WASHINGTON — Author Bob Woodward says he cannot be certain that the late CIA Director William J. Casey was completely lucid when Casey appeared to acknowledge from his hospital bed that--contrary to his public statements--the intelligence chief knew about the diversion of Iran arms sales money to the Nicaraguan rebels.
"I would not describe Casey as completely lucid," Woodward said in an interview Tuesday.
If Casey was in fact admitting he knew about the diversion, that would be important because Congress had imposed a ban on military assistance to the contras at that time. Casey previously had denied any knowledge of the diversion. Among witnesses who testified at the Iran- contra hearings, only Lt. Col. Oliver L. North claimed Casey knew of the action.
Receives a Nod
Woodward wrote in his newly released book, "VEIL: The Secret Wars of the CIA, 1981-1987," that his now-controversial encounter with the CIA director occurred after Casey had undergone surgery for a malignant brain tumor. Woodward said he asked Casey about the diversion, saying, "You knew, didn't you," and that Casey nodded a yes. Woodward asked "Why?" and Casey said, "I believed . . . " and appeared to fall asleep.
Since excerpts of the book began appearing, some subsequent news accounts began describing the exchange as a "death-bed confession," although Woodward does not use that characterization himself.
Woodward, who is an assistant managing editor at the Washington Post, said that he talked with Post editors about the conversation with Casey at the time it happened and all agreed that it should not be published. Asked why he did not offer the information to the Iran-contra investigators, Woodward gave the same reason: It wasn't substantial enough.
"On the reporter level, I don't have evidence. I have a nod," he said.
'Leaves a Thousand Questions'
"I've described it in the book as best I can. It leaves a thousand questions, and that's why we didn't put it in the paper, because it doesn't pass those tests. I went round and round with myself on it.
"There would be all kinds of issues of, 'What medication was he on?' I don't know. 'What would be a medical evaluation of his condition?' "
Woodward had hoped to interview Casey again on the question and then publish a story but the director's condition worsened and no subsequent interview took place, he said.
Woodward said he remains personally convinced that Casey did know about the diversion, but is not claiming that Casey's nod amounts to such an admission.
"It's not 100% conclusive," he said.
Casey's widow, Sophia, has accused Woodward of making up the entire visit, claiming that either she or another family member was with Casey every moment during his hospitalization and that Woodward never saw him. She said Woodward came to the hospital and was turned away.
Woodward said he was turned away once but came back a second time and got in.
"Use common sense. He was in the hospital three months," said Woodward, when asked about Mrs. Casey's accusation. "Did they go to the bathroom? Did they go to lunch? Did they go to sleep? The second time (in the hospital), I talked to him. No one from the family was there."