Donald T. Regan, paid $20,000 by Colorado business executives to make his first public comment on the Iran- contra scandal since being ousted as White House chief of staff, declared Wednesday night that President Reagan "did no wrong" in the affair.
Regan, who resigned Feb. 27 after learning from a news report that former Sen. Howard H. Baker Jr. had been named to replace him, also said that many people had improperly tagged him, Regan, as the Iran-contra scapegoat.
"The Tower Commission report, if you read it carefully, indicated I played more the role of observer than participant in the affair," he said, "and as a result, I didn't feel I should be the scapegoat for that." Until all the facts are out, he added, "I think final judgment will have to be suspended on who the actual scapegoat should be."
Notes Commission's Criticism
Regan denied that the commission had criticized his "management of government," noting that it had faulted him for "the chaos that descended upon the White House" after the scandal was publicly disclosed.
Regan spoke at a dinner held by the Economic Club of Colorado, a booster-minded group of corporate chief executives. About 85 people attended the session.
A club spokeswoman, Terry A. Kalil, said the organization had stipulated that Regan's $20,000 fee would not be paid if he used any other forum to deliver his first post-government remarks on the Iran-contra scandal.
"We made that part of the contract," she said. "We didn't want him showing up first on Ted Koppel's show" (ABC-TV's "Nightline").
No New Information
Despite a large turnout of reporters expecting the feisty, tart-tongued Regan to make news, he provided no fresh details of the scandal either in his speech or in answers to questions afterward.
Regan said that he expected Reagan's job-approval rating in opinion polls, which has slipped badly since the scandal broke, would rebound.
"I think when all the facts are out, and the President's role in the Iran-contra affair is shown up for what it is without all the insinuations that have been alleged about what role he may or may not have played . . . it will be seen that the President did no wrong in this affair."
Regan reiterated that neither he nor President Reagan knew or approved of the clandestine diversion to Nicaraguan rebels of profits from arms sales to Iran.
"I'm convinced the President had no knowledge of any illegal activity and would never have approved had he known of it," Regan said in his speech. "I know I knew nothing about it until Atty. Gen. Ed Meese came to me last November and said he needed to talk to the President."
Regan referred to the diversion of Iranian arms sale funds to the Nicaraguan rebels, or contras, as an "alleged" diversion.
"This is because all we know, at least all I know, is that the attorney general, in his investigation last November, found indications that funds were unaccounted for and such a diversion may have taken place. He promptly reported this information to the President and the rest is, as they say, history."
Regan also once again contended that the arms shipments to Iran originated with an overture to Iranian officials that was aimed at heading off Soviet expansion into the Persian Gulf. This "overture came to include the sale of arms by the U.S. to Iran," he said. Eventually, he added, the trading of arms for American hostages held in Lebanon developed into "a secondary objective" that "became commingled, to use a banking term" with the original objective of renewing friendly relations to blunt the perceived Soviet threat.
Since resigning, Regan said, he has booked appearances on the lecture circuit, begun writing his Washington memoirs and sought to improve his golf score.
He will be in Los Angeles today to speak at a luncheon hosted by Loyola Marymount University.