First Lady Castigated in Regan Book : Excerpts Portray Her Manipulating Reagan and Forcing Casey Out
First Lady Nancy Reagan is portrayed in a forthcoming book by former White House Chief of Staff Donald T. Regan as a willful, conniving woman who cleverly manipulates the President and has so little regard for others that she heartlessly demanded CIA Director William J. Casey’s resignation before he died of a brain tumor.
As excerpted in Time magazine’s May 16 issue published today, the book contains the most unflattering account of Mrs. Reagan’s behavior as First Lady ever published and is certain to revive the public debate over whether she has too much influence on the President and his policies.
Regan, embittered by Mrs. Reagan’s role in forcing him to resign on Feb. 27, 1987, after more than a year as chief of staff and four years as Treasury secretary, also disclosed for the first time that the President’s schedule is virtually dictated by the forecasts of an astrologer whom the First Lady consults by telephone from Camp David, Md., every Saturday.
The astrologer, to whom Mrs. Reagan frequently referred in discussions with Regan as her “friend,” was identified by Time as San Francisco socialite Joan Quigley, whom Time described as a well-coiffed woman not unlike many of the First Lady’s California friends.
On Sunday, Quigley confirmed to The Times that she is the First Lady’s astrologer.
“They (the Reagans) always promised me they’d never say who I was,” Quigley told The Times’ Nikki Finke in a telephone interview from her Nob Hill home. “I nearly went through the floor when I was named, because I feel like I’m a doctor or a priest or a lawyer and that you can come to me and have absolute confidentiality.”
The book also offers new proof of tension between Mrs. Reagan and Raisa Gorbachev, wife of the Soviet leader, which has often been denied by the White House. After an evening with the Gorbachevs in which Raisa lectured the President about the Soviet system, for example, the First Lady bitterly remarked to Regan: “Who does that dame think she is?”
It also contradicts Mrs. Reagan’s oft-stated contention that she never interferes with the conduct of Administration policy. Whenever the President resisted her advice, Regan said, the First Lady used former White House aide Michael K. Deaver and others to manipulate her husband--a system the former chief of staff referred to as “this shadowy distaff presidency.”
“Mrs. Reagan regarded herself as the President’s alter ego not only in the conjugal but also in the political and official dimensions,” Regan wrote, “as if the office that had been bestowed upon her husband by the people somehow fell into that category of worldly goods covered by the marriage vows.”
Entitled “For the Record: From Wall Street to Washington,” Regan’s memoir is the latest in a rash of kiss-and-tell books by former high-ranking Reagan Administration aides that has upset both the President and his wife.
On Sunday, the White House reacted with a statement saying: “Vindictiveness and revenge are not admirable qualities and are not worthy of comment. Donald Regan’s attempt to defame the First Lady, on Mother’s Day no less, are certainly in that category.”
Although the book treats the President more kindly that his wife, there is no question that Regan thinks the President is too unassertive and henpecked. For example, Regan recalls one instance involving a presidential appointment in which Reagan consulted scraps of paper that he took from his pocket--obviously placed there by his wife.
As other authors have done, Regan portrays his former boss as a man who carries out the symbolic role of the presidency while having virtually nothing to do with the invention or implementation of policy. In fact, he claims the President is so docile that he once sat with burning eyes in a smoke-filled room in the White House West Wing while firefighters battled a minor blaze nearby. He did not want to disturb anyone by evacuating the White House, Regan said.
‘Walking on Eggshells’
On March 11, 1981, during his second month as Treasury secretary, Regan wrote this criticism of the Reagan presidency in a spiral notebook: “To this day, I have never had so much as one minute alone with Ronald Reagan. Never has he or anyone else sat down in private to explain to me what is expected of me, what goals he would like to see me accomplish, what results he wants.”
From his first encounter with Mrs. Reagan shortly after he became chief of staff in December, 1985, according to Regan, he decided that he would have to humor the First Lady. “I was left with the impression, which proved accurate, that walking on eggshells was a useful skill to cultivate if you were going to deal with Mrs. Reagan day to day,” he said.
But the blunt-spoken former chief of Merrill Lynch clearly did not have the diplomatic skills that were required, and eventually ended up in a well-publicized shouting match over the telephone with Mrs. Reagan, which he ended by slamming down the receiver. He said he hung up first “only because I was quicker than Mrs. Reagan.”
