The Office of Government Ethics is studying a 1986 real estate transaction between the blind trust of former transportation secretary Elizabeth Hanford Dole and the company of a former aide to her husband, Senate Minority Leader Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.), informed sources said yesterday.

The investigation is focusing on whether the managers of Elizabeth Dole's blind trust may have breached their "fiduciary responsibilities" to insulate the trust from people associated with the Doles, sources said.

The transaction occurred when David Owen, a former lieutenant governor of Kansas and a longtime associate of Sen. Dole, was the trust's investment adviser. The trustee was Mark McConaghy, who was chief of staff of the bipartisan Joint Committee on Taxation in 1981-83, when Dole was its chairman.

The former Dole aide whose company served as intermediary in the December 1986 deal, John Palmer, was awarded a $26 million contract with the Army 11 months earlier. Dole has publicly acknowledged urging the Small Business Administration to award the contract to Palmer under its program for helping minority businesses.

Palmer, a prominent black Kansas Republican, previously had worked in Dole's Kansas City office.

Since Kansas newspapers first reported extensively last weekend on the deal involving an Overland Park, Kan., office building, the matter has become entangled in a political back-and-forth over finances between Dole and his leading Republican presidential rival, Vice President Bush.

While Dole has attempted to portray Bush as a man born to wealth, Bush has challenged Dole to release his tax returns and his aides have emphasized that the senator, too, is wealthy. Some Bush aides have distributed the news stories about the Kansas transactions to reporters.

Owen, now a national finance chairman for the Dole campaign, said yesterday that when detailed information is released about the blind trust and the real estate deal, "The facts will show that this was a straightforward business deal." A number of Dole spokesmen said yesterday that they were unable to discuss the 1986 real estate transaction at this time because of the legal restrictions against disclosing information about blind trusts.

The Doles have both said that they were unaware of any dealings involving the blind trust, established in January 1985. Asked yesterday about the identity of the anonymous partnership that bought the Overland Park building, Dole replied at a news conference in Clear Lake, Iowa: "Beats me."

"I don't know anything about it," he said. "It wasn't my arrangement. I didn't consult with anyone about her {Elizabeth Dole's} trust. She's somewhere in Iowa. Why don't you talk to her?"

"There isn't any question in my mind that this is all politically motivated by the Bush people in Kansas," Owen charged.

The office building in question was purchased by the Dole trust in January 1986 for an undisclosed sum, and financed by a $1 million mortgage, according to a report by Dale Goter of the Harris News Service. The purchase was reportedly negotiated by Owen, who was appointed an investment counselor to the trust by McConaghy.

On Oct. 2, 1986, the property was remortgaged for $1.03 million.

On Dec. 30, title was transferred to a general partnership in a series of complex transactions, including one in which Palmer's company served as the middleman, and may have ended up with a substantial interest in the partnership, according to one source.

First, the Dole trust sold a half-interest in the property to EDP, Palmer's company. EDP agreed to assume half the mortgage payments and issued a promissory note -- a promise to pay -- that was to be worth nearly $400,000 when it matured in five years. The note was backed by another mortgage on the property.

EDP immediately transferred its half-interest to the anonymous partnership called College Park Two Building Partnership. According to one source, EDP was itself a partner in College Park Two. The trust then transferred the second half-interest in the property to College Park Two for an undisclosed price.

Palmer did not return phone calls yesterday.

One possible explanation for the timing of the transactions advanced yesterday by real estate specialists was the impending tax revision law, which took effect on Jan. 1, 1987. By completing the sale in 1986, the sellers obtained more favorable capital gains treatment and the buyers were eligible for more favorable depreciation schedules.

Unusual as the transaction appears to nonspecialists, experts familiar with real estate deals and the tax code said that a number of legal or tax reasons could have explained the decision to split the property in two, and to use EDP as an intermediary.

Owen and the partnership have the same mailing address in the Overland Park building, according to an article published yesterday in The Boston Globe. In addition, a tenant in the building told a Globe reporter Tuesday that he delivers his rent checks to Owen's office.

The building also houses the Dole for President Campaign headquarters for Kansas City, according to the Harris News Service.

McConaghy, reached by telephone in Hawaii, said he was precluded by ethics rules from discussing the activities of the Elizabeth Dole blind trust. But he said that Owen "was removed {as financial counselor} when it became known to me that he was actively involved in Sen. Dole's presidential campaign."

Other sources said that Owen advised the trust until the fall of 1987, when Dole announced his candidacy. That would have meant that he an adviser during the period the property transactions occurred.

Persons familiar with the building in Johnson County, Kan., say it is in a fast-growing area similar to Fairfax County, Va. They described the Overland Park developments as commercial real estate whose value has been rising.

Staff writer Bill Peterson contributed to this report.