President Reagan expressed irritation yesterday at reports of friction among his senior White House advisers and said he is "trying to find out" who is responsible for spreading "these tales."
In an Oval Office interview with six correspondents, Reagan refused to specify what actions he has taken other than to say, "I am dealing with this." He added that he is "satisfied" with the staff and does not plan any changes.
A White House official said later that, while Reagan may have "talked with the powers that be" about the staff friction, it isn't evident that he has taken any other action.
Questioned about published reports of a rivalry between White House chief of staff James A. Baker III and national security affairs adviser William P. Clark, Reagan did not acknowledge any problems with his top aides. Rather, he blamed low-level subordinates for leaking stories about their superiors.
"I have to say that I think there's been great exaggeration," Reagan said. "And I think to portray that there are factions trying to win over my mind probably . . . springs from the fact that the manner in which I ask the Cabinet to operate, my administration to operate, is one of that I want all options and I want them debated in front of me.
"So it is true, and this is very upsetting, disturbing then, for someone to go out and leak some information that makes it look as if, well, there was a loser."
Reagan lamented that he picks up the newspaper after a Cabinet debate and reads that "secretary so-and-so was a loser in this. He was opposed to this. And then it makes it sound like this is all some kind of feuding. It isn't. It's what I have asked for."
Reagan said that when he makes a decision "there's got to be some who were on the wrong side and some on the right side. But the very next Cabinet meeting, it may change."
He also said he didn't believe the reports of a rivalry between Baker and Clark as widely recounted by senior administration officials in recent weeks. These officials have reported a disagreement between Baker and Clark over strategy and tactics for dealing with Congress on the administration's Central America policy and on the defense budget.
" . . . I think what happens sometimes is people at a different level go out with stories because they think they are speaking in behalf of their side of the fence, or their superior," Reagan said. "And they're causing a lot of needless trouble."