On the night before the announcement last November that Iran arms sales profits had been diverted to aid the Nicaraguan contras, then-White House chief of staff Donald T. Regan wrote a "plan of action" for the crisis that sought to blame the National Security Council, according to a copy of Regan's plan.

However, the next day, President Reagan told congressional leaders at a White House meeting that the National Security Council system had "served the country well," and he defended his just-departed national security adviser, Rear Adm. John M. Poindexter, according to notes of the meeting.

Regan's plan and the president's contrary remarks offer yet another glimpse of the confusion that existed at the highest levels of the administration as the Iran-contra affair exploded last November. The Senate-House Iran-contra hearings have shown that this was a time of frenzied activity in the White House. The president had given misleading answers at a news conference the week before; Marine Lt. Col. Oliver L. North had shredded documents; Secretary of State George P. Shultz had blunt words with the president; there was talk of a major housecleaning that might include Shultz and Regan, and Attorney General Edwin Meese III had discovered the North diversion memo.

Both Regan's plan and the notes of the president's remarks to the congressional leaders on Nov. 25 were among documents released for the first time by the Iran-contra select committees last week. Reagan's comments were summarized in notes by John Richardson, a special assistant to Meese, who was at the meeting. Earlier, the committees also had released other participants' notes on key meetings in November 1986.

Regan's plan of action, which he drew up at home on the night of Nov. 24, envisioned laying the blame on the NSC. But the next morning, meeting with congressional leaders, the president defended the NSC and Poindexter.

Reagan said repeatedly that Poindexter was "not a participant" in the diversion scheme. Poindexter "volunteered" his resignation "in Navy tradition -- even though no participation," the president said, according to the notes.

The president also said that "without condoning" the diversion, "it wasn't contrary to policy," according to the notes. Later, in appearing before reporters in the press briefing room, Reagan said his policy goals toward Iran were sound but "implementation" of his policy was in one respect "seriously flawed."

The first item in chief of staff Regan's plan had been to "widen scope of investigation by attorney general into NSC." He also wrote:

"Tough as it seems, blame must be put at NSC's door -- rogue operation, going on without president's knowledge or sanction. When suspicions arose, he took charge, ordered investigation, had meeting of top advisers get at facts and find out who knew what.

"Try to make the best of a sensational story," Regan wrote. "Anticipate charges of 'out of control,' 'president doesn't know what's going on,' 'who's in charge,' 'State Department is right in its suspicions of NSC,' 'secret dealings with nefarious characters,' 'Should break off any contacts with: a) Iranians, b) contras.' "

Regan wanted to deflect criticism of the president. "Try to get answers to such charges in advance," he wrote. "President should not answer in press room, but others in administration are going to be asked."

Regan wrote that he would "order reassignment" of NSC staff aide North and "accept resignation" of Rear Adm. Poindexter "because of failure to inform president of possible misfeasance by members of his staff, and failure to investigate."

Regan also said a statement would be written for the president to deliver to the news media at midday, saying that he had ordered Meese to look into "arms shipment and who knew what." The statement, he said, "should express his shagrin {sic}, and shock and revelations."

Regan also wrote that he would have to "warn president" that Secretary of State Shultz may suggest he "take over" the NSC staff as well as the State Department "on a temporary basis." Shultz, he wrote, "will put in his person and then return operation to White House. It will then be an outpost of State Department."

But Regan instead said he would urge Reagan to name someone quickly from the foreign policy or intelligence community. The president followed this advice and Frank C. Carlucci was named in December to replace Poindexter.

The chief of staff also said Reagan "must ask George Shultz to muzzle State Department, ditto for Cap Weinberger, and {CIA Director} Bill Casey, and chief of staff, or else there will be all kinds of stories and malicious gossip that can only hurt Adm. Poindexter."

Regan's plan included a briefing for congressional leaders, the appearance by the president in the White House briefing room and announcement of the presidential commission headed by former senator John G. Tower (R-Tex.) to look at the NSC, all of which occurred. But the president's comments in the meeting with congressional leaders suggest he was sympathetic toward North and Poindexter.

At one point, according to the notes, Rep. Jim Wright (D-Tex.), who soon after became House speaker, told Reagan that "none of us get pleasure from embarrassment" of the U.S. government. He said there had been "harsh feelings" concerning the contras fighting the government of Nicaragua and said "I really don't believe the House Intelligence {Committee} leaks on contras."

Wright appealed to Reagan to inform Congress about covert options, "if something go{es} on this long."

"Hope we all could be trusted," he added, "rather than have this done by Lt. Cols."

Wright said North "means well" but described him as "a zealot, patriot, but Q {question} judgment, not motive."

Reagan then responded that without condoning the diversion "it wasn't contrary to policy," and he apparently noted the recent change in the law to provide $100 million in military aid to the contras.

The president also defended his decision not to inform Congress, saying he could tell them about "some things" but "others, where human lives at stake -- can't." He recalled how he had not informed congressional leaders of the 1983 Grenada invasion until the troops were "close enough" for a landing.

"If I could ever find that bastard who is unnamed administration official -- all sorts of punishment on him," Reagan said, according to the notes, repeating a common complaint by the president about leaks in his administration.

Meese told the congressional leaders that those involved were North and one or two "NSC staff consultants -- not clear," according to the notes.

However, when be appeared before reporters later, Meese stated unequivocally that "the only person" in the U.S. government "who knew precisely about this" was North.

Wright asked Meese whether Poindexter did not know, and Meese replied that Poindexter knew money was "going to the contras, didn't know details, didn't look into it. He was hopeful contras would get money."

Poindexter later testified that he had approved the diversion and did not tell Reagan.

Under a heading in the notes "hypothetical," Meese suggested to the congressional leaders that "American money involved for value received" and the surplus was put in other bank accounts. This is similar to the story he told reporters later, but he told the reporters, "So far as we know at this stage, no American person actually handled any of the funds that went to the forces in Central America."

Staff researcher Michelle Hall contributed to this report.