A former White House aide said Thursday he raised the possibility of temporarily removing President Reagan from office under the 25th Amendment during the Iran-Contra scandal because the president was inattentive, inept and lazy.
The aide, James Cannon, said he brought up the subject in a 1987 memo to Howard Baker Jr., who was just taking over from Donald Regan as White House chief of staff. Cannon said he rejected the thought after seeing Reagan and finding that his condition was just "dandy."Cannon said he had interviewed 15 or 20 staffers left from the Regan regime and that "not all but most said in one way or another that the president was inattentive, that he had lost interest in his job."
"I was skeptical about that, but nevertheless the number of people that told me this was such that I felt I had an obligation to raise (it) with Sen. Baker."
The 25th Amendment, added to the Constitution in 1967, provides 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."
White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater, talking to reporters at his daily briefing, said, "I saw the president every day, talked to him a lot. There's nothing to this. This is fiction by staff people who for their own reasons chose to say this, and it was dismissed immediately by those who heard it. It was never taken seriously."
Fitzwater said the president was aware of the Cannon report "and he takes it all in stride."
"It speaks more of the state of mind of some of the staff here (at the time) than it does of the president," Fitzwater said.
"Cannon talked to a bunch of people who for all practical purposes had just been relieved of their duties," the spokesman said, saying aides brought to the White House by Regan knew they would be leaving shortly after he did.
Fitzwater also said, however, that he did not know to whom Cannon spoke, except that he did not speak to him or to Lt. Gen. Colin Powell, then the deputy national security adviser, or to Frank C. Carlucci, then the national security adviser.
"The president was just fine; the staff seemed to have had some problems," Fitzwater said.
Cannon's account appears in a new book, "Landslide" by two newspaper reporters, Jane Mayer and Doyle McManus. Cannon said Thursday in an interview on the Cable News Network that the version of the incident in the prologue of the book "is in the main quite accurate.
"The essence of what the prologue says is that it was not Ronald Reagan who had a problem, it was his staff," he said.
Cannon said that on the day after he wrote the memo, Baker, Cannon and two other aides observed Reagan and concluded the president was competent to perform his duties.
"To our obvious delight, President Reagan was dandy," Cannon said on CNN. "He was the same Ronald Reagan I had seen. I thought, `This man is fine and what are these guys talking about.' "