When Michael K. Deaver returns from an African-safari vacation to the political jungle of Washington this week, he will find that most of the Administration officials and others who lionized him during his days as a top aide to President Reagan have disappeared into the underbrush now that he faces mounting legal problems.
Almost none, save Reagan himself, has offered public support for Deaver, now a lobbyist, since he came under investigation for alleged conflict of interest and possible perjury in testimony before a House subcommittee that is looking into his affairs.
Reagan last week told an inquiring reporter he still had confidence in his longtime friend and master image-maker, despite the House subcommittee's 17-0 vote referring three possible perjury charges to the independent counsel who is investigating Deaver's lobbying activities. Elsewhere, there has been a notable silence among former colleagues and associates in the Administration, in Congress and in private life.
'A Lot of Enemies'
"Nothing's being done at the White House to defend him except what the President has said," according to a senior Administration official who declined to be identified. "It's no secret he's made a lot of enemies, but this is a tragic thing for him. It's a terrible time for him to be off on vacation."
Beyond their public silence, many of Deaver's associates when he served as Reagan's deputy chief of staff--rigidly controlling access to the Oval Office--now privately offer harsh criticism of the government-official-turned-lobbyist.
"He got his comeuppance," said one former colleague last week.
"He got what he deserved," declared another.
Such critics "weren't willing to take him on when he was in a position of power, but they're eager to jump on him now that he's out and in trouble," said James Lake, a Washington lobbyist and former Reagan campaign press secretary.
In part, what is happening to Deaver is as old as Washington itself. It is a classic case of a once-mighty official finding he has few friends once he has lost power and run afoul of legal or ethical standards. "Washington is a tough town," Lake said.
In part, however, the response to Deaver stems from a widespread perception that he was arrogant and curt when he wielded power as one of the President's closest confidants and that he became obsessed with making money once he left the White House last year to set up his own Washington public relations firm. "He brought it on himself," said one former colleague.
Deaver's current legal problems stem from his attempt to jump directly from the White House into Washington lobbying and use his Administration connections on behalf of major corporations and foreign countries, including CBS, TWA, Canada, Singapore and South Korea.
A year ago--only three months after resigning as Reagan's most trusted aide to open the lobbying firm--Deaver appeared to be succeeding beyond his wildest dreams. When a friend asked how things were going, Deaver, who had said he thought that with his connections he would make $1 million a year, replied: "Great, great, I'm making far more than I ever thought I would."
The President himself had given Deaver a considerable boost in his new venture. With Reagan's permission, Deaver had retained the coveted White House pass that entitled him to instant access to the building even though he no longer had an official connection with the government.
And the President, in formally accepting his resignation, had written him a letter--which the White House made public--saying Reagan could never accept the resignation "in my heart" and that he and his wife, Nancy, wanted Deaver to "continue to be a part of our lives . . . part of our life-support system."
With such a send-off, Deaver opened an opulent office in fashionable Georgetown and soon was traveling around Washington in a chauffeur-driven Jaguar. Early this year, with high-paying clients beating a path to his door, he was on the verge of selling his lobbying firm, Michael K. Deaver & Associates, to a British firm for a reported $18 million.
For a man who had grown up poor in Bakersfield, Calif., and who at one time complained he could not get by on his annual $70,000 White House salary and was living on his savings, the 48-year-old Deaver had come a long way in a hurry.
But now he appears to be in deep trouble, both legally and professionally.
The investigations subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee has asked Whitney North Seymour Jr., the independent counsel, to determine if Deaver lied by failing to disclose contacts he had last summer with Robert C. McFarlane, then the President's national security adviser, and more recently with U.S. ambassadors in West Germany and Japan.
Rockwell Denied Knowing
In addition, Deaver allegedly lied in connection with a meeting he had last Feb. 27 with James C. Miller III, the President's budget director. At the meeting, Deaver urged production of the B-1 bomber by Rockwell Corp., one of his clients, and Deaver told the subcommittee under oath that he talked about the meeting with his client both before and after it took place. Rockwell officials have told the subcommittee they knew nothing of Deaver's meeting with Miller, either before or after it occurred, and learned of it only from later press accounts.
Seymour already has been investigating Deaver's approaches to McFarlane and Miller as possible violations of the Ethics in Government Act, which prohibits a high ex-official like Deaver from lobbying former colleagues within a one-year period after leaving government service.
And Seymour is seeking to determine if Deaver violated other conflict-of-interest provisions by working for the Canadian government to get Reagan Administration action on the problem of acid rain, despite evidence that Deaver was heavily involved in 15 meetings on that pollution problem while working in the White House.
Deaver has repeatedly denied that he did anything illegal or improper.
Some Clients Leave
Moreover, some of Deaver's clients have failed to renew their contracts since the investigations began and Saatchi & Saatchi, the British advertising concern that was negotiating to buy Deaver's firm, has backed out of the deal.
"It looks like things are going down the drain for Mike," said a senior Administration official who declined to be identified. "Given the nature of the business he's in, I don't see how it can survive an extended investigation."
As a Reagan aide, Deaver kept a relatively low public profile, although he attracted unwanted publicity by playing a major role in White House power struggles and twice by engaging in controversial private transactions--signing a contract to write a diet book and obtaining a special discount on a luxury BMW automobile while in Europe doing advance work on Reagan's 1985 trip to Germany.
As a lobbyist, though, Deaver reveled in publicity before the investigations, apparently feeling it would help bring in business. "There's no question I've got as good access as anyone in town," he told one reporter.
Time's Cover Story
His friends as well as his enemies believe his current difficulties stem in part from his high profile. They single out the Time magazine cover story of last March 3 showing a dapper Deaver, clad in a dark suit with a red scarf, telephoning from the back seat of his Jaguar, the Capitol dome in the background.
