Members of the House Democratic leadership yesterday questioned whether a White House directive barring President Reagan's staff from engaging in private fund-raising efforts for the Nicaraguan contras was specifically drafted to allow other executive branch employees to work for the rebels.
The memo, dated Wednesday, was directed to White House and National Security Council staffs. It said "no administration official should provide assistance of any kind" to private individuals or third parties seeking to raise private funds for the rebels.
Despite that language, Rep. David E. Bonior (D-Mich.), chief deputy whip and chairman of a Democratic task force on contra aid, wrote the president yesterday that he "was disturbed to learn" the instructions "may not apply to all executive branch employees."
"If the White House intentionally exempts Elliott Abrams and his crowd, then the American people have been misled," Bonior said in a statement, referring to the assistant secretary of state for inter-American affairs.
White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said through a deputy that the memo "was a statement of executive branch policy" and did not elaborate. State Department officials had no comment.
Steve Champlin, an aide to House Majority Whip Tony Coelho (D-Calif.), said the president would have had to sign the memorandum "as a matter of form" for it to apply to federal workers other than White House staff. The one-page memorandum was signed by chief of staff Howard H. Baker Jr. and national security adviser Lt. Gen. Colin L. Powell and labeled "for the White House and NSC staff."
Fitzwater said Thursday the memo was signed by Baker and Powell rather than the president because "this was the appropriate level in which to do it."