A former lobbyist for the Wedtech Corp. testified yesterday that, on explicit instructions from former White House aide Lyn Nofziger's partner, Mark Bragg, he drafted and delivered a note in May 1982 seeking White House help for the company.
Prosecution witness Stephen Denlinger said Bragg told him from the West Coast in a series of phone calls that the letter would be signed by Nofziger and was to be addressed to White House aide James Jenkins, then chief deputy to presidential counselor Edwin Meese III.
On the witness stand all day at the conflict-of-interest trial of Nofziger and Bragg in U.S. District Court here, Denlinger held firmly to his account despite prolonged examination by defense lawyers trying to shake his credibility and depict him as the episode's villain.
The "Dear Jim" letter to Jenkins, signed "Lyn," is the basis for the most encompassing charge in the case, accusing Nofizger of illegal lobbying in 1982 at the White House and Bragg of aiding and abetting him. It is the only count against Bragg.
Questioned by Bragg's attorney, Richard Ben-Veniste, Denlinger calmly acknowledged having tried to "supplement the income" of H. Robert Saldivar, a Small Business Administration (SBA) official, in 1984 with $10,000 in cash from Wedtech's coffers.
Denlinger also admitted pocketing the money, without telling Wedtech, when Saldivar turned it down. Denlinger pleaded guilty last October to a federal misdemeanor charge in that case.
Formerly head of the Washington-based Latin Manufacturers Association (LAMA), Denlinger steadily resisted defense efforts to poke holes in his testimony about the origins of the May 28, 1982, note to Jenkins.
The testimony was crucial for independent counsel James McKay because Nofziger, recuperating from a stroke at the time, has said he has no recollection of having signed the letter and because handwriting analysis was inconclusive.
Prosecution testimony and evidence has suggested that Nancy Guiden, Nofziger's secretary then, may have signed it. She testified last week that she knew of no occasion when a letter or memo bearing Nofziger's signature left the office "without his approval."
Denlinger denied that he had signed it. But he said he drafted it as a follow-up to a White House meeting that Jenkins had called nine days earlier to discuss Wedtech's efforts to win a lucrative Army engine contract despite Army complaints that the company's price was too high.
The letter asks Jenkins' help in securing a letter of intent from the Army so Wedtech could use it in seeking supplemental financing to bridge a still outstanding $1 million gap.
Denlinger said he had become nervous because nothing had happened after the May 19 meeting. He said he called Bragg May 27 while Bragg was on his way to the West Coast to be married. Telephone records indicate seven such conversations May 27-28.
Denlinger, who had hired Nofziger and Bragg Communications for Wedtech, said he told Bragg of "the importance of this letter of intent." He said he and Bragg also discussed whether to send the note seeking such a letter directly to the Army, to the SBA or to Jenkins at the White House.
"That was Mark's decision -- for the letter to be sent to Jenkins," Denlinger said. "It was not a decision for me to make."
The distinction is important because Nofziger and Bragg are accused of violating a rule prohibiting Nofziger from lobbying the White House on certain matters for one year after his resignation. The provision would not apply to lobbying with the Army or the SBA.
Denlinger said he drafted the letter at the LAMA offices, delivered it to Nofziger's office May 28 and returned to pick it up for delivery to Jenkins that afternoon. He said he believed that Nofziger was at home that day and did not sign the letter.
But Denlinger also said the final copy, bearing Guiden's initials, included several changes from his draft. For instance, he said, "Dear Mr. Jenkins" became "Dear Jim."
On cross-examination, Denlinger acknowledged that he had not mentioned in grand jury testimony talking with Bragg about making Jenkins "the principal addressee."
But he also said Bragg had approved another note to the SBA, dated June 4, 1982, which began by referring to "Lyn Nofziger's letter to Jim Jenkins last week."