WASHINGTON--Presidential spokesman Larry Speakes said yesterday that recent public comments by White House Communications Director Pat Buchanan--in which he compared Lt. Col. Oliver North to Americans who broke the law for good cause--did not reflect the thinking of the White House.
"The president does not agree or condone the breaking of the law by any individual and he does not in any way believe that the president, whoever he might be, is above the law and has the right to pick and choose what laws may or may not be broken," Speakes told reporters.
Buchanan, in speech Monday night in Miami, told 3000 cheering Nicaraguan and Cuban-American Reagan supporters that the press and Congress were trying to "cripple" Reagan with the Iran arms controversy.
In an article published Monday in The Washington Post, Buchanan praised North as a hero and blasted Republicans for deserting Reagan over the scandal, saying that with a few exceptions, "the whole damn pack has headed for the tall grass."
North was fired from his position as an aide on the National Security Council after it was revealed that profits from U.S. arms sales to Iran were diverted to aid the Contras in Nicaragua.
Speakes, asked whether Buchanan's speech and article reflected White House thinking, replied, "No."
In his article, Buchanan compared North to those who took part in the underground railway to free slaves and others who broke laws but were later considered to be heroes. He complained that leading GOP legislators had turned on the president over the Iran-Contras controversy.
Speakes, asked whether the White House agreed with Buchanan's contention that breaking the law might be justified, said of the Iranian controversy, "We don't seek to justify it, we seek to get the facts."
Asked if the communications director had been asked to "tone down" his remarks, Speakes said, "I haven't heard the president express his views... the president knows Pat as a man of conviction and that Pat's only motive here is to encourage people to speak up for the president."
The spokesman said no one in the White House had seen a copy of Buchanan's speech until after he had left for Miami.
In his speech, Buchanan said, "If Colonel North broke any rules, he will stand up and take it like the fighting Marine he is. But I say, if Colonel North ripped off the Ayatollah [Ruhollah Khomeini] and took $30 million and gave it to the Contras, then God bless Colonel North..."
"What they could not accomplish at the ballot box, the president's opponents are trying to accomplish on the evening news," Buchanan said Monday night. "We know what they are after, and who they are after.
"The American people will not permit the press and the Congress to cripple another president."
Buchanan said the president had asked him Monday morning to attend the rally, which was billed by organizers as the first mass show of support since disclosure of the sale of U.S. arms to Iran and the diversion of funds to rebels fighting Nicaragua's government.
An estimated 3000 predominantly Republican Cuban-American and Nicaraguan exiles attended the rally sponsored by Concerned Citizens for Democracy.
Buchanan criticized The Washington Post, saying it had given a "windfall" of information to the Soviet Union by uncovering details of the scandal.
He singled out Sen. Edward Kennedy '54 (D-Mass.), saying, "We say to Sen. Kennedy, you will not bring President Reagan down.
"And you will not succeed either in leaving another band of patriots like the Contras stranded on the beaches of another Bay of Pigs."