Advertisement

The briefing papers mystery: Leaked? Stolen? Investigations spawn contradictions, unanswered questions

By
GREGORY GORDON

WASHINGTON -- All through the night of Oct. 23, 1980, James Rowland worked the copying machine virtually nonstop in Room 208 of the Old Executive Office Building next to the White House.

Rowland was making a dozen to 15 copies of the thick domestic section of a briefing book to help President Carter prepare for a crucial event in his re-election campaign -- the debate against Ronald Reagan.

Advertisement

Winding up about 9 a.m., Rowland said he distributed copies in black, loose-leaf binders to several top Carter aides and gave the rest to his boss, David Rubenstein, in the domestic policy office.

Five days later Reagan outclassed Carter in the debate that some political pundits said clinched his landslide victory two weeks later.

Time magazine correspondent Laurence Barrett, in a book published last month, said Reagan was apparently helped by a copy of Carter's briefing papers 'filched' by a 'mole' in the Carter campaign. Budget Director David Stockman later acknowledged he was the source of that report.

Is there a 'mole'? If so, who?

The controversy has enlivened WLINington's muggy, oppressive summer. The FBI is investigating possible theft or leaks of Carter White House materials.

Advertisement

A House subcommittee has hired a former Watergate figure to run its Capitol Hill inquiry. There have been calls for a special prosecutor. Former Carter aides, gaining new life from the controversy, are accusing the White House of trying to divert the media to other issues.

The matter has split conservatives and moderates in the White House, each side blaming the other. Adding to it all, some Reagan aides and former campaign officials have been caught in public contradictions and others have fuzzy memories.

White House chief of staff James Baker says he recalls seeing the briefing book, and he believes he received it from campaign chairman William Casey, now the CIA director.

Casey also was singled out in published reports quoting sources as saying he recruited former CIA and FBI agents to gather intelligence from their friends in the agencies about the Carter campaign and watch for a possible 'October surprise,' such as the release of 52 American hostages in Iran.

Casey denied knowledge of either an intelligence operation or the briefing book, which he told The New York Times he 'wouldn't touch ... with a 10-foot pole.'

Former Reagan national security adviser Richard Allen, Reagan's foreign policy adviser during the campaign, said he never saw Carter debate briefing material.

Advertisement

But William Van Cleave, a senior defense analyst who shared offices with Allen, told UPI he saw the material and assumed Allen did, too. ABC, quoted Van Cleave that Allen saw the briefing material. Van Cleave denies knowing the source of the material.

Baker advised congressional investigators in a letter that he recalled passing the 'large loose-leaf bound book' to the debate briefing team headed by David Gergen and Frank Hodsoll.

Gergen, now the White House communications director, and Hodsoll, now chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, both have found some Carter foreign policy briefing materials in a question and answer format in their files. But neither remembered how the material came into his possession.

'They're either contradicting themselves or each other,' said Carter pollster Pat Caddell. 'It seems to me that's a classic sign there are problems.'

Samuel Popkin, a Carter political consultant, analyzed transcripts of the debate and said he found the conclusion 'inescapable' that Reagan's campaign possessed and benefitted greatly from Carter briefing materials.

It is unclear whether the Reagan camp obtained the final draft of the briefing book, only earlier drafts of foreign policy material, or had a steadypipeline of information from the White House that included both.

Advertisement

To date, the White House has released copies of several hundred pages of national security and defense briefing papers prepared for Carter and Vice President Walter Mondale. The materials were found in the files of two Reagan campaign aides. The complete debate briefing book was not among them.

FBI agents are searching 550 linear feet of Reagan campaign files at the Hoover Institution Library at Stanford University to learn if other Carter files were obtained. The House subcommittee chaired by Rep. Donald Albosta, D-Mich., is pressing the White House for similar access to those files in a dispute that could become a legal battle.

Determining exactly what Carter files or briefing papers changed hands may be critical to unlocking how the material reached the Reagan camp.

If, for example, domestic materials were provided before they were in the 'final' draft form that Rowland copied, far fewer Carter White House officials would have had access.

Or if it turned out that no domestic policy material ever was obtained by the Reagan camp, fingers would point strongly toward possible leaks from the National Security Council.

Rowland, once a photographer and graphics artist for the conservative weekly Human Events, denies making an extra copy of the domestic section for the Reagan campaign, adding:

Advertisement

'I don't have any reason to believe that they got a copy of our book. They may have something that looked like it ... maybe something from an earlier draft.' Rowland's superior, deputy domestic policy adviser Rubenstein, doubts Rowland would have leaked the material. He notes Rowland lost his job two months after Reagan took office.

Rowland told United Press International that agents from the FBI's WLINington Field Office interviewed him Tuesday. 'From their point of view, I'm not a suspect at all,' he said. He said the interview seemed to focus on White House procedures and whether the Reagan campaign may have obtained an earlier draft of the briefing book.

Shortly after the controversy, former NSC adviser Allen, who resigned under pressure for accepting money from Japanese journalists, made a July 4 television appearance to acknowledge receiving 'innocuous' material from daily staff reports prepared for Carter's national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski. Allen said the documents were 'thrown over the transom' to the Reagan campaign.

Later, according to sources, Allen told investigators for a House Post Office and Civil Service subcommittee chaired by Rep. Donald Albosta, D-Mich., that a third party advised him the materials came from Jerry Jennings, head of internal security for Carter's NSC staff. Allen could not remember who identified Jennings, the sources said.

Advertisement

Jennings, who has worked for Republicans in the White House as well as Carter, has called 'ludicrous' and 'untrue' suggestions he passed the documents to Reagan's camp. He declines to answer questions for publication.

