WASHINGTON -- A day after he resigned as chief of staff, Donald Regan drove to the White House today to clean out his belongings and help smooth the transition for his replacement, former Tennessee Sen. Howard Baker.
Regan, 68, who had planned to resign early next week, learned from a television report Friday that he had been replaced by Baker, without a word from President Reagan.
Regan, who until today had been chauffeured to work, showed up at the White House around 9:35 a.m. EST, driving his own white sedan. He declined to comment on the angry way he made his departure Friday, when he dispatched a one-line letter of resignation to the president.
'I'm not going to comment on that,' he told reporters. 'I want to wait for time to pass before I comment.
'I don't want to think about the past,' he said, smiling. 'I'm looking to the future.'
Regan, blamed for the White House chaos as a result of the Iran arms-Contra aide scandal, showed up after several of his former aides arrived to help with members of the Baker transition team.
Asked about having to drive his own car, Regan teased, 'I've been driving for 60 years.'
He also arrived without his Secret Service detail, the agents apparently having been removed when he quit the White House.
Baker spent time in his new White House office Friday and said he begins full-time work Monday.
Regan's terse note to the president said, 'Dear Mr. President: I hereby resign as chief of staff to the president of the United States. Respectfully yours, Donald T. Regan.'
Regan fired off the letter, extraordinary for its brevity when flowery phrases are the custom in such departures, when he learned from a television report that Baker had been chosen to replace him. But most observers felt he had stayed too long in view of his feud with first lady Nancy Reagan.
Regan was blamed by the Tower Commission in its report on the Iran arms scandal released Thursday for causing 'the chaos that descended upon the White House' in the aftermath of the bungled arms-for-hostage deal.
Baker, 61, gave up a long-shot run for the 1988 presidential nomination to take the chief of staff's job only weeks after he said he was uninterested in running the CIA.
In his formal announcement of the change, Reagan said, 'Last week he indicated that with the release of the Tower board report, he felt he would like to go through with his original plans to return to private life.
'I am therefore accepting with regret his resignation as chief of staff, effective today.'
Reagan described Baker as 'a distinguished American who has served as majority and minority leader of the United States Senate, a leader of the Republican party and a man of unquestioned integrity and ability.'
Baker, who retired from the Senate in 1985, is one of the most highly regarded politicians in Washington and a friend to lawmakers from both parties.
Asked if he would still run for president, Baker said, 'I think it goes without saying that to be a full time and dedicated chief of staff, which is what I will do, that there will not be time for, nor would it be appropriate to try to run for the Republican presidential nomination. So I will not be a candidate for president in 1988.'
A hurt Regan quit in a fury after he heard an announcement on Cable News Network that he was being replaced, an aide said.
Deputy press secretary Marlin Fitzwater said Regan summoned him to his office at 3:45 p.m. EST and handed him a copy of his resignation letter, saying, 'I've just delivered this to the president. I want you to go down and announce it.'
The word at the White House was that first lady Nancy Reagan had forced Regan out and that even up to mid-afternoon, he thought he would not have to resign until early next week.
In a statement issued even before the president's, Mrs. Reagan said of Regan, 'I wish him good luck.'
'I'm delighted he (Baker) will be with us,' she added.
The president apparently made the final decision early Friday. He told Republican congressional leaders at the end of a morning meeting with them that they would be 'pleased' with Regan's replacement.
It is rare that the president does not personally announce the appointment of a new high-ranking assistant.
Regan's staffers, dubbed the 'mice,' were grim-faced as they darted in and out of offices, appearing shocked and saddened. Regan slipped out of the White House in the afternoon.
Reagan remained in his residence. There was no immediate indication of how he told Regan that the timetable for his departure had been moved up.
Baker said he was contacted by the president in Florida, flew to Washington and met with Reagan at 1:30 p.m. EST at the White House.
'But in this case, the president asked me to to accept the most sensitive position in his personal entourage to be his chief of staff, to organize the White House on his behalf and I didn't see how I could turn that down,' he said.