Facing his biggest crisis, President Reagan is heeding the advice of fellow Republicans and moving vigorously to try to restore his credibility in the wake of the Iranian-Nicaraguan affair. In a televised statement to the nation yesterday the President announced:
An application to a federal court to appoint an independent counsel to take over the Justice Department probe and look into the whole matter of the covert arms sales to Iran and the transfer of funds from those sales to the US-supported Nicaraguan rebels.
Appointment of Frank C. Carlucci III, former deputy defense secretary and deputy director of the Central Intelligence Agency, as national-security adviser to replace Vice-Adm. John M. Poindexter.
A request to Congress to appoint a special committee to probe the Iranian-Nicaraguan dealings, obviating the need for investigations by half a dozen or so congressional committees.
The President said he had also promised the three-man special review board set up to investigate the operations of the National Security Council the ``full cooperation'' of the White House and executive agencies. ``No area of the NSC staff's activities will be immune from review,'' he said. ``And when the board reports to me, I intend to make their conclusions and recommendations available to Congress and the American people.''
If illegal acts were undertaken, he said, those responsible would be ``brought to justice.'' If unauthorized actions were taken in carrying out his policies, he added, ``this will be exposed and appropriate corrective steps will be implemented.''
The President said if the investigative processes set in motion are given an opportunity to work, ``all the facts concerning Iran and the transfer of funds to assist the anti-Sandinista forces will shortly be made public.''
Reagan also repeated that it is his policy ``to oppose terrorism throughout the world, to punish those who support it, and to make common cause with those who seek to suppress it.'' The groundswell of criticism has revolved in part around the perception that the White House has been dealing with terrorists even while claiming it was combating them.
Appointment of an independent counsel, the President said, was warranted because Attorney General Edwin Meese had told him there were ``reasonable grounds'' to believe federal laws had been violated in shipping arms to Iran and funneling money from the Iran arms deals to the contras.
Reactions on Capitol Hill to the President's speech were by and large positive, though divisions along partisan lines were evident. The GOP leadership had urged Mr. Reagan to support a single investigative committee. But Rep. Jim Wright (D) of Texas, who will be the House majority leader when the Congress reconvenes, is clearly unenthusiastic.
Such a move ``might be desirable,'' he said, but he stressed that different committees have different jurisdictions, implying it would be difficult for one special investigative body to encompass all issues.
Political analysts note that, while the Democrats do not want to appear aggressive in assailing the Reagan administration, it is in their political interest to have a number of investigations going and keeping developments in the news.
The Republicans, for their part, have leaned heavily on Reagan to act decisively to shore up his presidency.
Outgoing Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Richard Lugar (R) of Indiana yesterday called for the resignations of Central Intelligence Agency Director William Casey and White House chief of staff Donald Regan.
The appointment of the respected Mr. Carlucci is well received in Washington. The chairman of Sears World Trade Inc., he was deputy secretary of defense from 1981 to 1982; deputy director of the CIA from 1978 to 1981; and ambassador to Portugal from 1974 to 1978.
Carlucci will bring to the faltering NSC a background of experience in foreign policy. The former career Foreign Service officer held diplomatic positions in South Africa, the Congo, Zanzibar, and Brazil.
It remains to be seen what the investigations will turn up and whether the President can recover politically. At stake is more than Reagan's personal popularity. If his administration irrevocably falters, this would represent still another weakened presidency - coming after a series of such presidencies since the 1960s. Public cynicism about government would likely grow.
Reagan's popularity in fact stems in large measure from a general view that, whether or not his policies are the right ones, he has helped to restore confidence in the office of the presidency.