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NANCY SAYS ALLOWING SWITCH WAS BIGGEST ERROR

SHARE NANCY SAYS ALLOWING SWITCH WAS BIGGEST ERROR

Nancy Reagan says the biggest mistake of her husband's presidency was allowing Donald Regan and James A. Baker III to switch jobs in January 1985.

Mrs. Reagan sharply criticizes Regan in her soon-to-be-published memoirs. She says Regan, who moved from Treasury secretary to White House chief of staff in the job swap, "often acted as if he were president."The book, "My Turn: The Memoirs of Nancy Reagan," written with ghostwriter William Novak, is excerpted in the Oct. 23 issue of Newsweek magazine.

In an interview Wednesday that was to be broadcast Sunday on the Associated Press Radio Network, Mrs. Reagan says the book was not intended as an attempt to get even for slights she suffered during the White House years.

"I hope it doesn't read that way," she said in on the AP Network program "Newsweek on Air." "I tried very hard not to be vindictive."

Mrs. Reagan said all she wanted to do was "set the record straight about a lot of things that had not been straight during the White House years."

Mrs. Reagan says her consultation with astrologer Joan Quigley "began as a crutch" to ease her anxiety after her husband was shot in 1981. It eventually became "an enormous embarrassment" to Reagan when Regan revealed it to the press.

The president learned she was talking to an astrologer when he overheard her talking to Quigley on the telephone. "If it makes you feel better, go ahead and do it," she quotes him as saying. "But be careful. It might look a little odd if it ever came out."

In the interview, the former First Lady said she is no longer consulting Quigley or any astrologer. "At the end, it was really just a matter of habit more than anything else," she said.

In the book, Mrs. Reagan denies she engineered Regan's departure from the White House. But she details her role in making her husband aware of growing complaints about him at the height of the Iran-Contra affair.

"I'm not saying Iran-Contra was Don Regan's doing," Mrs. Reagan writes. "But it did occur on his watch, and when it came out, he should have taken responsibility."

Mrs. Reagan also says she believes CIA director William Casey was deeply involved in the scandal "when he wasn't thinking clearly" because of the brain tumor that eventually killed him.

Mrs. Reagan reports that she spoke with both former President Nixon and then-Vice President George Bush about getting Regan out. She said Nixon "called to say that if Ronnie wanted him to talk to Don Regan about resigning, he would."

She says Bush agreed with her that Regan should quit, but quotes him as saying it's "not my role" to tell him.

"That's exactly your role," Mrs. Reagan says she told Bush. "But as far as I know, George Bush never spoke to Ronnie about Don."

"If, by some miracle, I could take back one decision in Ronnie's presidency," she says, "it would be his agreement in January 1985 that Don Regan and Jim Baker switch jobs."

Baker, now secretary of state, doesn't escape criticism. "Although Jim did a lot for Ronnie, I always felt his main interest was Jim Baker," Mrs. Reagan says.

The book renders harsh judgment on several other top officials of the Reagan administration. Reagan's first secretary of state, Alexander Haig, was "Ronnie's biggest mistake in the first term," she says, calling him "power hungry," "belligerent," and "obsessed with matters of status."

She calls former budget director David Stockman "a shrewd and crafty man" who violated the president's trust.

Former Attorney General Edwin Meese III, by waiting far too long to resign after getting into trouble over finances, "weakened both the Justice Department and the presidency," she says.