President Reagan declared Thursday that there is “no truth at all” to reports that his aides considered the possibility of his removal from office last year under the 25th Amendment because he seemed immobilized in the wake of the Iran-Contra scandal.
The President’s four-word response, his only direct comment to a question about the controversy shouted to him as he walked across the White House grounds, followed statements by presidential spokesman Marlin Fitzwater that a 1987 staff memo on the subject was “fiction.” Fitzwater said that the memo raising the removal question represented the musings of some disgruntled aides who were about to leave government.
“It speaks more to the state of mind of some of the staff here than it does about the President,” Fitzwater angrily told reporters. “The President was functioning at all times and there was no problem.”
Vice President George Bush, asked about the memo, told reporters aboard Air Force Two as it flew from San Francisco to Columbus, Ohio: “If we weren’t on the record, I’d tell you exactly what I thought about it in off-color language. I was there. I saw the President. It is grossly unfair to a very successful President and it really offends me.”
The memo questioning Reagan’s competency early last year, reported in Thursday’s Times, is disclosed in the new book “Landslide: The Unmaking of the President, 1984-1988.” The book was co-written by Jane Mayer, a Wall Street Journal reporter who covered the Reagan White House, and Doyle McManus, a Los Angeles Times reporter who covered the Iran-Contra scandal.
The book reports that former presidential aide James Cannon became concerned about Reagan’s mental state after conferring with 15 to 20 aides during the height of the Iran-Contra scandal. They told him that the President seemed inept, inattentive and lazy and preferred to watch movies and television in his residence rather than read documents and attend to the business of government.
Cannon has confirmed in an interview that he expressed those concerns in a March 1, 1987, memo to then Chief of Staff Howard H. Baker Jr., suggesting that the 25th Amendment could be used to remove the President from office if that became necessary. The amendment, added to the Constitution in 1967, provides that the President may be removed if the vice president and a majority of the Cabinet declare him “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.”
But Cannon said that he and Baker dismissed the idea after closely observing Reagan at a Cabinet meeting the next day and finding him to be alert and involved.
Baker, in an interview, substantially agreed with Cannon’s account but said he never had any questions about the President’s mental competence.
‘Relieved of Duties’
Fitzwater told reporters at his White House briefing that the unnamed aides who initially expressed those concerns to Cannon were “a bunch of people who had, for all practical purposes, just been relieved of their duties.”
When asked to elaborate, Fitzwater said he was referring to close assistants to Donald T. Regan, who was forced out in early 1987 as the White House chief of staff and was succeeded by Baker.
“Everyone knew when Regan left they were all leaving, and they all were gone within weeks,” Fitzwater said of the aides. Cannon left the White House last year.
Meanwhile, Craig Fuller, Vice President George Bush’s chief of staff and a former aide to Reagan, supported Fitzwater’s remarks.
“There absolutely is no merit to the suggestions that were made in the Cannon memo,” Fuller told reporters on the Bush campaign.
“At no time were any of the comments that Cannon included in his memo something I witnessed or saw. The vice president was not aware of any memo or any discussion and would have thought the matter foolhardy.”