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As CIA Director, Bush Sought to Restrict Probe of Agency Officials by Justice Dept.

September 30, 1988|JIM MANN | Times Staff Writer

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — While he was director of the CIA, Vice President George Bush secretly battled with the Justice Department and White House officials in an effort to restrict a federal criminal investigation of senior CIA officials, according to newly released files in the Gerald R. Ford presidential library.

The new materials show that in October, 1976, citing the need to protect intelligence sources, Bush repeatedly sought to prevent some documents from being declassified and CIA witnesses from being called before a federal grand jury. The grand jury was investigating charges that officials working for or with the CIA, including former CIA Director Richard M. Helms, had lied under oath to Congress about CIA operations in Chile.

No Written Directive

When White House officials reminded Bush that President Ford had already given a public pledge that his Administration would not use the classification process or take any other action to prevent the exposure of illegal activities, Bush still balked, saying that he had not personally received any written directive from the President spelling out this policy.

"An impasse exists between the Justice Department and Director George Bush of the CIA . . . " White House counsel Philip W. Buchen wrote to President Ford. Buchen told the President that failure of the Justice Department to obtain the information in dispute "would abort the pending investigation and lead to no prosecution . . . ."

In a memo at the time to another White House official, Bush said, "There is no intention on my part or on the part of this agency to take any action that might reasonably be construed as an effort to thwart or frustrate the investigation being conducted by the (Justice) Department.

"At the same time, I mean to do whatever is necessary and appropriate to carry out my statutory mandate to protect intelligence sources and methods, believing as I do that such protection is at the heart of the Agency's ability to function effectively," he said.

President Ford supported the Justice Department and his White House aides and instructed Bush to let federal prosecutors have what they needed. The Justice Department investigation eventually resulted in Helms' 1977 plea of no contest to two criminal charges of failing to testify "fully, completely and accurately" to Congress.

In addition to running contrary to the Ford Administration's stated policy, Bush's efforts contrasted sharply with those of his immediate predecessor at the CIA, former Director William E. Colby. It was Colby who first referred to the Justice Department the allegations of false testimony by CIA officials, thus leading to the criminal prosecution that Bush was seeking to restrict.

60 Boxes of Files

The new information about Bush is contained in more than 60 boxes of files kept by Buchen while serving in the Ford White House. Professional archivists at the Ford Library, who have been gradually processing files from the Ford Administration for public release, opened the collection of Buchen files on Sept. 8. A Times reporter found them in the course of other research.

When asked for comment, Craig Fuller, Bush's chief of staff, said through a spokeswoman that the vice president's office first heard of the Buchen files when questions were raised by The Times on Thursday. He said he would withhold comment until seeing the documents. Stephen Hart, a spokesman for the vice president in Washington, also refused to comment.

Bush's defense of clandestine operatives facing criminal charges has a modern echo. During his current campaign for the White House, Bush has expressed strong support for former National Security Adviser John M. Poindexter and former Lt. Col. Oliver L. North, who face federal criminal charges stemming from the secret sale of arms to Iran and the diversion of profits from these sales to the Nicaraguan Contras. The vice president has said he hopes that the two men will be acquitted.

The 1976 dispute between Bush and the Justice Department concerned allegations that CIA officials, including Helms, had given false testimony under oath to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and later to a special commission, headed by then-Vice President Nelson A. Rockefeller, that was investigating improper activities by the CIA.

The testimony in question concerned CIA operations in Chile during and after the 1970 election of Salvador Allende, a Marxist, as president of that country. It also concerned CIA connections with International Telephone & Telegraph Co., which had substantial holdings in Chile.

In early 1973, when asked at Senate hearings whether the CIA had sought to have money passed to opponents of Allende, Helms testified without qualification, "No, sir." In addition, ITT executives denied working with the CIA against Allende. In 1975, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence found that the CIA had funneled more than $800,000 to opponents of Allende, who died during a coup in September, 1973.

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