In large lettering on the photograph, above an "Influence Peddling in Washington" caption, Time left little doubt about the lobbyist's Reagan connection: "Who's This Man Calling?"
The publicity seemed to stir animosity among a number of former Deaver associates who also had left the Administration to go into lobbying. They resented his bragging and what they considered his reckless rush into the field and the broader spotlight it was putting on lobbying in general.
"He bragged about being the President's closest friend, and about his White House pass and chauffeur-driven car and about making money and selling his company for $18 million," said a lobbyist who was a Reagan aide and--like most others discussing Deaver's problems--declined to be identified. "It went to his head. The successful people in this town try to keep their heads down. Stick it up and you get it knocked off."
Image Problem Alleged
Lake acknowledges that Deaver has an image problem but said: "It's too bad that the same high-quality performance Mike consistently demonstrated while serving Ronald Reagan has not been called upon to help him when he is in this difficulty. Ronald Reagan had no better aide in helping him convey his views and character to the American public. Too bad Mike Deaver doesn't have a Mike Deaver."
Deaver also violated the old rule that you should be nice to the people you meet on the way up because they are the same people you will meet on the way down, according to a former Administration official who commented on condition he not be identified. Several others echoed that thought.
Part of Deaver's problem, they said, stems from bitterness left over from the early days of the Reagan presidency when he and James A. Baker III, leaders of a moderate faction, were locked in a White House power struggle with then-White House aides Edwin Meese III and William P. Clark, leaders of a conservative faction.
"He's been deserted because he deserted his old friends and his new friends aren't there when he needs them," said a former Reagan aide. "He sided up with Jim Baker against Ed Meese and Bill Clark and most of the Reaganites who were with Ronald Reagan in the beginning. And when he had the power in the White House he just stuck it to the Reaganites or ignored them."
For his part, Baker, now secretary of the Treasury, who owes his Reagan connection to Deaver, has told Deaver he is still his friend, but to inquiring reporters he has said he cannot make a judgment on Deaver's case because any Deaver lobbying activities involving the White House would have occurred after he (Baker) left as Reagan's chief of staff.
Deaver was instrumental in Reagan's appointment of Baker as chief of staff.
Outwardly, at least, Deaver so far has not shown great concern about the investigations. Queried by a reporter a week ago in Nairobi, Kenya, two days before the House subcommittee voted on the perjury issue, he said he was "not concerned at all" about the vote.
"I'm just having a good time watching the four-legged hyenas here," he said. "There's a great similarity between the behavioral characteristics of the four-legged and two-legged hyena."
No Minority Report
Suggested a senior Reagan official: "Before that comment got published, there might have been a chance one or two Republicans on the subcommittee would have filed a minority report on the perjury matter," offering at least some words of support or defense for their fellow Republican. None did.
Deaver has a talent for irritating people by saying the wrong thing at the wrong time, associates say. When his lobbying activities first surfaced last spring, the New York Times quoted lobbyist and political consultant Edward J. Rollins, a former White House aide, as saying that it is not what people do in Washington that brings them down, "it's the sin of arrogance."
At a dinner party here last month, Deaver displayed his talent with a toast while seated between Rollins' fiancee, Sherrie Sandy, communications director for a large Washington development firm, and Independent News Network correspondent Jan Smith, wife of ABC's Sam Donaldson:
"You can tell how far from power I've fallen in a year when I'm seated between Ed Rollins' fiancee and Sam Donaldson's wife," Deaver said.
Talk of Cocktail Circuit
An awkward silence fell over the crowd of journalists and government officials, including Treasury Secretary Baker and White House aide Dennis Thomas. A fuming Rollins and his fiancee hurried out. The incident quickly became the talk of Washington's cocktail circuit and an item about it appeared in the Washington Post.
"Mike was just trying to be self-deprecating," said an Administration official who was at the party, "but he doesn't seem to be doing anything right since he left the White House."
Another Washington lobbyist, Joseph W. Canzeri, who served as Deaver's assistant during the first year of the Reagan Administration, said: "Deaver did a wonderful job for Ronald Reagan and the country and that shouldn't be overlooked. And I'd bet my life that, whatever he did, Mike never thought of doing anything with criminal intent."
Canzeri, who has worked closely with Deaver in the past, beginning in the late 1960s when Canzeri was an assistant to New York Gov. Nelson A. Rockefeller and Deaver was an assistant to then-California Gov. Reagan, said: "Never when I have been with him have I seen him make a decision that wasn't in Ronald Reagan's interest. But the difficulty he is in now is not good for Reagan. And the long-term tragedy that Mike is going to have to face is that it may tarnish the President."
Still Close to Reagans
Canzeri resigned as Deaver's deputy in February, 1982, saying he wanted to spare Reagan any embarrassment after the Justice Department began investigating two allegations of double-billing of expenses and his acceptance of a cut-rate mortgage. The Justice Deparment subsequently concluded no law had been violated by Canzeri, who has maintained close contact with the Reagans.
Despite Reagan's vocal support for Deaver, Deaver's future as a confidant of the President may be in doubt. Reagan has a record of disassociating himself from people he thinks are hurting his career. In fact, he dumped Deaver once before--in 1979 when John P. Sears, then manager of his presidential campaign, threatened to quit unless Deaver left. Although Deaver was ousted, he subsequently rejoined the Reagan campaign and Sears was fired.
The way Sears sees it, it is nothing personal with Reagan, who was hardened by the personnel practices of Hollywood and is capable of distancing himself from Deaver if the going gets too tough for his former aide and the investigations appear to be tarnishing the White House.
"It comes from his background as an actor," Sears said. "When you're in the acting business, people come and go, the director might change. But you're the star and you don't get into that. That's sort of the way it is."