WASHINGTON — President Reagan, confronting the job of wresting his White House from the grip of the Iran- contra affair, is turning to a wide variety of advisers to help him revamp his Administration's foreign policy operations, relations with Congress and management of his staff, a senior White House official said Saturday.
With new Chief of Staff Howard H. Baker Jr. reporting for work Monday and former Chief of Staff Donald T. Regan cleaning out his White House desk Saturday, the President declared in his weekly radio address: "We're going to be wasting no time preparing for another two years of aggressive work."
But Reagan, trying to use the personnel realignment to give him a fresh start, faces serious challenges in Congress, a recent tumble in his personal popularity and continuing investigations related to the Iran scandal.
The President himself visited the Oval Office only briefly Saturday, but an unusually large contingent of officials spent at least part of the day in the White House at a long-range planning meeting.
One day after Regan's hasty departure, the White House made public a warm letter the President dispatched to his former chief of staff's home late Friday afternoon. In it, Reagan said that Regan had raised the prospect of resigning even before the Iran affair became public but had agreed to remain in the White House during the subsequent investigations.
"Dear Don," Reagan wrote. "In accepting your resignation I want you to know how deeply grateful I am for all that you have done for this Administration and for our country. As secretary of the Treasury, you planted the seeds for the most far-reaching tax reform in our history. As chief of staff, you worked tirelessly and effectively for the policies and programs we proposed to the Congress."
"I know that you stayed on beyond the time you had set for your return to private life and did so because you felt you could be of help in a time of trouble. You were of help, and I thank you. Whether on the deck of your beloved boat or on the fairway, in the words of our forefathers, may the sun shine warm upon your face, the wind be always at your back, and may God hold you in the hollow of his hand."
It was signed: "Sincerely, Ron."
A senior White House official, speaking on the condition that he not be identified, said the chief of staff's resignation "was supposed to be announced at a time of Regan's choosing," most likely this week. But, he said, Regan rushed ahead with his departure when he heard rumors that Baker had already been chosen for the job.
In fact, the new chief of staff visited the President and formally accepted the post at about 1:30 p.m. Friday, several hours after the President had told four senior Republican members of Congress that he had offered Baker the job.
Regan Dashed Off Letter
As the reports flew through Washington, Regan dashed off his resignation letter and had it sent to the President in the White House family quarters at 3:35 p.m., the White House official said. Five minutes later, the President spoke by telephone with Regan, and within minutes the former chief of staff was on his way home.
While Regan was described by one source as angry, another said: "I don't think he lost his temper."
Defending the handling of the transfer, a White House official said: "There was a leak, and it was recognized we couldn't let this story go over the weekend with rampant speculation."
On Saturday, Regan drove himself to the White House, having told the White House motor pool that he would not require the car and driver customarily afforded to senior officials. White House officials said three White House telephones would be removed this week from Regan's home at Mount Vernon, Va., on the banks of the Potomac River.
Regan Given an Office
The former chief of staff was given an office in the Old Executive Office Building, next to the White House, to use during his transition to private life. He spent time Saturday both there and in his large office in the southwest corner of the White House West Wing "cleaning the place out," an official said.
He did not take part in Saturday's 90-minute weekly White House planning meeting. That meeting, normally attended by no more than half a dozen aides, drew 15 officials Saturday, including two representatives dispatched by Baker, who was spending the weekend in Florida.
Among other topics, the meeting dealt with the speech the President will deliver to the nation, probably Wednesday, in response to the Tower Commission report, which was highly critical of Reagan's management of the White House.
The speech is "still in the embryonic stage," White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said.
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