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Iran Contra Executive Summary

In October and November 1986, two secret U.S. Government operations were publicly exposed, potentially implicating Reagan Administration officials in illegal activities. These operations were the provision of assistance to the military activities of the Nicaraguan contra rebels during an October 1984 to October 1986 prohibition on such aid, and the sale of U.S. arms to Iran in contravention of stated U.S. policy and in possible violation of arms-export controls. In late November 1986, Reagan Administration officials announced that some of the proceeds from the sale of U.S. arms to Iran had been diverted to the contras.

As a result of the exposure of these operations, Attorney General Edwin Meese III sought the appointment of an independent counsel to investigate and, if necessary, prosecute possible crimes arising from them.

The Special Division of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit appointed Lawrence E. Walsh as Independent Counsel on December 19, 1986, and charged him with investigating :

(1) the direct or indirect sale, shipment, or transfer since in or about 1984 down to the present, of military arms, materiel, or funds to the government of Iran, officials of that government, persons, organizations or entities connected with or purporting to represent that government, or persons located in Iran;

(2) the direct or indirect sale, shipment, or transfer of military arms, materiel or funds to any government, entity, or person acting, or purporting to act as an intermediary in any transaction referred to above;

(3) the financing or funding of any direct or indirect sale, shipment or transfer referred to above;

(4) the diversion of proceeds from any transaction described above to or for any person, organization, foreign government, or any faction or body of insurgents in any foreign country, including, but not limited to Nicaragua;

(5) the provision or coordination of support for persons or entities engaged as military insurgents in armed conflict with the government of Nicaragua since 1984.

This is the final report of that investigation.

Overall Conclusions

The investigations and prosecutions have shown that high-ranking Administration officials violated laws and executive orders in the Iran/contra matter.

Independent Counsel concluded that :

the sales of arms to Iran contravened United States Government policy and may have violated the Arms Export Control Act1

the provision and coordination of support to the contras violated the Boland Amendment ban on aid to military activities in Nicaragua;

the policies behind both the Iran and contra operations were fully reviewed and developed at the highest levels of the Reagan Administration;

although there was little evidence of National Security Council level knowledge of most of the actual contra-support operations, there was no evidence that any NSC member dissented from the underlying policy-keeping the contras alive despite congressional limitations on contra support;

the Iran operations were carried out with the knowledge of, among others, President Ronald Reagan, Vice President George Bush, Secretary of State George P. Shultz, Secretary of Defense Caspar W. Weinberger, Director of Central Intelligence William J. Casey, and national security advisers Robert C. McFarlane and John M. Poindexter; of these officials, only Weinberger and Shultz dissented from the policy decision, and Weinberger eventually acquiesced by ordering the Department of Defense to provide the necessary arms; and

large volumes of highly relevant, contemporaneously created documents were systematically and willfully withheld from investigators by several Reagan Administration officials.

following the revelation of these operations in October and November 1986, Reagan Administration officials deliberately deceived the Congress and the public about the level and extent of official knowledge of and support for these operations.

In addition, Independent Counsel concluded that the off-the-books nature of the Iran and contra operations gave line-level personnel the opportunity to commit money crimes.


In the course of Independent Counsel's investigation, 14 persons were charged with criminal violations. There were two broad classes of crimes charged : Operational crimes, which largely concerned the illegal use of funds generated in the course of the operations, and "cover-up" crimes, which largely concerned false statements and obstructions after the revelation of the operations. Independent Counsel did not charge violations of the Arms Export Control Act or Boland Amendment. Although apparent violations of these statutes provided the impetus for the cover-up, they are not criminal statutes and do not contain any enforcement provisions.

All of the individuals charged were convicted, except for one CIA official whose case was dismissed on national security grounds and two officials who received unprecedented pre-trial pardons by President Bush following his electoral defeat in 1992. Two of the convictions were reversed on appeal on constitutional grounds that in no way cast doubt on the factual guilt of the men convicted. The individuals charged and the disposition of their cases are :

(1) Robert C. McFarlane : pleaded guilty to four counts of withholding information from Congress;

(2) Oliver L. North : convicted of altering and destroying documents, accepting an illegal gratuity, and aiding and abetting in the obstruction of Congress; conviction reversed on appeal;

(3) John M. Poindexter : convicted of conspiracy, false statements, destruction and removal of records, and obstruction of Congress; conviction reversed on appeal;

(4) Richard V. Secord : pleaded guilty to making false statements to Congress;

(5) Albert Hakim : pleaded guilty to supplementing the salary of North;

(6) Thomas G. Clines : convicted of four counts of tax-related offenses for failing to report income from the operations;

(7) Carl R. Channell : pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud the United States;

(8) Richard R. Miller : pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud the United States;

(9) Clair E. George : convicted of false statements and perjury before Congress;

(10) Duane R. Clarridge : indicted on seven counts of perjury and false statements; pardoned before trial by President Bush;

(11) Alan D. Fiers, Jr. : pleaded guilty to withholding information from Congress;

(12) Joseph F. Fernandez : indicted on four counts of obstruction and false statements; case dismissed when Attorney General Richard L. Thornburgh refused to declassify information needed for his defense;

(13) Elliott Abrams : pleaded guilty to withholding information from Congress;

(14) Caspar W. Weinberger : charged with four counts of false statements and perjury; pardoned before trial by President Bush.

At the time President Bush pardoned Weinberger and Clarridge, he also pardoned George, Fiers, Abrams, and McFarlane.

The Basic Facts of Iran/contra

The Iran/contra affair concerned two secret Reagan Administration policies whose operations were coordinated by National Security Council staff. The Iran operation involved efforts in 1985 and 1986 to obtain the release of Americans held hostage in the Middle East through the sale of U.S. weapons to Iran, despite an embargo on such sales. The contra operations from 1984 through most of 1986 involved the secret governmental support of contra military and paramilitary activities in Nicaragua, despite congressional prohibition of this support.

The Iran and contra operations were merged when funds generated from the sale of weapons to Iran were diverted to support the contra effort in Nicaragua. Although this "diversion" may be the most dramatic aspect of Iran/contra, it is important to emphasize that both the Iran and contra operations, separately, violated United States policy and law.2 The ignorance of the "diversion" asserted by President Reagan and his Cabinet officers on the National Security Council in no way absolves them of responsibility for the underlying Iran and contra operations.

