WASHINGTON — President Reagan's spokesman Friday angrily denounced an independent counsel for his criticism of Washington's lack of concern about ethics, calling the prosecutor's statements "outrageous" and an insult to government bureaucrats and politicians.
White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater was responding to remarks made a day earlier by Whitney North Seymour Jr., the court-appointed independent counsel who successfully prosecuted former presidential assistant Michael K. Deaver earlier this week.
Fitzwater, after first saying he would not comment on Seymour's remarks, suddenly shifted his approach during a White House briefing for reporters and said:
"Any prosecutor worth his salt always goes before the jury and tries to posture himself in the most sanctimonious and self-righteous manner possible, and it appears that Mr. Seymour forgot where he was temporarily. He wasn't before a jury. And I find his comments outrageous."
'Thumb in the Dike'
Seymour said federal officials have so little concern for ethics that prosecutors can only "put a thumb in the dike" to hold back illegal influence peddling. He spoke Thursday with reporters on the steps of the U.S. courthouse one day after Deaver was convicted of perjury.
The prosecutor, a Republican, said unethical practices have proliferated in Washington, where "vast sums of money" are spent by U.S. corporations and foreign governments "to buy influence and favors."
Seymour's remarks appeared to touch a raw nerve with Fitzwater, who said his sharp reaction represented his own thoughts and that he had not discussed the issue with the President.
Fitzwater said the prosecutor's "comments are an insult to the people of Washington." Before joining the Reagan Administration as a political appointee, Fitzwater was a career government employee, serving as a public relations official in several agencies.
'Totally Out of Line'
"They are an insult to government civil servants, as well as political leaders throughout the country," he said. "I find it outrageous that he would find it wrong for one friend to feel sorry for the hardships of another friend, and he is totally out of line."
He was apparently referring to Seymour's sharp criticism of Secretary of State George P. Shultz, who was called as a prosecution witness in the Deaver trial and vouched for Deaver's honesty.
Fitzwater, noting that the White House counsel had recommended that the President and Nancy Reagan sever contacts with Deaver, said the decision was based partly on "appearances and partially so there's no indication of any influence or anything like that."
In television interviews Friday, Seymour also criticized President Reagan, saying he "really let the country down" by not condemning Deaver's conduct.
Appearing on the CBS "This Morning" program, he said: "Grand juries are the essence of the administration of justice and they've got to be respected and they've got to operate properly." He said Reagan had neglected to make that point when commenting on the verdict against Deaver, who is a longtime friend of the President and First Lady Nancy Reagan.
"That was not the right message for the American people," the independent counsel said in a second interview, this one on the MacNeil/Lehrer News Hour. "He should have either kept it shut about his views, or at least said something about the fact that the jury system shows that this is still a country where everyone is treated the same."
In a statement issued Wednesday night after Deaver was found guilty of three counts of perjury, the President had said he and his wife Nancy were saddened by the verdict.
"He has been a longtime friend, and has served with dedication. Beyond that I cannot comment further at this time since the decision will likely be appealed through our court system," Reagan said.
In an interview with the Associated Press, Mrs. Reagan said Thursday that she and the President had been advised to put their personal relationship with Deaver on hold as long as court appeals are pending.
Deaver served as deputy White House chief of staff during Reagan's first term, but his relationship with Reagan began many years ago in California, and he has maintained his friendship with the First Family since leaving the White House staff in 1985.