginning I assumed, in dealing with special envoys and ambassadors . . . at the White House, that Lewis was a State Department appointment. Now, if the GAO lawyers who are trained in the law cannot testify before a congressional committee that they know in fact he was either on the State Department or the White House, how's somebody like myself supposed to determine that. In my judgment all special envoys in the past reported through the State Department.
Q: At the hearing yesterday the GAO testified that . . . [Robert C. (Bud)] McFarlane had told them that you had said either Drew Lewis or Bill Clark would be okay for that special envoy job, is that right?
A: First of all, I didn't participate -- other than in that discussion -- in the selection. I don't know how the selection went to the president; I don't really know who took it to him; I assume that the secretary of state did. But the only question on who was going to be the special envoy was posed to me by Bud saying here are the two candidates; you got any feelings about them? And I said either one would be acceptable.
Q: Doesn't that show some involvement in the selection process?
A: Well, I was involved in probably over a hundred appointments . . . .
Q: You don't think that shows an involvement in the selection process?
A: I don't think it shows a specific special involvement.
Q: Your firm through Mr. [William] Sittman offered [White House counsel] Fred Fielding that job at lunch or explored having a job on Feb. 27, and that was one day before Fielding sent this memo which was clearly favorable to you?
A: First of all, there was no offer of a job of any kind to Mr. Fielding. Secondly, I don't know anything about what the internal papers were at the White House or the timing of those papers.
Q: Well, did Sittman discuss a job with him?
A: I think Sittman -- I don't know, I wasn't at the luncheon, but it's my understanding that Sittman told him a little bit about what we were doing and wanted to know what Fred was going to be doing. But there was never any offer of a job.
Q: Doesn't that have the appearance at least of influencing the process? Even if you didn't know anything about the timing, Fred is the counsel.
A: That would suggest that there was some motive on our part of our offering Fred a job, and that's an insult to Fred . . . . What I'm saying is the question would suggest that we knew that Fred was going to be ruling on some issue affecting us and so we ran over and offered him a job. We didn't offer him a job. Bill and Fred were friends; they had social lunches together on occasion. The discussion of what Fred was going to do and what we were doing over here came up and that was as far as it went.
Q: In reading the report, they talk about a number of meetings and conversations, and I wondered, just on the number of contacts, how you would be able to maintain that you weren't personally and substantially involved -- which I think is the language of the statute -- in this matter when you were a White House official.
A: I was never involved personally or substantially, in my opinion, on the substantive issue of acid rain. I couldn't tell you today what acid rain means. I was involved as a matter of procedure as I was involved in every state visit and every summit and every bilateral meeting we had with heads of state on the communications strategy and the logistics of the summit.
Q: [Canadian Ambassador to the U.S. Allan E.] Gotlieb described a Canadian official as having made a light-hearted remark to you [about future employment]. Was it light-hearted?
A: Absolutely. It was simply off the cuff as we were walking out of the meeting, saying, you know, you're a helluva guy, a guy the Canadians ought to be thinking about. I said for God's sake, don't talk to me about that . . . .
Q: Do you think [your representation of Canada] appears bad in any way, and if it is, is there anything you intend to do about it?
A: First of all, for 25 years I would never do anything to hurt Ronald and Nancy Reagan, and I'm saddened [at] the misinterpretation of all of this. I've never used my relationship with the Reagans in the White House on behalf of any client since I've left, and that's one of the reasons why yesterday I returned my White House pass . . . it's been totally misinterpreted. [It was] a very warm gesture by the president to me [that] has been tainted as some sort of misuse of the privilege. I've never done that. The only time I used that White House pass was when I was called back to the White House to help them on the Gorbachev summit and other planning meetings or when [wife] Carolyn and I were invited over socially. I think this episode has been blown out of proportion. There has been a lot of misreporting, anonymous White House leaks, staffers from the Hill. And Friday I hope that I'm going to be able to tell for the first time my side of the story.
Q: What about the daily schedule? You said you returned your White House pass . . . .
A: I never asked for the daily schedule. It came when I began helping them on the Gorbachev summit. Frankly, it was something I never paid any attention to unless somebody from the White House called me and said, what do you think about this, and I'd have to refer to it. But I two weeks ago told them to stop sending it to me . . . .
Q: Do you think that going to work for a foreign government is a kind of an appropriate thing for somebody who's as close to the president of this country?
A: Well, first of all I would only work for a country that was an ally of us. I would never take on somebody that we had a problem with. And secondly I would never do anything for that country that was not in the best interest of the United States government. Thirdly, I think it's important to remember that foreign governments are no different from a large corporation or a senior citizens' advocacy group. Looking at this mammoth government with a $1 trillion budget and a bureaucracy that's the largest in the world and trying to figure out how to get through to that and how to understand the process. And I think it's really in the best interests of this government that other governments who are strong friends and allies, who have experience in getting around the government. That doesn't mean that they're hiring people to pick up the phone; it's ludicrous to think that somebody can simply pick up the phone, call the White House or somebody else and get something done immediately. It takes hard work at all levels. And you know, I built up here a staff of almost 20 people who've had almost 30 years' experience in government, labor, EPA, Federal Reserve, special trade representatives, State Department, these are all professionals. And frankly they resent, and so do I, the fact that we're nothing but access peddlers. We are roll-up-the-sleeves, hard-working people trying to solve problems for our clients. And in every instance where I have been involved on behalf of foreign governments and we've been able to find a solution to their problem, it's been to the mutual satisfaction of the United States government. The United States government was tickled to death that that government had somebody who knew and understood the process.
Q: Doesn't it look like when you leave the White House and you sign up clients for a very large fee, doesn't it give the appearance of peddling access?
A: Well, let me tell you something, there wasn't a heck of a lot of talk about that [when] I . . . had a lot of favorable stories. But the minute I got on the cover of Time magazine and the minute the story leaked about Saatchi and Saatchi wanting to buy this firm, the wolves were out, the knives began. And the story of Saatchi and Saatchi, [with] which incidentally I have terminated negotiations indefinitely because of all this. Saatchi and Saatchi wasn't interested in buying a Washington-based lobbying firm. Saachi and Saachi was interested in having the expertise of this firm on an international consulting arrangement . . . . And it was a seven-year buyout, and we had to produce during that seven years to be able to get the benefit of that sale. So it wasn't a lump sum of $18 million and it wasn't any more than any other small business or legal firm in this town would have gotten in a similar kind of arrangement.
Q: And even in the favorable stories, did you feel that this is a good appearance for you and for the Reagans?
A: Well, it's obviously, the media perception, the public perception at this point is not good, there's no question about that. I don't think I've done anything differently than anybody else who was a senior White House official has done. The minute I got out of the White House I hired good legal counsel because I knew that this could -- that I was going to be under scrutiny. I was going to be very visible and have a high profile. I'm certainly not pleased with the fact that my children have to make their way through television news every morning to get to school. That I'm being portrayed as something evil . . . .
Q: But I wondered what your own reflection . . . ?
A: I don't think it's wrong for a senior White House official to represent a foreign government. I really don't. I believe that that experience can provide a real service, not only to that government or any client, and also serve the best interests of the United States. Now if I was representing Angola or the Soviet Union or something like that, sure, but I would never consider doing something like that . . . .