The secrecy concerning the Iran and contra activities was finally pierced by events that took place thousands of miles apart in the fall of 1986. The first occurred on October 5, 1986, when Nicaraguan government soldiers shot down an American cargo plane that was carrying military supplies to contra forces; the one surviving crew member, American Eugene Hasenfus, was taken into captivity and stated that he was employed by the CIA. A month after the Hasenfus shootdown, President Reagan's secret sale of U.S. arms to Iran was reported by a Lebanese publication on November 3. The joining of these two operations was made public on November 25, 1986, when Attorney General Meese announced that Justice Department officials had discovered that some of the proceeds from the Iran arms sales had been diverted to the contras.

When these operations ended, the exposure of the Iran/contra affair generated a new round of illegality. Beginning with the testimony of Elliott Abrams and others in October 1986 and continuing through the public testimony of Caspar W. Weinberger on the last day of the congressional hearings in the summer of 1987, senior Reagan Administration officials engaged in a concerted effort to deceive Congress and the public about their knowledge of and support for the operations.

Independent Counsel has concluded that the President's most senior advisers and the Cabinet members on the National Security Council participated in the strategy to make National Security staff members McFarlane, Poindexter and North the scapegoats whose sacrifice would protect the Reagan Administration in its final two years. In an important sense, this strategy succeeded. Independent Counsel discovered much of the best evidence of the cover-up in the final year of active investigation, too late for most prosecutions.

Scope of Report

This report provides an account of the Independent Counsel's investigation, the prosecutions, the basis for decisions not to prosecute, and overall observations and conclusions on the Iran/contra matters.

Part I of the report sets out the underlying facts of the Iran and contra operations. Part II describes the criminal investigation of those underlying facts. Part III provides an analysis of the central operational conspiracy. Parts IV through IX are agency-level reports of Independent Counsel's investigations and cases : the National Security staff, the private operatives who assisted the NSC staff, Central Intelligence Agency officials, Department of State officials, and White House officials and Attorney General Edwin Meese III.

Volume I of this report concludes with a chapter concerning political oversight and the rule of law, and a final chapter containing Independent Counsel's observations. Volume II of the report contains supporting documentation. Volume III is a classified appendix.

Because many will read only sections of the report, each has been written with completeness, even though this has resulted in repetition of factual statements about central activities.

The Operational Conspiracy

The operational conspiracy was the basis for Count. One of the 23-count indictment returned by the Grand Jury March 16, 1988, against Poindexter, North, Secord, and Hakim. It charged the four with conspiracy to defraud the United States by deceitfully :

(1) supporting military operations in Nicaragua in defiance of congressional controls;

(2) using the Iran arms sales to raise funds to be spent at the direction of North, rather than the U.S. Government; and

(3) endangering the Administration's hostage-release effort by overcharging Iran for the arms to generate unauthorized profits to fund the contras and for other purposes.

The charge was upheld as a matter of law by U.S. District Judge Gerhard A. Gesell even though the Justice Department, in a move that Judge Gesell called "unprecedented," filed an amicus brief supporting North's contention that the charge should be dismissed. Although Count One was ultimately dismissed because the Reagan Administration refused to declassify information necessary to North's defense, Judge Gesell's decision established that high Government officials who engage in conspiracy to subvert civil laws and the Constitution have engaged in criminal acts. Trial on Count One would have disclosed the Government-wide activities that supported North's Iran and contra operations.

Within the NSC, McFarlane pleaded guilty in March 1988 to four counts of withholding information from Congress in connection with his denials that North was providing the contras with military advice and assistance. McFarlane, in his plea agreement, promised to cooperate with Independent Counsel by providing truthful testimony in subsequent trials.

Judge Gesell ordered severance of the trials of the four charged in the conspiracy indictment because of the immunized testimony given by Poindexter, North and Hakim to Congress. North was tried and convicted by a jury in May 1989 of altering and destroying documents, accepting an illegal gratuity and aiding and abetting in the obstruction of Congress. His conviction was reversed on appeal in July 1990 and charges against North were subsequently dismissed in September 1991 on the ground that trial witnesses were tainted by North's nationally televised, immunized testimony before Congress. Poindexter in April 1990 was convicted by a jury on five felony counts of conspiracy, false statements, destruction and removal of records and obstruction of Congress. The Court of Appeals reversed his conviction in November 1991 on the immunized testimony issue.

The Flow of Funds

The illegal activities of the private citizens involved with the North and Secord operations are discussed in detail in Part V. The off-the-books conduct of the two highly secret operations circumvented normal Administration accountability and congressional oversight associated with covert ventures and presented fertile ground for financial wrongdoing. There were several funding sources for the contras' weapons purchases from the covert-action Enterprise formed by North, Secord and Hakim :

(1) donations from foreign countries;

(2) contributions from wealthy Americans sympathetic to President Reagan's contra support policies; and

(3) the diversion of proceeds from the sale of arms to Iran.

Ultimately, all of these funds fell under the control of North, and through him, Secord and Hakim.

North used political fundraisers Carl R. Channell and Richard R. Miller to raise millions of dollars from wealthy Americans, illegally using a tax-exempt organization to do so. These funds, along with the private contributions, were run through a network of corporations and Swiss bank accounts put at North's disposal by Secord and Hakim, through which transactions were concealed and laundered. In late 1985 through 1986 the Enterprise became centrally involved in the arms sales to Iran. As a result of both the Iran and contra operations, more than $47 million flowed through Enterprise accounts.

Professional fundraisers Channell and Miller pleaded guilty in the spring of 1987 to conspiracy to defraud the Government by illegal use of a tax-exempt foundation to raise contributions for the purchase of lethal supplies for the contras. They named North as an unindicted co-conspirator.

Secord pleaded guilty in November 1989 to a felony, admitting that he falsely denied to Congress that North had personally benefited from the Enterprise. Hakim pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor count of supplementing the salary of North. Lake Resources Inc., the company controlled by Hakim to launder the Enterprise's money flow, pleaded guilty to the corporate felony of theft of Government property in diverting the proceeds from the arms sales to the contras and for other unauthorized purposes. Thomas G. Clines was convicted in September 1990 of four tax-related felonies for failing to report all of his income from the Enterprise.

Agency Support of the Operations

Following the convictions of those who were most central to the Iran/contra operations, Independent Counsel's investigation focused on the supporting roles played by Government officials in other agencies and the supervisory roles of the NSC principals. The investigation showed that Administration officials who claimed initially that they had little knowledge about the Iran arms sales or the illegal contra-resupply operation North directed were much better informed than they professed to be. The Office of Independent Counsel obtained evidence that Secretaries Weinberger and Shultz and White House Chief of Staff Donald T. Regan, among others, held back information that would have helped Congress obtain a much clearer view of the scope of the Iran/contra matter. Contemporaneous notes of Regan and Weinberger, and those dictated by Shultz, were withheld until they were obtained by Independent Counsel in 1991 and 1992.

