WASHINGTON -- Veteran ABC correspondent Barbara Walters acted as an agent for secret messages from an Iranian arms merchant to President Reagan shortly after the Iran arms-hostage scandal broke, The Wall Street Journal reported today.
'Arms merchant Manucher Ghorbanifar used television journalist Barbara Walters as a conduit to secretly pass on to President Reagan his views about U.S. arms sales to Iran and related matters,' the newspaper said.
Walters, who has a multi-million dollar contract with ABC television, agreed to act as a messenger for Ghorbanifar's private statements after interviewing him and Saudi businessman Adnan Khashoggi last December less than three weeks after the scandal erupted, the newspaper said.
White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater declined to confirm The Wall Street Journal report, saying, 'I'd leave it to her,' meaning Walters, to comment.
Fitzwater said two messages 'with no address and no signature' were passed to Reagan in December 1986 and January 1987 and that Reagan had read the messages and turned them over to the White House counsel who in turn transmitted them to the Tower Board, which investigated the scandal. 'They didn't even find them of enough value to include them in their report,' he added.
Maurie Pearl, ABC News spokeswoman, said, 'Barbara's not making any statement. She's saying nothing. She's doing her other work here in New York.'
Ghorbanifar and Khashoggi have emerged as key principals in the covert White House operation to sell U.S. arms to Iran in hopes that the Iranian regime could use its influence to gain the release of American hostages held by Islamic fundamentalists in Lebanon.
'Ms. Walters, in an interview last Friday, declined to give details about the information provided by Mr. Ghorbanifar, except to acknowledge that some of it dealt with alleged payments to Iranian officials,' The Wall Street Journal story said.
'She said she hadn't broadcast the allegations, but said that she had included them in the information she passed along to President Reagan. Ms. Walters said she 'felt terrible' acting as an intermediary for Mr. Ghorbanifar, but she said she agreed to pass along information because she believed it was important for President Reagan to receive it. 'So, I made sure it was delivered,' Ms. Walters said. 'It is very unimportant whether I delivered it or somebody else did.''
According to one account, the newspaper reported, Walters 'was said to have passed the information along to Nancy Reagan' but Walters was quoted as saying, 'That's not exactly how it happened,' declining to elaborate.
Elaine Crispen, the first lady's press secretary, was quoted as saying, 'I haven't had time to check into it.'
Richard Wald, an ABC News senior vice president, was quoted as saying that Walters prepared an internal memo for the White House without prior approval from the network.
When asked by the newspaper if her conduct was appropriate, Wald was quoted: 'I would rather not comment.'
No mention of the Walters memo was contained in the Tower Commission report on what the White House and key Cabinet members knew of the Iran arms deal.
Independent counsel Lawrence Walsh has asked the White House for access to memos, letters or other communications from the middleman and other participants in the arms sales, the newspaper said.
'Mr. Walsh's team, as reported, is investigating whether funds were paid to the speaker of Iran's parliamnt, Hashemi Rafsanjani' and whether funds were paid to other Iranian officials, the newspaper said.
'Ms. Walters Friday acknowledged that some of the information from Mr. Ghorbanifar concerned alleged payments to an Iranian faction headed by the Ayatollah Montazeri,' the report said.
The newspaper said Walters is planning a future broadcast to describe the information secretly supplied to the White House that she had not mentioned in her original Dec. 11 interview broadcast.