While the official White House description of Secretary of State George Shultz's testimony is ``honest and sincere and helpful,'' many staff members are ``furious'' over what they consider blatantly self-serving remarks. ``It's classic George Shultz,'' said one official who recently left the White House. ``A great critic, but no action. If he is so good, then why couldn't he stop it?''
One senior administration official said, ``he protesteth too much,'' and summed up the feeling at the White House this way: ``Nobody around here is pleased.''
Interviews with current and former White House officials produce a picture of a secretary of state who ``has not made many friends'' in the White House and is blamed for creating much of the tension himself. (A government within a government, Page 3.)
In his testimony, Shultz quoted an old mentor who told him ``trust is the coin of the realm.'' What many in the White House were implying is that the coin of the realm on Pennsylvania Avenue is also minted from loyalty.
At Friday morning's senior staff meeting, White House chief of staff Howard Baker reportedly told staff members it would be inappropriate not to recognize the integral role Shultz plays in the administration. The chief of staff is well aware of the strained relations between Shultz and many in the White House, and he firmly told those attending the meeting that even if something critical comes out, they should not try to answer it in kind.
One person at the meeting said, ``We were told that if you hear something you don't like, don't get worried about it. [Shultz] is under the gun - give him some breathing room.''
The official White House reaction was conciliatory. Marlin Fitzwater, the White House spokesman, told reporters in Friday morning's briefing that ``the President saw part of the testimony [Thursday] morning and part of it again [Thursday] afternoon, and he feels Secretary Shultz did an excellent job. He didn't accept his resignations because he wants him on the team.... He feels he [Shultz] did a good job then, and he is doing a good job now.''
When asked why the official response was so positive, the senior administration official quoted earlier responded, ``The President is a very generous man. Others around here are more visceral.''
Most Republican members of the investigating committee appear to be very pleased with the Shultz testimony and with his description of the President. ``You ... have portrayed him as a strong leader, as a strong decisionmaker, as a decisive leader, as one who doesn't shy away from tough choices ... and will generally make the right choice,'' said Senator Orrin Hatch (R) of Utah, speaking to Shultz. Committee Democrats complimented Shultz on his candor.
While admitting that the secretary's testimony did not hurt the President, one high-level Reagan appointee portrayed Shultz as ``more interested in making George Shultz look like George Marshall than making Ronald Reagan look like Harry Truman.''
One of the points that seemed to bother some White House staff members the most was the secretary's assertion that he lacked the access to the President to push his opposition to the arms sales to Iran. The former White House official quoted earlier, who asked not to be identified, questions Shultz's statements. ``Look,'' he said, ``George Shultz is unlike any other Cabinet officer. He has two half-hour sessions with the President ... every week. That's 52 hours in '85 and another 52 hours in '86.... So who is he trying to kid?''
Even the otherwise complacent official response by White House spokesman Fitzwater seemed to take issue on this point. ``Access is one of those issues that everybody judges in terms of their own goals,'' he said.
No one seems to feel that Shultz's testimony will result in any lasting political damage or that a Shultz resignation would be accepted now, although one source close to the White House said, ``The staff would be quick to speed the paperwork to the President.''
``He is in a strong position now,'' admitted one angry senior administration official. ``The media likes him, the committee likes him, and the left is cheering him on. He is bathed in a certain amount of afterglow.'' Acknowledging that Shultz has ``done some good work,'' the official concluded: ``If he can do something in arms control with the Soviets, then amen.''