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Contra Aid Role Barred at White House : Memo Forbids Aides to Help Private Fund Raising for Rebels

February 12, 1988|JAMES GERSTENZANG | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — President Reagan's senior assistants have ordered their subordinates to "provide no assistance or encouragement" to anyone seeking to raise money privately for the anti-Sandinista rebels fighting in Nicaragua, the White House said Thursday.

White House Chief of Staff Howard H. Baker Jr. and Lt. Gen. Colin L. Powell, Reagan's assistant for national security affairs, sent a memorandum Wednesday to the White House staff and the staff of the National Security Council forbidding any role in private aid for the Contras.

"A lot of people have indicated they'd like to help privately" to support the Contras since the House last week blocked President Reagan's $36.25-million package of aid for the guerrillas, White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said. He added that the White House, which last week declared it would have nothing to do with such fund raising, wanted to make its position clear.

Element of Scandal

After the House vote, rebel leaders and some private supporters announced plans to begin seeking donations to tide the Contra troops over. Private funds secretly raised with Administration officials' assistance during a previous embargo on Contra aid were a central element in the Iran-Contra scandal.

After hearing that the memo had been issued, House and Senate Democrats put off sending a letter to the White House asking the Administration to refrain from any support for Contra fund raising. Baker's staff warning "kind of put the kibosh on that, at least for now," said a House leadership aide.

The Democrats noted, however, that Reagan had not signed the memo himself and said that they were considering asking for a personal commitment on the matter.

In the staff memo, which Fitzwater read at a White House briefing for reporters, Baker and Powell said that, despite the setback in the House, the Administration will continue to seek aid for the Contras through Congress. House Democrats are now drafting their own proposal for strictly non-military assistance.

Reagan, in a speech late Thursday to the annual dinner of the Conservative Political Action Conference, declared that the Contras' opponents in Congress have not won the issue. "Get ready," he said. "The curtain hasn't fallen; the drama continues."

Referring to those who argued that funding should be cut off to give the Sandinistas time to meet promises of democratic reform, Reagan said: "The effect of this vote was to rest the hopes for peace and democracy in Central America purely and simply on the word of the Communist regime in Managua. This course is--and I repeat--a risk to America's national security."

Fitzwater described the memorandum to Reagan's staff as "a really strongly worded statement" and "more specific" than those occasionally circulated on other issues.

Memo Text

"This is to advise that no Administration official should provide assistance or encouragement of any kind to private individuals or third parties raising funds on the Freedom Fighters' behalf," the memo said. "We believe that any such assistance or encouragement, no matter how well-intentioned, would be misunderstood, misinterpreted and therefore counterproductive."

The staff message said that any private contributions received by the White House would be returned to the senders, with a note directing them to organizations that provide only non-military assistance to the Contras.

Times staff writer Josh Getlin contributed to this story.

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