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Reagan Irked at His Staff, Maureen Says

March 10, 1987|JAMES GERSTENZANG | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — President Reagan was infuriated when he learned from the Tower Commission's report about some of the activities conducted by his staff in the Iran- contra affair, his daughter Maureen said Monday.

She portrayed the period leading up to the release of the panel's report Feb. 26 as frustrating for the First Family because they were "beat up pretty bad" and unable to respond.

Maureen Reagan, co-chair of the Republican National Committee, made the comments to reporters after a lunch with the President and other Republican leaders who were summoned to meet the new members of the White House staff.

Her remarks represented a sketchy, secondhand view of the President's reaction to the document, prepared by the three-member board chaired by former Sen. John Tower of Texas. He had appointed the panel to look into the work of the National Security Council staff after it was learned that money paid by Iran for U.S. weapons apparently had been diverted to the rebels fighting the Nicaraguan government.

However, Maureen Reagan's comments provided the most detailed picture to date of Reagan's reaction to crucial disclosures that marked the worst crisis of his presidency and the personal effect of a report that highly criticized not only the staff he hired but also his "personal management style."

No Public Display

At least one former White House official had expressed frustration in recent weeks that Reagan had not publicly displayed any anger over covert activities that the President said had been carried out without his knowledge.

This official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, indicated that Reagan would improve his image if he could be seen by the public as extremely annoyed--rather than passively awaiting the report of the commission.

On Monday, in an apparent reference to the activities of Lt. Col. Oliver L. North, a former National Security Council staff member who was at the heart of the Iran operation, and his supervisor, Rear Adm. John M. Poindexter, formerly the President's national security adviser, Reagan's daughter said:

"I think the President was very angry when he learned some of the things that had been done--in fact, many of the things that had been done without his knowledge. In fact, 'royally PO'd' might be a very good word for it."

'Guilty of Treason'

The younger Reagan, meeting reporters in the White House press room, stood by earlier remarks that North and Poindexter should be court-martialed. "A member of the United States military who lies to their commander in chief is guilty of treason and should be court-martialed," she said.

When asked how she knew that they lied, Maureen Reagan replied: "Because, by omission or commission, they did not tell the President what they were doing. And that's a lie."

She said that she had made such remarks to her father, and that he had responded: "Uh-huh."

Monday's White House lunch--also attended by Frank J. Fahrenkopf Jr., chairman of the Republican National Committee, and about a dozen other Republican leaders--was part of a campaign by Reagan and his aides to close ranks and look ahead to other issues.

Fahrenkopf said that discussions at the lunch dealt with various items on the agenda for the Administration's final two years, including welfare reform and the Strategic Defense Initiative, the President's space-based anti-missile program.

Record for Brevity

Shortly before the lunch, the President met with John O. Koehler and accepted his resignation as White House director of communications, one week after he began the job--a record for brevity in the tenure of a senior White House official in this Administration.

Koehler said that his hasty departure stemmed from efforts by the new chief of staff, Howard H. Baker Jr., to reorganize the entire structure of the White House staff.

Baker, who took over his new job March 2, is presiding over a transition from the team of presidential assistants assembled by his predecessor, Donald T. Regan. In addition to Koehler, Peter J. Wallison, the White House counsel, is being replaced, and other changes are pending.

And, as the White House rebuilds its solidarity from within, there is little reluctance to engage in battles on other fronts, primarily against the newly Democratic Congress.

One such issue involves a proposal by House Speaker Jim Wright (D-Tex.) to cut the federal budget deficit by imposing a new tax on stock market transactions that would raise as much as $17 billion a year.

White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater chided Wright, saying: "I can't believe the Speaker would make the same mistake Walter Mondale did." Mondale, the Democratic presidential nominee who was swamped by Reagan in 1984, opened his general election campaign by promising to raise taxes.

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