Republican Assemblymen Dennis Brown of Los Alamitos and Ross Johnson of La Habra were at a key 1986 meeting when the decision was made to mail of thousands of campaign letters bearing the unauthorized signature of President Reagan, according to the grand jury testimony of a political consultant.
Brown and Johnson were not charged with any crimes for their role in the affair, which led to the indictment of Assemblyman John Lewis (R-Orange) Feb. 6 on a single count of forging the President’s name on the letters. Lewis, who is seeking to have the indictment dismissed, has denied wrongdoing in the case.
But transcripts of the testimony of several witnesses called before the Sacramento County Grand Jury in February, unsealed Friday, detail for the first time how Johnson and Brown, as well as then-Assembly Republican Leader Pat Nolan of Glendale, were allegedly present when the decision to send the letters was made, despite the fact that the White House had denied them permission to use Reagan’s name.
All four were part of a group of Assembly Republicans who developed strategy for their party’s candidates in the 1986 elections.
Johnson could not be reached for comment Saturday.
‘Partisan Witch Hunt’
Through an aide, he said Friday that he considers the investigation a “partisan witch hunt” by Atty. Gen. John K. Van de Kamp, a Democratic candidate for governor. Brown said Saturday that it would be “inappropriate to comment” on specific segments of the grand jury transcripts.
“But I will say that when certain individuals are forced to testify under oath, the people of California will see a much different picture than that represented in the grand jury transcript,” Brown added.
The decision to send the letters without authorization was made at an Oct. 24 meeting of Johnson, Brown, Nolan and Lewis at Johnson’s district office in Fullerton, according to the consultant, Tim Macy, who testified under a grant of immunity from the attorney general’s office. Macy testified that he learned in later conversations with Nolan that Brown was present. Lewis later told him that Johnson was at the session, Macy testified.
The decision was relayed in a long-distance telephone conversation from Lewis to a Macy, who was in Sacramento.
“I asked him (Lewis) if they were sure if they wanted to have the letters mailed out without authorization,” Macy said. “He told me he needed to go in and ask the entire group and came back out and said that they did.”
Macy also testified under oath that Brown told him to rewrite a Reagan letter that was mailed for Republican candidate Roger Fiola in his race against Assemblyman Richard E. Floyd (D-Carson). According to the transcripts, Macy testified that Brown told him the letter was not “tough enough.” The result was a new missive, never submitted to the White House for approval, that accused Floyd of caving in “to the powerful underworld drug industry.”
Macy said Nolan told him that when the GOP leaders were deciding whether to send out the letters, Brown said “he would take full responsibility for the letters in his campaigns,” meaning the Fiola race and another contest in Riverside County.
Asked by the prosecutor what Nolan meant when he said Brown would take full responsibility, Macy responded: “That they weren’t authorized and that Assemblyman Brown wanted those letters to be mailed in those races.”
The letters were mailed, but when some of them that could not be delivered to the addressees were sent by the post office to the White House, which was listed as the return address, Reagan Administration officials became suspicious and began to investigate. It was then that Lewis and Nolan told their staff members to lie to the White House and avoid speaking to the FBI, according to the testimony.
Henry Olsen, the Lewis aide who had sought White House approval for the letters but was denied it, testified that Lewis called him and another staff member into his Capitol office to discuss how they would respond to the White House. Olsen said Lewis met with Johnson and Nolan for 90 minutes before calling him and his co-workers into his inner office.
Lewis told the pair to tell White House investigators an “Alphonse-Gaston” story--a reference to a classic French comic routine--in which the two employees would say that the entire incident was the result of a “bumbling” miscommunication, not a deliberate attempt to mislead the voters, Olsen testified.
When the other staff member, Richard Temple, refused to go along, Lewis, Olsen and Temple went downstairs to meet with Nolan, who was in his office with Johnson, Olsen testified.
As Johnson left, Nolan turned to Lewis and, according to Olsen, said: “Why did you bring them (the staffers) down here? I thought that we had arranged that you would talk to them to give me deniability.” Nolan then reviewed the plans for the cover-up, according to Olsen.