Perhaps the single most embarrassing tale about Mrs. Reagan in Time’s excerpts from the book is Regan’s account of how she demanded that Casey, who had been implicated in the Iran-Contra affair, be forced to resign after he underwent surgery for a brain tumor.
When Regan declined to do so on grounds that the CIA director was too ill, the First Lady reportedly told him: “You’re more interested in protecting Bill Casey than in protecting Ronnie. He’s dragging Ronnie down.” And then, after Regan and Atty. Gen. Edwin Meese III visited Casey’s bedside and obtained his resignation, Mrs. Reagan reportedly had just a one-word reaction: “Good.”
The First Lady has considerable experience in forcing Administration officials to resign, according to Regan, primarily because her husband is unable to fire people. He said she frequently did so by getting Deaver to plant stories saying that the person in question had lost the confidence of the President.
“Some people left Reagan’s service convinced that he wanted them to go, when in fact he had little or no idea that they were going,” Regan wrote.
Regan’s book contains a sample list of dates that Mrs. Reagan’s astrologer had ruled out for presidential travel and other activities. The list, which Regan contends was the bible for White House schedulers, reads in part: “March 7-14, bad period; March 10-14, no outside activities; March 12-19, no trips exposure; March 16, very bad.”
When Regan told Vice President George Bush about the influence of astrology at the White House shortly before he resigned, he reported that Bush replied: “Good God. I had no idea.”
Presidential press conferences also were scheduled at the First Lady’s whim in consultation with her astrologer, according to Regan. In fact, it was the chief of staff’s desire to schedule a press conference on Feb. 26, 1987--the first in three months--that prompted the shouting match when Mrs. Reagan disagreed. Regan then hung up on the First Lady.
Fewer Press Conferences
Reagan has had fewer press conferences than any of his modern predecessors.
Quigley, who has been watching the stars since she was 15 and described her handful of clients as all having “important lives who need this sort of thing,” said that she was recommended to the First Lady by entertainer Merv Griffin following one of her many appearances on his television talk show.
“I had made many predictions for Merv, and he always said they were correct,” Quigley told The Times. “And so he introduced me to Nancy by telephone.”
Quigley said she gave the Reagans her “serious, professional” astrological advice throughout the 1980 presidential campaign. “When he won, I felt my work had been done,” she said. “I didn’t pay too much attention to the White House after that.”
However, she noted that after the 1981 attempt on Reagan’s life, the First Lady began to consult her again more often. “She felt my work was invaluable, and she was concerned about the President’s safety,” Quigley said.
She said she only consulted with Mrs. Reagan and that it was always by telephone, sometimes on Saturday afternoon calls from Camp David. Her only visit to the White House, she said, was to attend a 1985 state dinner for Algerian President Chadli Bendjedid.
She also emphasized that her work for the Reagans focused solely on recommending to them their “best and worst times.”
“I have never made a decision for them in my life,” she stressed. “I wouldn’t dream of that. I predicted only the climate of events.”
In his book, Regan provides a blow-by-blow account of how the First Lady succeeded in forcing him to resign. It began on the evening of Nov. 24, 1986, the day it was disclosed that proceeds from the Iran arms sales were diverted to the Contras, when she called him with this message: “Heads will roll.”
Although there is no evidence that Regan had any knowledge of the diversion before Nov. 24, Regan knew he was on the First Lady’s list of people who must go.
Bush Delivered Message
Eventually, it was Bush who delivered the final message to Regan in early 1987 that he would have to step down. He said the Vice President was clearly embarrassed when he responded in anger that he was being fired “like a shoe clerk.”
Before he left, however, Regan told the President how he felt. In two separate conversations with Reagan, the former chief of staff complained about being replaced by former Sen. Howard H. Baker Jr. (R-Tenn.) and about learning of Baker’s selection from a press leak. He also said he expressed anger that he was being forced out by the First Lady.
He said he told Reagan: “I thought I was chief of staff to the President, not to his wife. I have to tell you, sir, that I’m very bitter. You’re allowing the loyal to be punished and those with their own agenda to be rewarded.”