On a day when President Bush said he believes that he has "leveled with the American people" about his role in the Iran-Contra affair, a former National Security Council aide charged Friday that Bush offered to help breathe life into the arms-for-hostages deal at an important juncture.
Bush, in a radio interview and in statements from the White House press office, continued to insist that he had little knowledge of the Iran initiative.
In an interview with Chicago radio station WBBM, Bush answered renewed allegations that he has misled Americans about his knowledge and role in the secret dealings with Iran.
The President said that the Democratic-controlled Congress had examined his involvement thoroughly and that, if they had found anything, "you can bet that the Democrats in Congress would have had me before the bar."
"I believe I've leveled with the American people, and I have nothing to add to it," he said.
However, Howard Teicher, a Middle East expert for the NSC during the Ronald Reagan Administration, said in an interview that he briefed then-Vice President Bush three times on the arms-for-hostages scheme and that Bush offered to get the stalled proposal moving again at one point.
"George Bush does not appear to be totally candid about what he knew and when he knew it," said Teicher, who dismissed as "absolutely false" any suggestion that he is politically motivated.
"I don't have a view," Teicher said when asked whether Bush should be reelected. "I'm registered independent."
Under the plan, Reagan sold arms to Iran to try to win the release of Americans held hostage by pro-Iranian militants in Lebanon. Profits from the sales were used to help Contra guerrillas fight the Nicaraguan government.
Teicher said that Bush's offer of assistance came when he was briefing the then-vice president, who was about to travel to Israel in July, 1986.
At that time, the arms-for-hostages deal had stalled over insistence by the Reagan White House that all of the hostages be released before any more arms were shipped. The Israelis favored permitting sequential release of the hostages--trading a hostage or two for each arms shipment.
" 'What can I do to help?' " Bush asked Teicher during the briefing, Teicher recalled. He said that Bush was asking whether there was some particular message he could carry to the Israelis, who were an active participant in the arms-for-hostages deal.
Bush then met in Israel with Amiram Nir, an adviser to then-Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres. Nir explained the details of the arms sales, according to notes taken at the meeting by a Bush aide.
Bush "was noncommittal in his response" to the sequential release proposal, according to a book by former Reagan Administration operative Richard V. Secord that went on sale Friday.
Bush "indicated only that he would take the proposal for sequential release back to President Reagan for final judgment," wrote Secord, a retired Air Force major general who participated in the Iranian arms shipments and secret resupply of the Contras.
One day after Bush relayed the Israeli message, Reagan dropped the "all-or-nothing policy" in favor of sequential release, Secord said.
Bush, however, said in the radio interview that it was unlikely he briefed Reagan after meeting with Nir. "Well, I'd have to go back and look, but I think that's most unlikely. But I'd have to check that and let you know," he said.