The White House and Office of the Vice President

As the White House section of this report describes in detail, the investigation found no credible evidence that President Reagan violated any criminal statute. The OIC could not prove that Reagan authorized or was aware of the diversion or that he had knowledge of the extent of North's control of the contra-resupply network. Nevertheless, he set the stage for the illegal activities of others by encouraging and, in general terms, ordering support of the contras during the October 1984 to October 1986 period when funds for the contras were cut off by the Boland Amendment, and in authorizing the sale of arms to Iran, in contravention of the U.S. embargo on such sales. The President's disregard for civil laws enacted to limit presidential actions abroadspecifically the Boland Amendment, the Arms Export Control Act and congressional-notification requirements in covert-action laws created a climate in which some of the Government officers assigned to implement his policies felt emboldened to circumvent such laws.

President Reagan's directive to McFarlane to keep the contras alive "body and soul" during the Boland cut-off period was viewed by North, who was charged by McFarlane to carry out the directive, as an invitation to break the law. Similarly, President Reagan's decision in 1985 to authorize the sale of arms to Iran from Israeli stocks, despite warnings by Weinberger and Shultz that such transfers might violate the law, opened the way for Poindexter's subsequent decision to authorize the diversion. Poindexter told Congress that while he made the decision on his own and did not tell the President, he believed the President would have approved. North testified that he believed the President authorized it.

Independent Counsel's investigation did not develop evidence that proved that Vice President Bush violated any criminal statute. Contrary to his public pronouncements, however, he was fully aware of the Iran arms sales. Bush was regularly briefed, along with the President, on the Iran arms sales, and he participated in discussions to obtain third-country support for the contras. The OIC obtained no evidence that Bush was aware of the diversion. The OIC learned in December 1992 that Bush had failed to produce a diary containing contemporaneous notes relevant to Iran/contra, despite requests made in 1987 and again in early 1992 for the production of such material. Bush refused to be interviewed for a final time in light of evidence developed in the latter stages of OIC's investigation, leaving unresolved a clear picture of his Iran/contra involvement. Bush's pardon of Weinberger on December 24, 1992 pre-empted a trial in which defense counsel indicated that they intended to call Bush as a witness.

The chapters on White House Chief of Staff Regan and Attorney General Edwin Meese III focus on their actions during the November 1986 period, as the President and his advisers sought to control the damage caused by the disclosure of the Iran arms sales. Regan in 1992 provided Independent Counsel with copies of notes showing that Poindexter and Meese attempted to create a false account of the 1985 arms sales from Israeli stocks, which they believed were illegal, in order to protect the President. Regan and the other senior advisers did not speak up to correct the false version of events. No final legal determination on the matter had been made. Regan said he did not want to be the one who broke the silence among the President's senior advisers, virtually all of whom knew the account was false.

The evidence indicates that Meese's November 1986 inquiry was more of a damage-control exercise than an effort to find the facts. He had private conversations with the President, the Vice President, Poindexter, Weinberger, Casey and Regan without taking notes. Even after learning of the diversion, Meese failed to secure records in NSC staff offices or take other prudent steps to protect potential evidence. And finally, in reporting to the President and his senior advisers, Meese gave a false account of what he had been told by stating that the President did not know about the 1985 HAWK shipments, which Meese said might have been illegal. The statute of limitations had run on November 1986 activities before OIC obtained its evidence. In 1992, Meese denied recollection of the statements attributed to him by the notes of Weinberger and Regan. He was unconvincing, but the passage of time would have been expected to raise a reasonable doubt of the intentional falsity of his denials if he had been prosecuted for his 1992 false statements.

The Role of CIA Officials

Director Casey's unswerving support of President Reagan's contra policies and of the Iran arms sales encouraged some CIA officials to go beyond legal restrictions in both operations. Casey was instrumental in pairing North with Secord as a contra-support team when the Boland Amendment in October 1984 forced the CIA to refrain from direct or indirect aid. He also supported the North-Secord combination in the Iran arms sales, despite deep reservations about Secord within the CIA hierarchy.

Casey's position on the contras prompted the chief of the CIA's Central American Task Force, Alan D. Fiers, Jr., to "dovetail" CIA activities with those of North's contra-resupply network, in violation of Boland restrictions. Casey's support for the NSC to direct the Iran arms sales and to use arms dealer Manucher Ghorbanifar and Secord in the operation, forced the CIA's Directorate of Operations to work with people it distrusted.

Following the Hasenfus shootdown in early October 1986, George and Fiers lied to Congress about U.S. Government involvement in contra resupply, to, as Fiers put it, "keep the spotlight off the White House." When the Iran arms sales became public in November 1986, three of Casey's key officersGeorge, Clarridge and Fiersfollowed Casey's lead in misleading Congress.

Four CIA officials were charged with criminal offensesGeorge, the deputy director for operations and the third highest-ranking CIA official; Clarridge, chief of the European Division; Fiers; and Fernandez. George was convicted of two felony counts of false statements and perjury before Congress. Fiers pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor counts of withholding information from Congress. The four counts of obstruction and false statements against Fernandez were dismissed when the Bush Administration refused to declassify information needed for his defense. Clarridge was awaiting trial on seven counts of perjury and false statements when he, George and Fiers were pardoned by President Bush.

State Department Officials

In 1990 and 1991, Independent Counsel received new documentary evidence in the form of handwritten notes suggesting that Secretary Shultz's congressional testimony painted a misleading and incorrect picture of his knowledge of the Iran arms sales. The subsequent investigation focused on whether Shultz or other Department officials deliberately misled or withheld information from congressional or OIC investigators.

The key notes, taken by M. Charles Hill, Shultz's executive assistant, were nearly verbatim, contemporaneous accounts of Shultz's meetings within the department and Shultz's reports to Hill on meetings the secretary attended elsewhere. The Hill notes and similarly detailed notes by Nicholas Platt, the State Department's executive secretary, provided the OIC with a detailed account of Shultz's knowledge of the Iran arms sales. The most revealing of these notes were not provided to any Iran/contra investigation until 1990 and 1991. The notes show thatcontrary to his early testimony that he was not aware of details of the 1985 arms transfersShultz knew that the shipments were planned and that they were delivered. Also in conflict with his congressional testimony was evidence that Shultz was aware of the 1986 shipments.

