Perot Sought Probe of Alleged Armitage Drug Smuggling, Bush Aide Says
WASHINGTON (AP) _ A spokesman for Vice President George Bush says billionaire H. Ross Perot last fall raised ″evidence of wrongdoing″ by Assistant Secretary of Defense Richard Armitage that included charges of drug and weapons trafficking.
Perot on Sunday denied ever alleging Armitage was involved with drugs or weapons, but declined comment on whether he might have told Bush about any other concerns he had regarding Armitage.
″Mr. Perot did bring to the vice president what he considered evidence of wrongdoing by Mr. Armitage,″ Bush’s assistant press secretary, Stephen Hart, said in a telephone interview Sunday.
Hart said he understood the allegations included drug trafficking and arms trading.
Hart said today that he did not know the content of the discussions and would not characterize them. A statement issued by the vice president’s press office said that contrary to recent stories, drug and weapon allegations were not discussed by Bush and Perot.
″The vice president told Mr. Perot that if he felt he had a case of wrongdoing he should take it to the appropriate authorities,″ Hart said Sunday.
But Perot, reached at his Texas home Sunday, said, ″I have never said a word to anybody about drugs and weapons and Armitage.″
″Those stories float out there, but I don’t have any evidence,″ he added. ″I have no direct knowledge of either.″
Bush’s office was responding to a Sunday article in the Boston Globe. The newspaper quoted sources it did not name as saying Perot had asked Bush to investigate allegations Armitage was involved in drug and weapons trafficking dating to the early 1970s when he was in Vietnam, and when working as a Defense Department consultant in Bangkok, Thailand, in the mid-1970s.
The Defense Department, in a statement released Sunday, said, ″That’s an old allegation that was looked into years ago and found to be groundless.″
The statement said Armitage ″is under no investigation by the Department of Defense. Secretary (Caspar) Weinberger has full confidence in him.″
Pentagon spokeswoman Lt. Col. Edwina Palmer said Armitage could not be reached for comment.
The Globe said Armitage met with Perot last October after apparently hearing that Perot had allegedly complained about him. Armitage denied involvement in drug and weapons trafficking, the newspaper said.
Hart said Bush’s White House meeting with Perot was Oct. 16. Perot confirmed Sunday he had met with Armitage but would not elaborate.
He also refused comment on whether he asked Armitage, Bush or other officials about the propriety of Armitage’s alleged intervention in the 1985 gambling trial of a Vietnamese refugee woman, Nguyet Thi O’Rourke. The Globe said Armitage wrote a character reference on Pentagon stationery for Mrs. O’Rourke, who was convicted in Arlington, Va., of running a gambling operation.
Perot, at the Reagan administration’s request, has been investigating whether any Vietnam war veterans are still being held prisoner in Southeast Asia.
Armitage is the administration’s point man on the POW-MIA question and has traveled to Southeast Asia in that capacity.
″As you work on things like this every now and then you stumble over something,″ Perot said Sunday, but declined to elaborate. ″I have one mission in life and that’s to get to the bottom of the POW-MIA situation.″
Perot, founder of Electronic Data Systems now owned by General Motors, has been involved in efforts to rescue hostages overseas in the past - including the Americans in Lebanon - and engineered a commando raid that rescued two of his company’s employees kidnapped in Iran in 1979.
Armitage served in the Navy in Vietnam and was later a counterinsurgency instructor, according to the 1986 Federal Staff Directory. He later served as a Defense Department consultant and was a partner in a Bangkok import-export business.
He became deputy assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs for East Asia and Pacific affairs in 1981 and assumed his current position as assistant secretary for international security affairs in 1983.