Jennings' defenders point out he reported discovery of $1,000 in cash in Allen's office safe from Japanese journalists who paid the NSC chief for arranging an interview with Nancy Reagan.

The resulting uproar led to Allen's resignation, and it has been suggested Allen thus had a 'motive' to implicate Jennings. Those who consider Jennings a possible suspect, however, note he had little choice but to report Allen when a subordinate told him of the cash in Allen's safe.

As security officer, Jennings would have had access to the offices of several top White House officials.

However, former NSC officials recall their doors were unlocked and that a number of people could have wandered in and found the briefing materials. Only classified documents -- which did not include the briefing materials -- were kept in safes, one official said. Another asserted NSC officials took the campaign material home at night.

Jennings, head of the Reagan White House's office of science and technology policy, not only has served in the White House for a fourth straight administration but also has worked for both the CIA and the FBI.

Advertisement

Before FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover let him join the bureau in 1968, law enforcement sources said, he questioned whether Jennings might be a CIA 'mole.'

During the next six years, Jennings was stationed mainly in New York City. At one point, he worked on the Weather Underground investigation, searching for fugitive terrorists.

One former administration official who knew Jennings in those years said he had a 'big ego' and was 'an opportunist ... I can't tell you under no circumstances would he do it (pass Carter documents).'

But an official on the NSC staff in the Carter years said Jennings, hired in 1973, 'never did or said anything that would give me any reason to question his integrity.'

NSC officials expressed surprise to learn Jennings briefly had resigned from the national security job in 1976 to explore running for Congress as a Republican.

Jennings, who has maintained a voting residence in Flint, Mich., where his parents live, could not raise enough money to run for the House seat vacated by now-Sen. Donald Riegle, D-Mich., according to an aide to Rep. Dale Kildee, D-Mich., who succeeded Riegle. The aide said Jennings was rehired to the NSC three weeks later.

The ex-NSC official said Jennings was kept on when Carter took office because he had a 'functional job' and was a career employee - and that Brzezinski and his aides were not aware of his congressional bid.

Advertisement

Jennings had at least one close friend in the Reagan camp -- Tony Dolan, head of 'opposition research' for the campaign and now a top White House speechwriter. Dolan denied any connection with the debate book material and said does not recall speaking with Jennings during the campaign -- 'certainly not after Reagan's nomination.'

Learning Informed of the Jennings-Dolan friendship, a source on Albosta's subcommittee said the panel plans to look into the matter.

Dolan said, 'The inclusion of my name in this story is totally irresponsible and without foundation.'

'Mr. Jennings has already been slandered once in this controversy, and now he is being dragged back again at least in part because he happened to be a friend of mine,' Dolan said. 'The gratuitous inclusion of my name and the concommitant suggestion that I would have had some part in a criminal act is totally unethical and completely libelous.'

Rowland provided a further indication of friendships between Jennings and Reagan administration officials. Rowland said that two months into the administration he was told he would have to find a new job, but administration officials would try to help.

He said Ronald Frankum, an aide to Reagan domestic policy adviser Martin Anderson, 'sent me upstairs to a guy who worked for the National Security Council -- Jerry Jennings.' Frankum termed Jennings 'an old friend of theirs,' Rowland said.

Advertisement

Rowland said he met with Jennings, but was not offered a job.

One irritated former Carter official who defends Jennings said, 'I wish these Reagan people who know ... would have the decency to tell people where theygot the (Carter) stuff from, rather than having these peoples' names in print.'

Former Carter press secretary Jody Powell, whose newspaper column drew attention to Barrett's book, contends suspects who may have leaked the material cannot be limited to National Security staffers such as Jennings, in part because of the multiple contradictions emanating from the White House.

He said after reading Barrett's book he telephoned Baker, who told him he recalled seeing both domestic and foreign policy material. 'At that point, nothing had happened, and I don't think they were nervous about it,' Powell said. 'I was told by everybody, including Jim (Baker), that they had no idea where the thing came from.

'A week or so later, I was told that it was Casey (who gave it to Baker).'

Stockman, who played Reagan in his debate rehearsals, advised Albosta in a recent letter that he recalled being delivered a packet of Carter briefing papers a day before the first rehearsal. Stockman said, 'I believe this was October 23, 1980' -- before Rowland would have begun photocopying at 11 p.m. Stockman said he believed domestic material was included. ---

Advertisement

Adding intrigue are some additional twists:

-Some conservatives in the Reagan White House have alleged that Stefan Halper, who served as director of policy coordination in the Reagan-Bush campaign, used former CIA agents to run a data-collection operation on the Carter administration's foreign policy. Halper has acknowledged employing former CIA agent Robert Gambino in his office, which he said was responsible for monitoring and analyzing all news developments 24 hours a day. However, Halper, a GOP moderate, said to his knowledge the existence of an intelligence network of former agents spying on the Carter administration was 'absolutely false.' Some sources assert the allegation is part of an attempt by the conservative wing at the White House to oust Baker and his allies from the Bush campaign.

-Wayne Valis, a former Reagan campaign volunteer, has told Albosta's subcommittee he obtained a single-page, 10-point memo describing a 'brainstorming' session of mid-level Carter aides from two other GOP backers. The FBI has interviewed the two men Valis identified -- John Lenczowski, now a National Security Council staffer, and Robert Leahy, a WLINington public relations executive -- in an attempt to learn whether it came from a White House aide.

-Another Reagan volunteer, Daniel Jones, provided top campaign officials including Gray, Casey and Edwin Meese a copy of Carter's travel itinerary for the last week of the campaign and internal economic policy memos. On one memo, Jones scrawled, 'Report from White House mole.' Jones has since played down the significance of the material he provided.

Advertisement

Latest Headlines