The senior staff of the State Department had gathered for its final meeting at 8 a.m. yesterday with retiring Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger when an aide burst in with the announcement that a chagrined Kissinger had just called - "He overslept." It was the first time he had done so in his 40 months in the job.
Like most of the rest of his final day in office, the senior staff meeting - which was finally held at 9:15 a.m. - was more form than substance. Kissinger heard himself lavishly praised by associates and aides, said good-bye to State Department employees who trooped to his office for the purpose, and was hailed by onlookers as he left the building for the last time a little after 5 p.m.
Before departing, Kissinger issued letters and another opinion from his legal adviser asserting that secretarial transcripts of his telephone conversations while in office are his personal property. He rejected a request by Dr. James Rhoads, the archivist of the United States, that "qualified archivists of my staff" be given access to determine whether the documents are government property or belong to Kissinger.
The opinion by State Department legal adviser Monroe Leigh said that officials of the National Archives should not be permitted to inspect the documents because General Services Administration - of which the archives is a part - is an "advocate" of a restricted view of officials' rights to personal papers.
Kissinger has given his papers, including the telephone records, to the Library of Congress under rules that grant him the control of access to them for at least 25 years.
Rhoads issued a statement saying he is unconvinced that all relevant issues were considered in the opinion Kissinger obtained. Pending further action, Rhoads asked the State Department's Records asked the State Department's Records Service to retain the documents until their legal status is resolved.
At a noon ceremony of farewell, Deputy Secretary of State Charles W. Robinson told Kissinger that "you have changed the world in significant and lasting ways." Evidently with tongue in checkM he quoted a Kissinger "principle" that "the illegal we do immediately, the unconstitutional takes a little longer."
under Secretary of State Philip C. Habib, the senior career diplomat in the official hierarchy, said, "It has been a unique experience to walk the paths of the world alongside a genius."
Kissinger's senior aides presented him with an antique blue and white china dish depicting a dragon blowing smoke and fire, and the chair in which he sat at Cabinet meetings. He was also presented with the U.S. and State Department flags from his office.
As a private citizen, Kissinger will forgo the services of the State Department Operations Center, which kept him informed other jobs. He overslept Wednesday morning because he failed to leave a time for his usual wake-uo call the night before.