Nation: Cocaine Caper?

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Carter's top aides impugned

Amid all the festivities aboard the Delta Queen, there came an ominous telephone call for President Carter at about 8:15 last Thursday night. It was the new Attorney General, Benjamin Civiletti. He regretfully told the President a stunning piece of news: he had just ordered the FBI to undertake a preliminary investigation of Carter's two closest White House aides, Chief of Staff Hamilton Jordan and Press Secretary Jody Powell. The reason: an allegation that Jordan had snorted cocaine during a visit to New York City's Studio 54, a celebrated disco club—the first version of the story said in April 1978—and that Powell had been with him at the time.

Since Powell, on the Queen with Carter, was standing near by, Carter asked Civiletti whether it would be all right for him to talk to his press secretary about the charge. Civiletti said it would not, so Carter waved Powell away as he listened to the rest of the story. At 4 a.m., two FBI agents boarded the steamer and interrogated Powell, who not only denied the story but said he had never even been to Studio 54. In Washington, Jordan also denied the charge. He had gone to Studio 54 for about an hour once last year, he told the FBI, but not in April and certainly not for drugs, nor did he ever visit the basement where the incident allegedly took place. Said he: "I did not attempt to buy or use cocaine—that is absolutely untrue."

The source for this tale was somewhat less than objective. Two owners of Studio 54, Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager, had been charged with tax evasion, obstruction of justice and conspiracy in June. The charges followed a raid on the disco in December 1978 in which Schrager had been arrested for possession of cocaine. Rubell's chief lawyer, Roy M. Cohn, onetime aide to Senator Joseph McCarthy, said last week that in preparing for the trial Rubell told him that the discotheque's many famous visitors included Jordan and Powell.

According to Cohn's account, Rubell told him that Jordan on a visit asked for some cocaine and said he wanted "to get high." Rubell said that the cocaine was provided free for the visiting celebrity by a small-time drug seller named "Johnny C.," and added that Rubell and one of his former employees allegedly watched Jordan use it. Cohn got a taped statement from Johnny C. and then went to the federal authorities.

Rubell both amplified and corrected this account in an interview with TIME. The date, he said, was not April and Powell had not been there; his name had been on an April reservation list but he never showed up. However, said Rubell, "Ham Jordan came one night in June or July. He told Mark the doorman that he wanted to see the basement. There were about a dozen people in the basement at the time and four have come forth and said that they saw him: Mark was one, Johnny C. was another, I was one and another witness—a party person who had been connected with the Ford White House, a protocol type." Had anyone actually seen Jordan snort cocaine? "Johnny C. was the one who turned him on, and I saw him take a hit in each nostril. It was next to the pinball machines."

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