DES MOINES — Vice President George Bush's chief aide Wednesday night portrayed new allegations about Bush's involvement in the Iran-Contra affair as a compilation of old information available to investigators for months.
Craig Fuller, Bush's chief of staff, also raised questions about the timing of the Washington Post story, which he called "extraordinarily curious."
"This is not new," Fuller said. "I've found no basis for reaching any new conclusions about the Vice President's role."
Fuller said part of his "curiosity" about the Post story centered on its appearance one day before Bush and the five other Republican candidates are to appear in a televised debate here. He noted that parts of the story were dependent on leaked material.
Trails Dole, Iowa Polls Show
Bush, in recent polls, trails Kansas Sen. Bob Dole in Iowa. Asked whether he was implying that the story was politically motivated, Fuller said, "I don't know."
Bush himself had no comment on the story. Reached late Wednesday and asked if he stood by his public comments on the Iran-Contra initiative, Bush replied, "Of course."
The Post story, based on previously undisclosed testimony, documents and interviews, asserts that Bush knew more about the scandal than he has acknowledged.
Bush has said that he backed President Reagan's move to contact Iranian moderates, but he has steadfastly denied that he supported plans to trade arms for hostages.
Asked about the Iran-Contra affair at a Manchester, N.H., campaign stop earlier Wednesday, he said:
"Do I support arms for hostages? No, I don't. . . . Did I care about the hostages? Yeah. Did I think it right to reach out to moderates in Iran? Yeah.
"Was I smart enough to see in the very beginning that this was arms for hostages? No. Did the President see it? No."
Poses Key Problem
The latest newspaper story marks the third time in little more than a month that the issue has risen to embarrass Bush, and it poses a can't-win problem for the national front-runner for the Republican nomination.
Bush's claims that he was out of the information loop during the plan's conception fed his detractors' suggestions that his role in the Administration is perfunctory. Yet acknowledging a broader role could draw him into the net of disgrace that encircled Administration figures closely associated with the plan.
Bush's efforts to portray the inquiry as old news have been stymied by repeated reminders. In a Dec. 1 presidential debate, former Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr. grilled Bush on his involvement. The vice president dodged the question.
Later last month, the issue surfaced again when the congressional Iran-Contra committees released a memo that described Bush as being "solid" in his support of arms sales to Iran, making his role seem more active and prominent than he portrayed it.
Vows to 'Cooperate Fully'
Wednesday, shortly after he arrived in Des Moines for a three-day campaign swing, the vice president said he would "cooperate fully" with independent counsel Lawrence E. Walsh's probe of the matter.
He said that Walsh had not yet asked him to answer questions relating to the inquiry. "But we will be," Bush said. "I will answer any question put to me by the special prosecutor."
Asked if he would release all materials relating to the scandal, Bush said he would "be glad to."