WASHINGTON -- German-born newsman John Koehler was summoned to the White House Friday to explain his membership in a Nazi youth group when he was 10 years old and left with his new job as the president's communications director intact.
The 24-hour firestorm over Reagan's appointment of Koehler, a U.S. Army veteran and longtime Associated Press reporter and editor, appeared to have died down when personnel chief Robert Tuttle found an FBI file on the 56-year-old U.S. Information Agency consultant. The file had not been sent half a mile down Pennsylvania Avenue.
'When I came in, he (Tuttle) said, 'Well, we just got your file. There it is. You didn't hide anything,'' Koehler said in an interview.
'I surmised, naturally, they would have had my full file, but apparently that is not the case. When the FBI did check, they must have said orally, 'We checked the guy out and he's clean.''
Referring to his six-month membership at age 10 in Hitler's Jungvolk -- described by Germans of that era as a primarily athletic organization -- Koelher said, 'Christ, it's on every damn statement I've ever made.'
He was referring to security clearances he has had since serving as an Army intelligence officer in the mid-1950s and later as a consultant to U.S. Information Director Charles Wick.
'I'm starting the job on March 2nd,' Koehler told United Press International after he returned to his Connecticut home from his meeting with Tuttle.
Koehler, who scheduled a news conference in Washington Saturday, said he went to work for Reagan because, 'this man's compassion is incredible.'
Koehler, who has corresponded with Reagan for more than 10 years after meeting him informally, said the president wrote him a compassionate letter when his second wife was dying of cancer in 1978.
He said it was 'the most compassionate note I ever received from anybody' and he decided, 'If I ever can do something for this man, I would do it, because he did it for me.'
To show that he has no trace of anti-Semitism from his youth in Dresden, Koehler said two of his three wives, including his current spouse, Dorothy, are Jewish and that he attends Jewish services.
Koehler said that when he takes over from the outspoken Patrick Buchanan March 2, 'My program is No. 1, make sure that the people remember the good things he has done for this country. Now there's a flap (over Iran) and we want to get over that and get on to bigger and better things and close out this administration as we should.'
Koehler said he did not know who prompted the flap over his Nazi association, first attributing it to someone in the AP, then saying the leak that he never denied may have come from elsewhere.
Although Koehler was not the choice of embattled chief of staff Donald Regan, he said he found Regan 'very friendly, and I like the man.'