The long-expected resignation of White House deputy chief of staff Michael K. Deaver was announced by President Reagan yesterday, the latest in a series of departures that leaves Reagan without a cadre of trusted California advisers in the West Wing and that could reshape his inner circle.
The resignation, announced by Reagan in a two-paragraph written statement, came after Interior Secretary William P. Clark unexpectedly resigned earlier this week.
Reagan also yesterday renominated another longtime adviser, counselor Edwin Meese III, as attorney general to replace Californian William French Smith.
The developments mean that Reagan would be without Meese, Deaver or Clark in the White House for the first time in his presidency and appear to strengthen the standing, at least for now, of White House chief of staff James A. Baker III, who has talked about leaving the White House.
Baker and other so-called White House "pragmatists" have often been criticized by conservatives because of compromises they struck with Congress on policy issues during Reagan's first term.
It remains unclear how the White House staff will be structured in the second term. Some conservatives are pressing for a major position for Jeane J. Kirkpatrick, who is leaving as U.N. ambassador but whose future, by agreement with Reagan, remains in limbo until after the inauguration Jan. 20.
Deaver, 46, often described as the adviser with the closest personal ties to the Reagans, had complained that his $72,000-a-year-salary was inadequate and talked about becoming a public relations specialist in the private sector.
Reagan said yesterday that Deaver would leave the White House "in the general time frame of March to May 1985." Other White House aides said Deaver, now working on Inauguration Day ceremonies, has not made a decision about a specific job.
Harold Burson, chairman of the New York public relations firm Burson-Marsteller, has talked to Deaver about heading its Washington office, officials have said, but White House aides said yesterday that no agreement has been made. The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday that the firm is ready to pay Deaver up to $200,000 a year.
Deaver did not return a telephone call seeking comment yesterday.
The Journal also reported that Deaver's "financial picture has brightened considerably" since three years ago ago when he said he was not making enough money. The paper said Deaver's wife, Carolyn, "has become an almost overnight success as a public relations consultant, despite a previous lack of experience."
White House officials said they did not think that announcement of Deaver's resignation, which most of them said they had expected for months, was related to the newspaper's report on his financial condition.
One official said that Deaver spoke with the Reagans in Palm Springs, Calif., over the New Year's holiday and that they agreed to his request to resign. Deaver's White House colleagues had said he probably would not leave if the president or Nancy Reagan insisted that he stay.
Reagan said in his statement that Deaver "rendered 18 years of loyal and outstanding service to me and to the first lady" in California and Washington. "Much of the success we've enjoyed in the first term is directly attributable to him," Reagan said. "His shoes will be difficult to fill, and he leaves with our best wishes and affection."
Deaver's colleagues yesterday credited him with devising ways to present the policies and political themes on Reagan's agenda, particularly through television appearances and speeches.
"He's the best presidential public relations man of the television era, with the possible exception of John F. Kennedy, who was his own," presidential assistant Richard G. Darman said. He added that Deaver had a "unique understanding" of Reagan and "the media environment in which the presidency is conducted."
Officials said Deaver's subordinates would continue to perform such functions as advance work for presidential trips and scheduling. There was general agreement that the departure of Deaver and Meese will change the face of the president's senior staff, but few offered clues as to what will follow.
Several officials said the departures leave Baker in a preeminent position to influence the course of the important early months of Reagan's second term, at least on domestic policy.
"I would assume everything will fold into Baker," one White House official said.
A second added, "I think it means that Baker has been accepted" by Reagan, although he was not part of the California inner circle who came to office with the president.
Baker has long expressed a desire for a Cabinet post. Close associates said that he is "frustrated" by recent internal battles over the federal budget deficit, in which Reagan rejected appeals of most of his subordinates for major defense-spending reductions, and that it is uncertain whether he will want to remain as chief of staff beyond 1985.
Officials said that they expect Baker to continue to rely to a large extent on Darman and that other aides, including Craig L. Fuller, assistant to the president for Cabinet affairs, probably would be given enhanced responsibilities.
Reagan's presidency opened with a "Big Three" arrangement in which Baker, Deaver and Meese advised the president on major decisions. The trio later became a quartet with the addition of Clark. Reagan's first term was marked by tension between the staffs of these aides at different times.
Deaver began working for Reagan when he was California governor. When Reagan left office, Deaver started a public relations and lobbying firm with another Reagan aide, Peter Hannaford. They often accompanied Reagan on speaking engagements and handled his radio speeches before he was elected president in 1980.