WASHINGTON -- A former Ronald Reagan campaign official charged Thursday administration conservatives are trying to manipulate the Jimmy Carter papers controversy to force the ouster of White House Chief of Staff James Baker.
The charge was leveled as two junior officials of the 1980 Reagan campaign were singled out as receiving inside information from Carter's campaign camp and one was labeled the head of a network of former CIA agents who spied on the Carter administration.
WDVM-TV reported Thursday night the Reagan campaign was not the only campaign to be offered information from inside the Carter White House.
The station quoted Ed Coyle, deputy director of John Anderson's independent presidential campaign, as saying a former Carter campaign worker with 'a vendetta' against Carter approached him during the campaign and offered to provide information about Carter's political strategy.
'He clearly implied that he had access to campaign strategy memos, personal, political memorandum from various people in the White House during the campaign,' Coyle said in the interview. 'He also suggested that his woman friend was in a position to know personal information about people with whom she worked and for whom she worked in the White House.
'He was never very specific. He struck me as being just obsessed with the idea of hurting Jimmy Carter's re-election.' Coyle said he believed the man, who was not identified, was upset because he was refused some kind of grant. He said he told the man to leave and informed Carter officials in the summer of 1980 about the incident.
In another development, Rep. Donald Albosta, D-Mich., chairman of the House subcommittee investigating the controversy, sent letters to presidential counselor Edwin Meese III and deputy White House chief of staff Michael Deaver asking for a 'thorough explanation' by July 18 of their knowledge or role in the receipt of material prepared for Carter.
Albosta also asked each to 'preserve all documents, records, audio and video recordings and logs of meetings and conversations' relating to the funneling of Carter materials to the Reagan campaign.
A former Reagan campaign worker who asked not to be identified said the most conservative members of the administration were beginning to use the growing controversy to oust Baker and David Gergen, White House communications director, and replace them with staffers of a more conservative bent.
The former campaign official said the next step in the strategy would be to attempt to establish that the Carter campaign materials reached the Reagan camp through the vice presidential campaign staff of George Bush -- who was CIA director under President Ford.
'This thing is being seized upon by the hard right in a very thorough effort to discredit and remove Baker and Gergen and replace them with people whose thinking is more in line with the conservative line,' he said.
Another former campaigner still associated with the administration's conservative faction said there appeared to be a 'get Baker mentality' in top administration cir:les.
A pair of junior Reagan campaign officials -- including a member of Bush's campaign staff -- were named in published reports Thursday as receiving papers from the Carter campaign and passing them on to higher-echelon officials of the Reagan campaign. But there was no word on who in the Carter camp might have provided them with the information.
Staffers on Albosta's subcommittee have talked to Daniel Jones, a former Reagan campaign volunteer who concedes having received information from the Carter campaign and passing it on to his superiors in the Reagan camp. On some of the papers, Jones wrote that the material came from a 'reliable White House mole.'
The New York Times reported the Reagan campaign headquarters conducted a data-gathering operation to collect inside information on Carter foreign policy and used a number of former CIA officials in the effort.
It said Stefan Halper, a campaign aide who handled communications for Bush and provided news updates and policy ideas to the traveling Reagan party, was in charge of the operation. Halper called the report 'just absolutely untrue.'
'I know of nothing that came to me from the Carter camp of any importance,' he said. 'If I'd seen anything marked State Department or National Security Council or White House I'm sure I'd remember it and I don't recall anything of that nature.'
'I never knew or talked to anyone in the Carter White House, the Carter administration or the Carter campaign throughout the course of the campaign and I never asked anybody to talk to anybody from the Carter camp or to get any information,' he said.
President Reagan maintained a busy schedule Thursday, apparently ignoring the controversy, while deputy press secretary Larry Speakes reiterated the administration would have no comment while the Justice Department is investigating the matter.
FBI agents conducted the first interviews of the investigation Wednesday, questioning former Carter pollster Pat Caddell and former Carter adviser David Rubenstein. The Carter aides reiterated their belief there was more than one person involved in funneling information out of their camp.