Cheney on high standards for White House inner circle

PERHAPS nobody is better prepared to discuss how those close to President Reagan should conduct themselves than Rep. Richard Cheney of Wyoming. Mr. Cheney was President Gerald Ford's chief of staff. It was his responsibility to keep a close eye on White House officials so that the Nixon years were followed by a squeaky-clean Ford administration. Mr. Cheney, in talking about this subject over breakfast, made no judgment on whether former deputy chief of staff Michael K. Deaver had done anything wrong in a post-administration job as a highly paid lobbyist. Mr. Deaver maintains that he had not. And the President defends Deaver vehemently.

But Cheney views Deaver as an ``embarrassment'' to President Reagan and feels that this of itself amounts to impropriety, or at least insensitivity.

The exchange between Cheney and reporters around the breakfast table follows:

Q. Would you assess Mike Deaver's performance since leaving the White House and give us your views of the overall problem of peddling influence?

A. At the outset I want to come out foursquare against influence peddling. I'm agin it [Laughter]. . . .

I don't have enough facts to say if someone did or did not violate any rules. [But] it seems to me that when you serve on the White House staff, especially that small group tied to the President that he depends on . . . you don't have any claim to power in your own right. He's the one who put his name on the ballot. Whatever power you have you wield in his name and in his behalf.

Therefore, if you ever conduct yourself while you are in the White House or after you leave so that you become an embarrassment to the President, so that he has to defend you or defend your conduct, it seems to me you have violated the basic understanding of what that relationship should be . . . That clearly has happened.

Q. More specifically, how should such a person conduct himself after he leaves office?

A. There are hard-and-fast rules that you have to abide by. They have been on the books for several years. [Beyond that it] seems to me that if you embarrass the man you work for after you leave -- if people can make the charge that you are trading on that relationship -- you have created a problem for him.

Q. What is it that brings about these problems? Is it the wholly different set of standards in the business world ? Is it the temptation of wanting to make a lot of money?

A. Different people respond in different ways. In my own case, I chose to go back home and run for office. Others obviously decided to stay on. Tommy Corcoran was in town for years. Clark Clifford, too [each a presidential adviser]. A lot of them stay on and conduct themselves well and become elder statesmen. They still make a living, but do it in a way that is tasteful and appropriate and which doesn't transgress the bounds of what is required. Obviously not everyone has done that.

Q. Has Deaver embarrassed the President?

A. I think that when the President has to get up at a nationwide televised press conference to defend the conduct of a former employee, clearly that employee has created a situation that is unfortunate. Now the President doesn't feel embarrassed, or doesn't appear to. But I would assume that Mike wishes it hadn't happened.

Q. Is it possible, as some people are writing, that there is a little more greed here than we have encountered in the past, or that some of these people are a little more brazen than we've seen before?

A. I've never seen any relationship between partisanship and greed. If there is, I wouldn't want to foist it off on my party. Greed is bipartisan. The best way to look at this is to look at each individual and see if he is guilty or not, and not to make sweeping charges that there is evidence of business-related or Republican immorality. You have a lot of labor unions that have supported Democratic administrations, and certainly the record of unions in America is not without a certain amount of corruption.

Q. Do you think the problem may have stemmed from the failure of the President himself to articulate standards?

A. No. What's happened in Washington, I think, in the era after Watergate, is that public officials now have to avoid even the appearance of impropriety. It is not enough to be legally and technically clean. You must meet a higher standard in which you avoid situations which may be technically in compliance with the law but which could cause somebody to raise questions about your conduct.

It's obviously a difficult standard for a lot of people to adapt to. But I don't think anyone can question President Reagan's personal integrity. I think the real test of a political leader is how he lives himself and conducts himself. And Ronald Reagan, I think, has always conducted himself in ways that meet the highest standards of integrity. And that doesn't mean that everyone around him always has.

Godfrey Sperling Jr. is the Monitor's senior Washington columnist.

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