Independent Counsel concluded that Shultz's early testimony was incorrect, if not false, in significant respects, and misleading, if literally true, in others. When questioned about the discrepancies in 1992, Shultz did not dispute the accuracy of the Hill notes. He told OIC that he believed his testimony was accurate at the time and he insisted that if he had been provided with the notes earlier, he would have testified differently. Independent Counsel declined to prosecute because there was a reasonable doubt that Shultz's testimony was willfully false at the time it was delivered.

Independent Counsel concluded that Hill had willfully withheld relevant notes and prepared false testimony for Shultz in 1987. He declined to prosecute because Hill's claim of authorization to limit the production of his notes and the joint responsibility of Shultz for the resulting misleading testimony, would at trial have raised a reasonable doubt, after Independent Counsel had declined to prosecute Shultz.

Independent Counsel's initial focus on the State Department had centered on Assistant Secretary Elliott Abrams' insistence to Congress and to the OIC that he was not aware of North's direction of the extensive contra-resupply network in 1985 and 1986. As assistant secretary of state for inter-American affairs, Abrams chaired the Restricted Inter-Agency Group, or RIG, which coordinated U.S. policy in Central America. Although the OIC was skeptical about Abrams' testimony, there was insufficient evidence to proceed against him until additional documentary evidence inculpating him was discovered in 1990 and 1991, and until Fiers, who represented the CIA on the RIG, pleaded guilty in July 1991 to withholding information from Congress. Fiers provided evidence to support North's earlier testimony that Abrams was knowledgeable about North's contra-supply network. Abrams pleaded guilty in October 1991 to two counts of withholding information from Congress about secret Government efforts to support the contras, and about his solicitation of $10 million to aid the contras from the Sultan of Brunei.

Secretary Weinberger and Defense Department Officials

Contrary to their testimony to the presidentially appointed Tower Commission and the Select Iran/contra Committees of Congress, Independent Counsel determined that Secretary Weinberger and his closest aides were consistently informed of proposed and actual arms shipments to Iran during 1985 and 1986. The key evidence was handwritten notes of Weinberger, which he deliberately withheld from Congress and the OIC until they were discovered by Independent Counsel in late 1991. The Weinberger daily diary notes and notes of significant White House and other meetings contained highly relevant, contemporaneous information that resolved many questions left unanswered in early investigations.

The notes demonstrated that Weinberger's early testimony that he had only vague and generalized information about Iran arms sales in 1985was false, and that he in fact had detailed information on the proposed arms sales and the actual deliveries. The notes also revealed that Gen. Colin Powell, Weinberger's senior military aide, and Richard L. Armitage, assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs, also had detailed knowledge of the 1985 shipments from Israeli stocks. Armitage and Powell had testified that they did not learn of the November 1985 HAWK missile shipment until 1986.

Weinberger's notes provided detailed accounts of high-level Administration meetings in November 1986 in which the President's senior advisers were provided with false accounts of the Iran arms sales to protect the President and themselves from the consequences of the possibly illegal 1985 shipments from Israeli stocks.

Weinberger's notes provided key evidence supporting the charges against him, including perjury and false statements in connection with his testimony regarding the arms sales, his denial of the existence of notes and his denial of knowledge of Saudi Arabia's multi-million dollar contribution to the contras. He was pardoned less than two weeks before trial by President Bush on December 24, 1992.

There was little evidence that Powell's early testimony regarding the 1985 shipments and Weinberger's notes was willfully false. Powell cooperated with the various Iran/contra investigations and, when his recollection was refreshed by Weinberger's notes, he readily conceded their accuracy. Independent Counsel declined to prosecute Armitage because the OIC's limited resources were focused on the case against Weinberger and because the evidence against Armitage, while substantial, did not reach the threshold of proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

The Reagan, Bush and Casey Segments

The Independent Counsel Act requires a report as to persons not indicted as well as those indicted. Because of the large number of persons investigated, those discussed in individual sections of this report are limited to those as to whom there was a possibility of indictment. In addition there are separate sections on President Reagan and President Bush because, although criminal proceedings against them were always unlikely, they were important subjects of the investigation, and their activities were important to the action taken with respect to others.

CIA Director Casey is a special case. Because Casey was hospitalized with a fatal illness before Independent Counsel was appointed, no formal investigation of Casey was ever undertaken by the OIC. Casey was never able to give his account, and he was unable to respond to allegations of wrongdoing made about him by others, most prominently North, whose veracity is subject to serious question. Equally important, fundamental questions could not be answered regarding Casey's state of mind, the impact, if any, of his fatal illness on his conduct and his intent.

Under normal circumstances, a prosecutor would hesitate to comment on the conduct of an individual whose activities and actions were not subjected to rigorous investigation, which might exculpate that individual. Nevertheless, after serious deliberation, Independent Counsel concluded that it was in the public interest that this report expose as full and complete an account of the Iran/contra matter as possible. This simply could not be done without an account of the role of Director Casey.

Observations and Conclusions

This report concludes with Independent Counsel's observations and conclusions. He observes that the governmental problems presented by Iran/contra are not those of rogue operations, but rather those of Executive Branch efforts to evade congressional oversight. As this report documents, the competing roles of the attorney generaladviser to the President and top law-enforcement officercome into irreconcilable conflict in the case of high-level Executive Branch wrongdoing. Independent Counsel concludes that congressional oversight alone cannot correct the deficiencies that result when an attorney general abandons the law-enforcement responsibilities of that office and undertakes, instead, to protect the President.

Independent Counsel asks the Congress to review the difficult and delicate problem posed to the investigations and prosecutions by congressional grants of immunity to principals. While recognizing the important responsibility of Congress for investigating such matters thoroughly, Congress must realize that grants of use immunity to principals in such highly exposed matters as the Iran/contra affair will virtually rule out successful prosecution.

Independent Counsel also addresses the problem of implementing the Classified Information Procedures Act (CIPA) in cases steeped in highly classified information, such as many of the Iran/contra prosecutions. Under the Act, the attorney general has unrestricted discretion to decide whether to declassify information necessary for trial, even in cases in which Independent Counsel has been appointed because of the attorney general's conflict of interest. This discretion is inconsistent with the perceived need for independent counsel, particularly in cases in which officers of the intelligence agencies that classify information are under investigation. This discretion gives the attorney general the power to block almost any potentially embarrassing prosecution that requires the declassification of information. Independent Counsel suggests that the attorney general implement standards that would permit independent review of a decision to block a prosecution of an officer within the Executive Branch and legitimate congressional oversight.

