Former White House aide Michael K. Deaver complained to representatives of a major aerospace company that he was having difficulty getting Reagan administration officials to return his telephone calls six months after he left the government, a Boeing Co. executive testified yesterday.
Gilbert W. Keyes, manager of Boeing's commercial space program, said the comment so disheartened him that he was convinced that Deaver's newly formed lobbying firm could do little to help Boeing win restoration of a major funding cut for a U.S. space station.
Keyes said he was disappointed and "didn't think anything was going to happen" after Deaver's remark soured a strategy meeting on securing the funding. Keyes said Deaver had triggered his distress by remarking that "they're not answering my phone calls."
There was no doubt, Keyes said, that "they" were government officials, most likely in the Office of Management and Budget, which had proposed slashing the funding from an initial request of $638 million to $110 million.
Prosecutors, who have charged the former White House deputy chief of staff with five counts of perjury, sought to establish that Deaver made the comment Dec. 18, 1985.
They apparently hoped to foreshadow the testimony of a former White House aide who said he answered a Deaver telephone call a day or two later.
That witness, Air Force Col. Gerald M. May, said yesterday that Deaver called him, apparently Dec. 19 or 20, seeking information about a "BRB," or budget review board, that had been asked to review the issue.
As have virtually all of the high-ranking administration officials that Deaver is alleged to have contacted, May said that their telephone conversation was brief and that Deaver made no effort to influence him.
"Hi, this is Mike Deaver. Can you tell me what happened at the BRB?" is how May said the brief conversation began. "It seemed like a matter of seconds, maybe a minute or two."
May, then National Security Council officer in charge of space issues, said Deaver "just asked for information," never mentioned that he was working for an aerospace company and ended the call by saying, "Thanks for the information."
May was the 39th witness at Deaver's trial in U.S. District Court here on charges of lying to a congressional subcommittee and a federal grand jury about his contacts with administration officials.
However, May was the first of the senior officials named in the indictment to say that he did not know who Deaver was at the time of the call. "I had to ask," said May, now assigned to Air Force headquarters at the Pentagon.
May said he had no difficulty spotting Deaver in the courtroom. "He looks just like his picture in the papers," May volunteered as Deaver and his wife, Carolyn, broke into laughter.
The exchange was one of the brightest moments in 14th day of testimony, one that became so filled with details about National Aeronautics and Space Administration budget procedures that Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson summoned lawyers to a bench conference to complain.
"I am not going to let you put in" NASA details from years well before the dates involved in the case, Jackson was overheard telling defense lawyer Randall J. Turk.
The trial, the first brought by an independent counsel appointed under the 1978 Ethics in Government Act, began Oct. 19, and the prosecution is not expected to complete its case until next week. The defense is expected to require two weeks.
NASA Associate Administrator Philip E. Culbertson testified that his agency obtained a fiscal 1987 appropriation of $410 million for the space station but only by appealing to President Reagan.
Reagan, who had endorsed a space station in 1984 State of the Union message, overrode the advice of White House chief of staff Donald T. Regan and budget director James C. Miller III to restore the funds.
Without the president's action, Culbertson said the concept for the station, a manned laboratory that would orbit Earth, would have been jeopardized.