A dinner next week to honor the late CIA director William J. Casey has drawn sharp criticism from intelligence and Republican Party figures, who have questioned the motives of the dinner's sponsor, Max Hugel.
Half the dinner proceeds will go to a lobbying group run by Hugel, a businessman who briefly was head of the Central Intelligence Agency's clandestine service in 1981 before resigning because of allegations regarding his business conduct.
"It seems to me this dinner is more a memorial to Max Hugel than to my friend Bill Casey," said John Bross, who knew Casey from their days at the Office of Strategic Services in World War II.
John Greaney, a retired CIA lawyer who is executive director of the 3,200-member Association of Former Intelligence Officers, said, "We really think it's a crass idea for Hugel to be trading on Casey's name. This is a political fund-raiser."
Some politicians are also uncomfortable because the dinner has been scheduled while Casey's conduct is under scrutiny in the Iran-contra investigations. "Is it really good for the administration or the party to have to publicly line up behind Casey right now?" asked one Republican aligned with Vice President Bush.
Hugel said yesterday of the critics: "They can say anything they want. I'm doing this for Bill Casey." He said he expects 1,000 people to attend the dinner and suggested that those who support Casey "stand up for the guy."
Hugel also noted that some of the criticism from the spy veterans may have been prompted because of their plans for a fund-raising dinner in Casey's name "and maybe they think this takes away from it."
The $250-a-plate dinner, scheduled for Monday at the Sheraton Washington, lists Casey's widow, Sophia, as the special guest, and a who's who of Republican politics as cosponsors. Retired senator Barry Goldwater is honorary chairman, and six Republican candidates for president -- but not Bush -- five Cabinet members, several members of Congress and veteran intelligence officials are among 69 cochairmen.
Goldwater said in a telephone interview that he was asked by Michelle Laxalt, daughter of former senator and presidential hopeful Paul Laxalt, if his name could be used for the dinner. "I didn't know Hugel had anything to do with it," he said. He added that he will not be able to attend.
President Reagan, who attended memorial services for Casey after his death May 6, is not scheduled to attend the dinner either, a White House spokesman said.
New CIA Director William H. Webster and Robert M. Gates, his deputy, will not attend the event. They will be out of town for engagements scheduled before the dinner was announced, a spokesman said.
Some Republican officials and campaign strategists are disturbed about the Casey dinner because, as one said, it "needlessly" puts them on the spot at the time Casey's activities are under scrutiny. They also view it as something Hugel is doing not for the good of the party or the administration, but as part of his effort to "be a player."
Bush, a former CIA director, has been identified in The Washington Times and Human Events as the one Republican contender who will be absent. A Bush spokeswoman said the vice president cannot attend because he will be hosting a dinner for the president of Chad the same evening. Bush's name will be listed in the dinner program, she added.
Bross said he will not attend the dinner and thought it was ironic that Hugel, "who really did Casey more harm than anyone else, should be putting on a testimonial dinner." Hugel responded that he was innocent of the allegations, made by men who fled the country, and resigned only so Casey would not be hurt.
Richard Helms, CIA director from 1966 to 1973 and among those listed as cochairmen, said he will not attend because "I didn't like the way it was handled." He said he did not give permission for his name to be used as a sponsor.
David Carmen, who works with his father, Gerald Carmen, former head of the General Services Administration, and Hugel in a communications firm, said profits from the event -- after its expected $150,000 in expenses -- will be split evenly between cancer research and Americans for the Reagan Agenda, a group Hugel runs to lobby for conservative causes. The Hugel lobbying group is a client of the Carmen-Hugel firm.
Carmen, who also is communications director for Laxalt's campaign, noted that donations to the Hugel group are not tax-deductible, though the dinner committee probably will seek a ruling from the Internal Revenue Service on whether the cancer research portion of the proceeds is deductible.
Hugel said the Laxalt connections to the dinner did not mean it amounted to a Laxalt fund-raiser. "More than 1,000 people were invited, including every Republican candidate," he said.
Hugel, who ran Reagan's campaign in New Hampshire in 1980, said Sophia Casey "felt something should be done as soon as possible . . . so his memory would still be clear and prevalent in the country."
Sophia Casey could not be reached for comment.
Hugel has cited his CIA credentials before in raising money for Americans for the Reagan Agenda. Last fall, for example, he sent out a direct-mail letter under the heading "Max Hugel, former deputy director, CIA" to warn about the Soviet espionage threat.