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Reagan called 'amiable dunce' on new Washington tape

By
ARNOLD SAWISLAK

WASHINGTON -- In Washington, the walls don't have ears, but they sometimes do have microphones and that apparently is not something that ended with Watergate.

During the week, two tales of tape surfaced in Washington, one of which involved a longtime confidant of Democratic presidents calling President Reagan 'an amiable dunce.' Both provoked embarrassment and anger.

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In what may be the episode about which more will be heard, The Washington Post gossip column, 'The Ear,' claimed to have learned that Blair House, the official guest quarters for the White House, was bugged while President-elect and Mrs. Reagan were staying there before the inauguration. It said that is how the Carters learned Mrs. Reagan wanted them to leave the White House early.

The Carters responded to that by indignantly denying the story, demanding a retraction and threatening a million dollar lawsuit.

In the other story, the Wall Street Journal reported a private discussion about political and governmental affairs among a group of prominent Democrats at the home of Mrs. Averell Harriman had been taped in September.

According to the story, former Defense Secretary and Democratic presidential adviser Clark Clifford called President Reagan 'an amiable dunce' whose policies will be 'a hopeless failure.'

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The Post reported Clifford was fuming over the story and Mrs. Harriman, who had the session taped and transcribed because she had been ill and absent from the informal discussion, was 'just mortified.'

Although former Sen. Frank Church, D-Idaho, one of the people present, recalled being told by Averell Harriman that a tape had been made, other guests said they knew nothing of it.

And Rep. Richard Gephart, D-Mo., another who was there, was quoted as saying, 'I guess in Washington we have to assume we're always taped everywhere. There are very few, if any, secret meetings.'

Gephart's comment recalled a story told by D.B. Hardeman, an aide to the late House Speaker Sam Rayburn.

According to Hardeman, the day after Rayburn and other top House leaders had been asked at a super-secret meeting to conceal money in the federal budget for the atomic bomb project during World War II, the Speaker was approached by a young reporter and asked if he could comment on the funds that were being sought for some hush-hush military project.

'Mr. Rayburn turned red and asked him, 'My boy, do you love your country?' The reporter said, 'Of course,' and Mr. Rayburn replied, 'Then forget you even asked that question.''

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Those days, it seems, are gone forever.

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