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Bush Aide Boosts Case Against Nofziger

January 21, 1988|PAUL HOUSTON | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Vice President George Bush's chief of staff boosted the prosecution's illegal-lobbying case against Lyn Nofziger Wednesday, but testimony by a former secretary of the Navy may have offset some of the damage to the former White House political director.

Bush aide Craig Fuller explained documents and described meetings--including one attended by President Reagan--that supported the prosecution's contention that a maritime issue lobbied by Nofziger in 1982 was an important matter to the White House. The testimony undercut defense claims that the issue was primarily a Navy concern of minor interest to the White House.

This point is critical to the case because a federal conflict-of-interest law prohibits former government officials such as Nofziger from lobbying ex-colleagues on matters of "direct and substantial interest" to their former agencies.

Lawyers Fight Heatedly

Fuller and former Navy Secretary John F. Lehman Jr. gave their testimony before a federal court jury that endured several interruptions as attorneys fought heatedly over questions put to witnesses and papers offered as evidence.

Nofziger, who faces four felony counts, has acknowledged that, shortly after leaving the White House in 1982, he helped a maritime union seek White House backing of a plan to expand use of civilians on Navy support ships. His consulting firm was paid $90,000 by the Marine Engineers Beneficial Assn. that year, a union official testified.

Under questioning by assistant special prosecutor Lovida H. Coleman Jr., Fuller said that Reagan endorsed expansion of "civilian manning" as part of a 1980 presidential campaign pledge to shore up the sagging U.S. maritime industry.

Fuller, who was presidential assistant for Cabinet affairs in 1982, said the Transportation Department wrapped the civilian-manning proposal into a package of maritime initiatives sent to the White House for approval early that year.

Help for Maritime Industry

Although he did not testify directly about Nofziger's lobbying, Fuller recalled seeing a White House memo noting that Jesse Calhoun, president of the maritime union, was "supportive of the President . . . especially because of the President's campaign commitments" to help the maritime industry.

Previous testimony showed that Nofziger had written three top Reagan aides about Calhoun's support, asking: "Why not help our friends?"

Fuller said a series of meetings on the civilian-manning issue culminated with an August session at which Reagan approved the proposal. He said he then contacted Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger to ensure "that the Navy did make progress in placing civilians on naval ships."

But Lehman, who resigned as Navy secretary last year, supported defense claims that civilian manning was "not that big a deal" to the White House.

'A Contentious Matter'

Lehman said the matter "did not appear in 1981 and 1982 on my radar scope as a contentious issue in the White House or anywhere else." Not until a year or two later, he added, did he learn that it had been a contentious matter.

Over prosecution objections, Lehman called Nofziger "an honest and blunt person whose word was pretty reliable."

Coleman asked Lehman if he recalled telling prosecutors recently that "the reason the White House supported civilian manning was because of Calhoun's political support of President Reagan." But U.S. District Judge Thomas A. Flannery upheld defense objections before Lehman could answer.

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