ROSS PEROT was getting annoyed. Yes, he had agreed to cooperate fully with the Senate Select Committee on POW/MIA Affairs. But Senate lawyers had dumped a broad request for documents on him only two days ago.
And now the process of taking his sworn deposition was stretching on and on. He'd hoped the whole thing would be out of the way in a matter of hours.
"I have, over the years, responded consistently to my government, and I am getting my full compensation for it today, I guess, by having to spend a day of my life regurgitating it," snapped Mr. Perot, according to a transcript of the deposition. "This is the final reward, I guess. Then, it will be leaked selectively to the press, and that will be the icing on the cake. So let's go on."
And on it went. Perot's confidential deposition, taken last July 1 prior to his public testimony before the Senate panel in August, is a long and revealing picture of the World According to Ross. The little-noticed documents detail the history of Perot's involvement with the POW/MIA issue. They further shed light on such subjects as the businessman's relationships with a series of presidents and characters such as Scott Barnes, the shadowy figure at the center of allegations that Republicans planned to a lter a photograph and smear Perot's daughter. Barnes role discussed
In recent days, Perot has said Mr. Barnes - plus several unnamed top Republicans - was a key source of the dirty-tricks charges. In the July deposition, however, Perot refers to Barnes in somewhat dismissive terms.
Asked by a Senate lawyer if he knew Barnes, Perot said that he had never met him in person, but that he received phone calls from him once or twice a year.
"Normally, he has some personal crisis, and in every call I urge him to forget this issue and go off and rebuild his life," Perot said. "And so I guess you say why do I even talk to him?," continued the independent presidential candidate.
"I talk to him because I normally return anybody's calls that calls me, until I got into this latest series of events, and I can't do that any more."
Other highlights of the 300-plus-page deposition:
* In 1991, said Perot, he was called up by a CIA employee named Ted Price and asked to give money to the United States Department of Defense for an unspecified action related to the POW/MIA issue.
Ultimately, the Pentagon did not follow up on this request, and no cash changed hands, according to Perot. US government officials had made similar requests of the rich Texas businessman in the past. But to have done so as late as 1991, after Iran-contra disclosures had greatly discredited use of private funds in foreign policy, is "just amazing," says Thomas Ferguson, a political scientist at the University of Massachusetts at Boston who has written extensively about Perot and his government contacts.
* Perot said that during the Vietnam War the Navy invited him and his then-12-year-old son to spend some time on an aircraft carrier off the Vietnamese coast. After several days of watching bombing missions land and take off, Perot rented a plane and flew with his family - son, oldest daughter, and wife - to Vientiane, Laos.
"We flew in a little chartered airplane to Vientiane, and it was just a strange experience because you could look down and see people fighting on the ground . . . I just wanted my children to understand what war was all about," Perot told a Senate lawyer.
* Perot apparently is well aware of the eerily accurate imitation of him performed by a popular television comedian. Asked what his role was at a particular meeting in Laos, Perot replied: "I was just Ross Perot. I wasn't Dana Carvey or anything."
That the Senate Select Committe on POW/MIA Affairs would want to depose Perot in the first place seems a foregone conclusion. The Texas billionaire has been deeply involved in the POW issue since 1969, when the Nixon administration asked him to mount a private publicity effort aimed at embarrassing the North Vietnamese into improving prisoner treatment.
Perot's famous flight to Laos, in a plane filled with medicine and other supplies for the POWs, followed. His public efforts continued to such an extent that - according to Perot - in 1970 information was passed to him by an FBI representative that the North Vietnamese had hired Black Panthers to kill him.
Former Dallas police officials and others have since cast doubt on this assertion. When a Senate lawyer brought up the alleged death threat in the July deposition, Perot objected. "This will be a good story when it leaks, and further heighten my family's security," he complained.
In 1987, Perot visited North Vietnam as a private emissary to talk about POW issues. His report to President Reagan on the trip, appended to the deposition, reveals that even then he was flatly telling high US officials, "We left POWs behind.... We knew we were leaving men behind."
What Perot did not tell Senate investigators in July is perhaps almost as revealing as what he did say. Despite coaxing, he declined to discuss allegations that drug running by the CIA is mixed up with the POW search - a charge that at least one book says Perot has made. Under oath, he skirted discussion of a former Defense Department assistant secretary he has been accused of hounding in this regard: Richard Armitage. Dirty-job man
Throughout the deposition, Perot came across as a man who grumpily feels that when there is a dirty job to do he is the only one the government wants. "I was the only sucker around," he said at one point.
Whether he was so indispensable may be open to question. Apparently the US is far from the only government that bothers him: "Every former communist country, most of the third-world countries, from time to time will ask me to help them create a capitalistic or working society," Perot claimed.