Classified Information

In addition to the unclassified Volumes I and II of this report, a brief classified report, Volume III, has been filed with the Special Division. The classified report contains references to material gathered in the investigation of Iran/contra that could not be declassified and could not be concealed by some substitute form of discussion.

Summary of Prosecutions

After Independent Counsel Lawrence E. Walsh's appointment in December 1986, 14 persons were charged with criminal offenses. Eleven persons were convicted, but two convictions were overturned on appeal. Two persons were pardoned before trial and one case was dismissed when the Bush Administration declined to declassify information necessary for trial. On December 24, 1992, President Bush pardoned Caspar W. Weinberger, Duane R. Clarridge, Clair E. George, Elliott Abrams, Alan D. Fiers, Jr., and Robert C. McFarlane.

Completed Trials and Pleas

Elliott Abrams - Pleaded guilty October 7, 1991, to two misdemeanor charges of withholding information from Congress about secret government efforts to support the Nicaraguan contra rebels during a ban on such aid. U.S. District Chief Judge Aubrey E. Robinson, Jr., sentenced Abrams November 15, 1991, to two years probation and 100 hours community service. Abrams was pardoned December 24, 1992.

Carl R. Channell - Pleaded guilty April 29, 1987, to one felony count of conspiracy to defraud the United States. U.S. District Judge Stanley S. Harris sentenced Channell on July 7, 1989, to two years probation.

Thomas G. Clines - Indicted February 22, 1990, on four felony counts of underreporting his earnings to the IRS in the 1985 and 1986 tax years; and falsely stating on his 1985 and 1986 tax returns that he had no foreign financial accounts. On September 18, 1990, Clines was found guilty of all charges. U.S. District Judge Norman P. Ramsey in Baltimore, Md., on December 13, 1990, sentenced Clines to 16 months in prison and $40,000 in fines. He was ordered to pay the cost of the prosecution. The Fourth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., on February 27, 1992, upheld the convictions. Clines served his prison sentence.

Alan D. Fiers, Jr. - Pleaded guilty July 9, 1991, to two misdemeanor counts of withholding information from Congress about secret efforts to aid the Nicaraguan contras. U.S. District Chief Judge Aubrey E. Robinson, Jr., sentenced Fiers January 31, 1992, to one year probation and 100 hours community service. Fiers was pardoned December 24, 1992.

Clair E. George - Indicted September 6, 1991, on 10 counts of perjury, false statements and obstruction in connection with congressional and Grand Jury investigations. George's trial on nine counts ended in a mistrial on August 26, 1992. Following a second trial on seven counts, George was found guilty December 9, 1992, of two felony charges of false statements and perjury before Congress. The maximum penalty for each count was five years in prison and $250,000 in fines. U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth set sentencing for February 18, 1993. George was pardoned on December 24, 1992, before sentencing occurred.

Albert Hakim - Pleaded guilty November 21, 1989, to a misdemeanor of supplementing the salary of Oliver L. North. Lake Resources Inc., in which Hakim was the principal shareholder, pleaded guilty to a corporate felony of theft of government property in diverting Iran arms sales proceeds to the Nicaraguan contras and other activities. Hakim was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Gerhard A. Gesell on February 1, 1990, to two years probation and a $5,000 fine; Lake Resources was ordered dissolved.

Robert C. McFarlane - Pleaded guilty March 11, 1988, to four misdemeanor counts of withholding information from Congress. U.S. District Chief Judge Aubrey E. Robinson, Jr., sentenced McFarlane on March 3, 1989, to two years probation, $20,000 in fines and 200 hours community service. McFarlane was pardoned December 24, 1992.

Richard R. Miller - Pleaded guilty May 6, 1987, to one felony count of conspiracy to defraud the United States. U.S. District Judge Stanley S. Harris sentenced Miller on July 6, 1989, to two years probation and 120 hours of community service.

Oliver L. North - Indicted March 16, 1988, on 16 felony counts. After standing trial on 12, North was convicted May 4, 1989 of three charges: accepting an illegal gratuity, aiding and abetting in the obstruction of a congressional inquiry, and destruction of documents. He was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Gerhard A. Gesell on July 5, 1989, to a three-year suspended prison term, two years probation, $150,000 in fines and 1,200 hours community service. A three-judge appeals panel on July 20, 1990, vacated North's conviction for further proceedings to determine whether his immunized testimony influenced witnesses in the trial. The Supreme Court declined to review the case. Judge Gesell dismissed the case September 16, 1991, after hearings on the immunity issue, on the motion of Independent Counsel.

John M. Poindexter - Indicted March 16, 1988, on seven felony charges. After standing trial on five charges, Poindexter was found guilty April 7, 1990, on all counts : conspiracy (obstruction of inquiries and proceedings, false statements, falsification, destruction and removal of documents); two counts of obstruction of Congress and two counts of false statements. U.S. District Judge Harold H. Greene sentenced Poindexter June 11, 1990, to six months in prison on each count, to be served concurrently. A three-judge appeals panel on November 15, 1991, reversed the convictions on the ground that Poindexter's immunized testimony may have influenced the trial testimony of witnesses. The Supreme Court on December 7, 1992, declined to review the case. In 1993, the indictment was dismissed on the motion of Independent Counsel.

Richard V. Secord - Indicted March 16, 1988 on six felony charges. On May 11, 1989, a second indictment was issued charging nine counts of impeding and obstructing the Select Iran/contra Committees. Secord was scheduled to stand trial on 12 charges. He pleaded guilty November 8, 1989, to one felony count of false statements to Congress. Secord was sentenced by U.S. District Chief Judge Aubrey E. Robinson, Jr., on January 24, 1990, to two years probation.

Pre-trial Pardons

Duane R. Clarridge - Indicted November 26, 1991, on seven counts of perjury and false statements about a secret shipment of U.S. HAWK missiles to Iran. The maximum penalty for each count was five years in prison and $250,000 in fines. U.S. District Judge Harold H. Greene set a March 15, 1993, trial date. Clarridge was pardoned December 24, 1992.

Caspar W. Weinberger - Indicted June 16, 1992, on five counts of obstruction, perjury and false statements in connection with congressional and Independent Counsel investigations of Iran/ contra. On September 29, the obstruction count was dismissed. On October 30, a second indictment was issued, charging one false statement count. The second indictment was dismissed December 11, leaving four counts remaining. The maximum penalty for each count was five years in prison and $250,000 in fines. U.S. District Judge Thomas F. Hogan set a January 5, 1993, trial date. Weinberger was pardoned December 24, 1992.


