WASHINGTON — A former White House colleague of Michael K. Deaver testified Monday that he was an official working in the executive mansion's West Wing when Deaver contacted him about the government's planned purchase of new presidential aircraft, an issue for which Deaver was lobbying on behalf of the Boeing Co.
The federal court testimony of W. Dennis Thomas gave further support to the perjury case against Deaver. One of five counts against him charges that he lied when he told a congressional subcommittee last year: "I didn't ever talk to anybody in the West Wing of the White House."
The West Wing houses the offices of President Reagan and his highest-ranking aides.
At the same time, a Boeing executive acknowledged at Deaver's trial that his company had hired Deaver soon after he resigned as deputy chief of Reagan's staff in May, 1985, to "interface" with White House officials to help Boeing obtain a contract for the plane.
Edward Collier, a Boeing executive in Washington, told jurors that he had been "frustrated in my attempts to reach the White House staff" to press Boeing's case for the purchase of a pair of 747 jumbo jets to carry Reagan, his aides and the press on long official trips. He said that Boeing, which eventually received a $280-million contract, was competing with McDonnell Douglas Corp., manufacturer of the slightly smaller DC-10.
Picked Instead of Nofziger
Boeing chose Deaver for a $250,000 lobbying contract over former Reagan aide Lyn Nofziger because Nofziger was regarded by many as "a political animal" but Deaver was thought to be "closer to the personal tastes and preferences of the President," Collier testified.
Nofziger was indicted last summer on six counts of violating federal ethics laws in his lobbying, mainly for scandal-plagued Wedtech Corp., a New York defense contractor. Federal conflict-of-interest statutes prohibit former high government officials from contacting their former colleagues on behalf of a business client for 12 months after leaving federal service. Nofziger is scheduled to stand trial next Jan. 11.
Collier said that William Sittmann, an associate in Deaver's firm, had identified Thomas and William Henkel, another presidential aide, as people whom it would be "advantageous to reach." Henkel testified last week that Deaver had called him to ask if the White House would become involved in the selection of an aircraft manufacturer to replace the older presidential jets.
But Henkel said he checked with then-White House counsel Fred F. Fielding and was told "that no one from the White House should be involved" because the Air Force would select the contractor.
Thomas told jurors that Deaver had asked him about the aircraft issue in the fall of 1985 while Deaver, as an unpaid consultant, was helping Thomas and others with logistical arrangements for the November, 1985, Geneva summit meeting between Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev.
When asked by associate prosecutor Marc Gottridge if Deaver mentioned that he was representing Boeing, Thomas replied: "If he did, I don't recall it."
Thomas said that, with the approval of Donald T. Regan, then White House chief of staff, he helped form a small working group at the White House to discuss interior designs for the new planes. But the White House played no role in the ultimate selection of Boeing, he said.