WASHINGTON — President Reagan has met at least twice with senior aides, including one "lengthy" session earlier this month, to discuss details of the Iran- contra affair, the White House said Tuesday, contradicting its earlier report that the President had not yet taken part in efforts to piece together elements of the controversial operation.
Reagan met with Chief of Staff Donald T. Regan and White House counsel Peter Wallison shortly before entering Bethesda Naval Medical Center for prostate surgery, said Rusty Brashear, a deputy White House press secretary.
In addition, a White House official said that the President had met Dec. 19 with Sen. Dave Durenberger (R-Minn.), then chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and received a report on the panel's investigation of the operation, which the President did not see. Participants included Regan and Wallison.
Days later, the White House urged that the panel's report officially be made public--a step that has not yet occurred.
Chairman Not Informed
A committee spokesman said Tuesday evening that the new chairman of the panel, Sen. David L. Boren (D-Okla.), and the vice chairman, Sen. William S. Cohen (R-Me.), did not find out about the meeting "until recently."
The conflicting reports about Reagan's involvement illustrate a White House that has been torn in two directions in its effort to cope with the unfolding story: Even as it has portrayed Reagan as anxious to get to the bottom of the operation that was directed by his own staff, it has drawn a picture of a President who has not become deeply involved in that investigative effort.
And, after first saying that no invitation had been received to talk to the commission that is studying the work of the National Security Council, Brashear said that the commission, headed by former Sen. John G. Tower (R-Tex.), had put forward two possible dates for Reagan and the three-member panel to meet. Commission spokesman Herb Hetu said later that an undisclosed date has been set for the interview.
Will Need More Time
Brashear said the meeting would take place sometime after Reagan delivers the State of the Union address next Tuesday. Thus, the commission, charged by Reagan with the task of finishing its work by the end of January, will be forced to seek additional time to complete its report.
The spokesman indicated--but did not state--that Reagan's recuperation from the surgery had played a role in delaying the meeting with the panel.
While he said that the healing has been without problem, the spokesman said: "We are not trying to schedule those things that are considered by his doctors to be too rigorous during the recuperative period."
Meanwhile, a senior White House official insisted to reporters that there was no attempt to withhold information.
"There is absolutely no stonewalling," said the official, David M. Abshire, who was hired by Reagan to coordinate White House responses to the various investigations. Congressional committees and an independent counsel, Lawrence E. Walsh, are probing the sale of weapons to Iran and the diversion of profits to the anti-Sandinista rebels in Nicaragua.
The White House has indicated that one of the things holding up the President's interview with the Tower Commission, which Reagan appointed in November, had been the preparation by Wallison of a chronology of the operation, believed to have been run by Marine Lt. Col. Oliver L. North. The colonel was fired from his post on the National Security Council staff on Nov. 25, as details of the operation became known.
The document is being drawn up "so that the President can look back through it . . . himself, as he will have to do, (to) recollect his own participation and what happened in those events in which he was present," Brashear said.
"The President has been talking with, not only Don Regan, but Peter Wallison, about all of this. He has been following closely, not only all of your stories, but everything that has gone on involving this issue," he told reporters.
He added that before Reagan confers with the commission, "you can rest assured that he would have a chance to go over what we hope that by that time will be, to the best of our ability, an accurate chronology."
Reports Two Meetings
Brashear said Reagan and his chief of staff had spoken about the Iran operation in late November and again before his hospitalization. Reagan returned from a New Year's vacation in Palm Springs on Jan. 2, and entered the hospital on Jan. 4.
On Friday, Brashear said of Reagan's involvement in the effort to determine the details of the operation that he would "be involved in this process as needed."
But, asked whether Reagan had been "asked about his recollections on any of this," the spokesman replied: "So far as I know, there has been no effort yet to do that." Hours later, the White House said that Reagan had spent some time earlier in the week with Abshire.
Times Staff Writer Karen Tumulty contributed to this story.