Joseph F. Fernandez - Indicted June 20, 1988 on five counts of conspiracy to defraud the United States, obstructing the inquiry of the Tower Commission and making false statements to government agencies. The case was dismissed in the District of Columbia for venue reasons on the motion of Independent Counsel. A four-count indictment was issued in the Eastern District of Virginia on April 24, 1989. U.S. District Judge Claude M. Hilton dismissed the four-count case November 24, 1989, after Attorney General Richard Thornburgh blocked the disclosure of classified information ruled relevant to the defense. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Richmond, Va., on September 6, 1990, upheld Judge Hilton's rulings under the Classified Information Procedures Act (CIPA). On October 12, 1990, the Attorney General filed a final declaration that he would not disclose the classified information.


Iran Contra Pardons Saved Poppy Bush

Consortium News


February 19, 2001

In marked contrast to the continuing Republican investigations of President Clinton, the Democrats eight years ago cooperated with Republicans in shutting down substantive inquiries that implicated President George H.W. Bush in a variety of geopolitical scandals.

At that time, the Democrats apparently felt that pursuing those inquiries into Bush's role in secret contacts with Iran both in 1980 and during the Iran-contra affair and getting to the bottom of alleged CIA military support for Saddam Hussein's Iraq in the mid-1980s would distract from the domestic policy goals at the start of the Clinton presidency. That judgment, however, has come back to haunt the Democrats. Clearing George H.W. Bush in 1993 ironically set the stage both for the Republican scandal-mongering against Clinton and for the restoration of the Bush family dynasty in 2000.

Certainly, the Democratic gestures of bipartisanship were not reciprocated by the Republicans. They opted for a pattern of aggressive politics that challenged the Clinton administration from its first days and has continued through the 2000 Election and into the new round of investigations of ex-President Clinton.

The Democrats have found themselves constantly on the defensive, sputtering about the unfairness of it all.

Historic Openings

It might seem like ancient history now, but eight years ago, as the White House was changing hands from Bush to Clinton, there were promising opportunities for getting at the truth about the Reagan-Bush era.

Lawrence Walsh's Iran-contra investigation was still alive, although Bush had dealt it a severe blow in December 1992 by pardoning six Iran-contra defendants. That move blocked the Iran-contra cover-up trial of former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger and the possible incrimination of President Bush himself.

Despite that setback, Walsh's investigation had made some new breakthroughs. Walsh had exposed details of the long-running Iran-contra cover-up. He also had learned that Bush had withheld his personal diaries from investigators.

Walsh was pressing Bush to sit down for an interview with the special prosecutor's office to reconcile Bush's earlier insistence of little Iran-contra knowledge with later disclosures revealing Bush's deeper role. Walsh had agreed to postpone that questioning during the 1992 campaign, with the understanding that Bush would submit to the interview afterwards. But Bush was balking.

Also in December 1992, new witnesses had come forward with evidence that the Reagan-Bush campaign in 1980 indeed had made secret contacts with Iran's radical Islamic government while it was holding 52 American hostages. That hostage crisis in 1980 had eroded President Jimmy Carter's reelection support and guaranteed Reagan's victory.

Now, there was new evidence that the Republicans had been playing games behind Carter's back to deny him the October Surprise of a hostage release before the election. Privately, some of Walsh's investigators had come to believe, too, that the Republican contacts with Iran in 1980 had been the precursor to the later Iran-contra arms sales in 1985-86. One investigator told me that otherwise the fruitless Reagan-Bush arms payoffs to Iran in the mid-1980s made little sense. New pieces of the 1980 puzzle had surfaced in a congressional October Surprise inquiry that was still underway in late 1992. A detailed letter arrived from former Iranian president Abolhassan Bani-Sadr describing the internal battles within Iran's government in 1980 about how to respond to the secret Republican initiative.

In another development, a biographer of French intelligence chief Alexandre deMarenches testified about deMarenches's private account of secret meetings between top Republicans and Iranians in Paris in the fall of 1980.

Perhaps, most remarkably, the Russian Supreme Soviet sent a confidential report to the U.S. Congress recounting what Soviet intelligence had learned while tracking the secret Republican-Iranian negotiations in 1980. The Russians reported, too, that leading Republicans had met with Iranians in Paris in 1980.

As Bill Clinton was about to take office, there were other lingering questions about secret Republican dealings with Saddam Hussein's Iraq during the 1980s. The CIA allegedly had assisted in arranging third-country supplies of sophisticated armaments to Saddam Hussein in his border war with Iran.

President Bush had angrily denounced such charges after they were raised following the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. But a number of witnesses were alleging that the CIA had helped arrange the supplies, including cluster bombs to Iraq through Chile.

In 1992-93, the Democrats were in a strong position to get to the bottom of all these historic questions that had so entangled U.S. foreign policy in the 1980s. The Democrats controlled both houses of Congress as well as the White House. Walsh was furious with Bush's Iran-contra pardons and was considering impaneling a new grand jury to force Bush's testimony. [See Walsh's book, Firewall, for more details.]

Getting answers to these questions also made policy sense, if for no other reason than it was important for the new administration to know where diplomatic mine fields might be hidden in this delicate geopolitical landscape.

Shutting Down

But the Democrats -- led by then-House Speaker Tom Foley and Rep. Lee Hamilton -- chose a very different course. Apparently believing that battling for answers would distract from the domestic policy agenda, such as passage of a universal health care plan, the Democrats chose to shut down all the investigations.

In December 1992, Foley signaled Bush that he would have no problem with the Iran-contra pardons. After the pardons were issued, a few Democrats groused but no hearings were held and no formal explanation was demanded, even though this may have been the first time a president had used his pardon powers to protect himself from possible incrimination.

After the Inauguration, the Clinton administration offered no help to Walsh in arranging declassification of documents that would have aided his investigation. When Bush refused to submit to an interview with Walsh's prosecutors, the Democrats made not a peep about this final move to obstruct the Iran-contra investigation.

Faced with a lack of political support, Walsh decided not to call Bush before a grand jury and shut down his office.

On the 1980 Iran issue, a congressional task force chose to obscure or cover up the new evidence of Republican guilt. Bani-Sadr's letter was misrepresented in the task force's report as mere speculation. Bani-Sadr's detailed account of the interplay inside the Iranian government was simply ignored.

Only those who bothered to dig through the task force report's appendix could find out what the Iranian president had actually said. Not a single story about Bani-Sadr's letter appeared in major newspapers.

In an odd twist, the task force accepted the testimony about deMarenches's account of Republicans meeting Iranians in Paris as "credible," but then incongruously dismissed it as irrelevant, since it conflicted with Republican denials.

The extraordinary Russian report describing what Soviet intelligence files had shown about the Republican-Iran initiative was simply hidden. There was no serious follow-up with the Russians to determine how solid their intelligence was and how they had obtained the information.

The Russian report itself was not mentioned in the final task force report, nor was its existence disclosed at a news conference unveiling the bipartisan congressional findings that cleared the Republicans of all wrongdoing in January 1993.

The Russian report was stuck in a storage room on Capitol Hill where I found it in 1994. A story about its contents appeared at this Web site in 1995, but its existence has never been reported by anyone else.

[For a more detailed summary of Bani-Sadr's letter, the deMarenches account and the Russian report, see a story about the report's author, former Russian Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin. For more on the congressional task force, see Robert Parry's book, Trick or Treason, or the October Surprise X-Files series at this Web site.]

Unexplored avenues of the 1980 investigation such as alleged Republican use of the Palestine Liberation Organization to contact Iran were never followed. [In 1996, however, PLO leader Yasir Arafat personally told former President Carter that the Republicans had approached the PLO as potential emissaries to Iran in 1980, a fact that appeared in Diplomatic History, fall 1996, and in our writings, but again no where else.]

As for the secret Republican-Iraqi ties, those too were buried by the new Clinton administration. In 1995, when a Reagan national security appointee, Howard Teicher, submitted a sworn affidavit describing the CIA's secret operation to supply Saddam Hussein's Iraq with cluster bombs through Chile just as earlier witnesses had alleged Justice Department lawyers attacked Teicher's credibility. They forced him to back away from his affidavit, which had been submitted in connection with a criminal case in Florida.


Beyond obscuring these important chapters of recent history and thus adding to the confusion of the American people, the Democrats discovered that their deferential strategy gained them nothing from the Republicans. If anything, the Democratic behavior was taken as a sign of weakness.

After the Democrats folded the Reagan-Bush investigations, the Republicans simply swept their easy winnings off the table and raised the stakes.

In early 1993, Sen. Bob Dole, R-Kan., informed President Clinton that the Republicans would oppose every part of his economic plan a threat they backed up with unanimous GOP blocs against Clinton's budget proposals, which survived solely with Democratic votes. Republicans also helped turn Clinton's ambitious health-care plan into a fiasco.

Beyond that, the Republicans used the bipartisan findings of Reagan-Bush innocence to attack and isolate news organizations and investigators who had pressed for full disclosure. PBS Frontline, which had recruited me to examine the 1980 Iran hostage case, came under fire for taking seriously a "baseless conspiracy theory." The once-courageous documentary program began trimming its sails and tacking more toward pro-Republican positions to help protect PBS's government funding.

Middle East expert Gary Sick, who had judged the 1980 allegations credible, was denounced and effectively blacklisted from returning to a position in government. Rep. Henry Gonzalez, D-Texas, who had championed the Iraqi armsinvestigation, was left high and dry, looking like an eccentric old man.

By undercutting Walsh, the Democrats gave the Republicans more ammunition when they chose to use the special-prosecutor apparatus in partisan warfare against Clinton. Though Walsh was himself a conservative Republican, he was transformed in the fuzzy minds of the Washington pundit class into a partisan Democrat who thus justified the appointment of partisan Republicans to run the investigations of Clinton and his aides.

The consequences inside the mainstream media also were damaging. Reporters who had taken the Reagan-Bush side in these controversies of the 1980s were rewarded when those investigations were deemed to be baseless. These pro-Reagan-Bush reporters got promoted while reporters who had pushed for thorough investigations were marginalized as "liberals" or "conspiracy theorists."

By the time, the Republicans gained control of Congress in 1994 and stepped up their investigations of the Clinton administration, the national press corps had few voices left willing to stand in the path of a conservative-driven stampede.

Increasingly through the 1990s, the national media could be viewed as having two primary parts. One was a relentless conservative media from Rupert Murdoch's Fox News to Rev. Sun Myung Moon's Washington Times, from the talk radio world of Rush Limbaugh and G. Gordon Liddy to the racks full of hard-right magazines, such as the American Spectator and the Weekly Standard, from the Christian right TV to the Wall Street Journal's editorial page, from conservative newspaper columnists to TV pundits.

The other part of the media was the mainstream press that was owned by bottom-line-oriented corporations and staffed by journalists who understood that their careers were best promoted by avoiding the tag "liberal." These journalists had learned the lessons of the 1980s and recognized that there was no danger in tilting their reporting to the right. There also were real benefits in reporters proving that they were not liberal, by being especially hard on Democrats.

There was also a tiny "leftist" media The Nation, Mother Jones, In These Times, etc. Many of these leftist publications and their commentators despised Clinton because of his New Democrat policies and thus ended up on the same side as the conservatives in attacking his administration, though for different reasons.

This media imbalance ensured that every Clinton administration mistake, no matter how petty, would be seized on as a major "scandal" with congressional hearings, media breast-beating and appointments of special prosecutors - while conversely there would be no interest in reexamining any of the Reagan-Bush scandals from the 1980s.

Clinton’ sloppy Whitewater real estate investment, therefore, became the subject of nearly eight years of investigations, with side trips into such trivial matters as the Travel Office firings and the mistaken delivery of FBI files to the White House - none of which led to any charges related to the actions of Bill or Hillary Clinton.

Conservatives and some leftist journalists also promoted bogus allegations suggesting that White House deputy counsel Vincent Foster had been murdered, though investigation after investigation found his death to be an obvious suicide. The right-wing attack machine added to the clouds of suspicion by distributing lists of so called "mysterious deaths" pinned on Clinton.

Stepping back and viewing this process in its totality, the "Clinton scandals" had the look of a CIA-style "black propaganda" operation. Just as false or exaggerated charges were planted against U.S. adversaries in Guatemala in the 1950s or in Chile in the 1970s or in Nicaraguan in the 1980s, now those tactics were turned against an American president.

The right-wing attack machine’ most notable success was in funding Paula Jones as she lodged dubious - and shifting - claims against Clinton for allegedly exposing himself to her as a come-on. Although lacking legal merit - the case eventually was rejected by a Republican judge in Arkansas - the Paula Jones case enabled conservative lawyers to corner Clinton with questions about his sexual relationship with Monica Lewinsky.

At that point, Clinton lied, trying to keep the relationship secret. His deception - compounded by his finger-waving denial on national television -handed the Republicans their ultimate victory in discrediting this Democratic president.

Though Clinton survived impeachment, his reputation was permanently sullied. The public’s displeasure with Clinton’ personal behavior also damaged Vice President Gore’s campaign to succeed his boss.

Saving George W.

Ironically, the Democratic strategy of taking dives on the scandals of the 1980s came back to whack the party another way.

Having protected the reputation of President George H.W. Bush in 1993, the Democrats found themselves faced with the strong candidacy of Bush’ son, Texas Gov. George W. Bush, whose principal qualification - arguably his only qualification - was the honorable reputation of his father.

In veiled references to the so-called "Clinton squalor," Gov. Bush promised to restore "honor and dignity" to the White House. Because of the decisions made eight years earlier, the Democrats had no effective response to this Bush campaign pledge. They simply hoped that the American people would not punish Gore for Clinton’ personal misdeeds.

By the late 1990s, however, the national news media recognized only one currency for framing scandals : they had to be Clinton-Gore stories, even if the evidence pointed in a very different direction. So when the Chinese espionage scandal broke in spring 1999, the media framed it as another Clinton-Gore scandal, although the facts were that the key U.S. nuclear secrets had been lost in the mid-1980s.

Similarly, as Campaign 2000 began, the media transformed Gore - a staid, serious public servant - into a pathological liar who lived in a world of his own delusions. Often, this disqualifying image was based on false or highly distorted reading of the facts. Gore, for instance, was frequently quoted as having claimed to have "invented" the Internet, when he never made that claim.

In another situation, major newspapers wrote that Gore had claimed credit for discovering the Love Canal toxic waste problem. Gore supposedly had said, "I was the one that started it all." Actually, Gore had been referring to a similar toxic waste case in Toone, Tenn., and had said, "That was the one that started it all."

Only grudging corrections were made by the news media, often in the context of making new accusations about other supposed exaggerations. The journalists responsible for this inept reporting appeared to suffer no adverse consequences. They were still covering the campaign as it ended.

Some Republicans have cited their success in tagging Gore as a liar - and thus linking Gore to Clinton’ deception about Lewinsky - as crucial in making the 2000 election competitive.

Recount Battle

The media imbalance proved critical on Election Night and the days that followed. A key turning point in the election occurred when The Associated Press and other news organization involved in exit polling determined that Al Gore was the choice of Florida voters. The loss of Florida seemed to doom George W. Bush’ hopes.

In an unusual Election Night scene, however, Bush summoned a news crew to the room where he was watching the returns with family members. Bush challenged the exit poll results in Florida and the news media quickly backpedaled on its "mistake" in calling Florida for Gore.

By early morning, Fox News, working with a Bush cousin, flipped the call and gave Florida to Bush, with enough electoral votes to put Bush over the top for the presidency. Other news outlets followed. Though the networks also retreated from that call, voters turning on the television sets on Nov. 8 had the impression that Bush had won the presidency and that it was time for Gore to concede.

In the five weeks that followed, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and his subordinates worked to certify Florida’ electoral votes for his brother while Republican operatives did all they could to stop a thorough recount that appeared likely to give Gore a Florida victory.

On Nov. 22, Republican hooligans charged the offices of the Miami-Dade canvassing board where a recount was starting. With the Republicans pounding on the doors, the canvassing board reversed itself and stopped the recount. The media treated the reversal as a victory for Bush, with little outrage over the strong-arm tactics.

The next night, these Republican activists - many recruited from GOP congressional staffs in Washington - celebrated at a Ft.Lauderdale hotel and received a thankful telephone call from Bush and Cheney, according to the Wall Street Journal. With few exceptions, the media showed little interest in this strange scene of a would-be president and vice-president thanking rioters.

Meanwhile, Gore reined in his supporters and concentrated on the courts. On Dec. 8, Gore seemed to be rewarded for this confidence when the Florida Supreme Court ordered a statewide recount of ballots that had been rejected by machine tabulations. The recount began on Dec. 9, with canvassing boards discovering scores of clearly marked ballots that had been rejected.

The Bush team, however, was determined to halt the count. Its first attempt with the conservative federal appeals court in Atlanta was rebuffed, but Bush’ lawyers had better luck with five conservatives on the U.S. Supreme Court. In an unprecedented act in American history, the five justices stopped the counting of votes in a U.S. presidential election.

Three days later, on Dec. 12, the same five justices prevented a resumption of the counting and handed the presidency to Bush. Despite the brazen power play, most major media again handled the story primarily as a Bush victory and a Gore defeat.

More than anything, the media seemed to crave normalcy, and that was interpreted as a restoration of Bush rule. Gore’ half-million-vote-plus victory in the national popular vote was treated as an irrelevance.

More Hearings

The eight years of Clinton-bashing weren’ over either. As Clinton left the White House, he, too, seemed to have learned little about the rules of engagement in this new age of "information warfare."

His decision to pardon fugitive commodities trader Mark Rich raised some legitimate questions about Clinton’ penchant for "feeling the pain" of his wealthy contributors. But Clinton did have more defensible reasons for pardoning Rich, including appeals from Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and a former Mossad director who had worked with Rich on Middle East peace initiatives.

Nevertheless, the Republicans saw another opportunity to drive up Clinton’ negatives. They twinned the Rich pardon flap with exaggerated claims about Democrats vandalizing the White House before they left. The strong impression to the public was that George W. Bush indeed had arrived to restore "honor and dignity" to the White House.

Clinton complained in one interview that he had been "blind-sided." Other Democrats fumed about the Bush success in hyping the vandalism allegations. [See The Washington Post, Feb. 18, 2001] But the tactics should not have come as any surprise.

As they had for almost a decade, the Democrats let the Republicans determine which situations deserved investigations and which ones didn’t. While Republicans conducted new hearings on Clinton’ pardons - a contrast to the lack of hearings on George H.W. Bush’ Iran-contra pardons in 1992 - the Democrats made no move to force an investigation of the GOP power plays around the Florida recount.

The only congressional hearing on the Florida case was called by Republicans - and that was for the Orwellian purpose of having news executives explain why their "erroneous" projections had shown Al Gore to be the voters’choice in Florida.

Though the Democrats have the right to demand hearings in the evenly split Senate, they appeared to have no stomach for confrontational hearings about the Florida showdown, clearly one of the most important political events in recent U.S. history.

Thanks to this Democratic timidity, no Republican has been called on the carpet for dispatching hooligans to south Florida. No conservative Supreme Court justice has been compelled to justify the unprecedented interference in the electoral process that meant negating more than 50 million votes cast by American citizens for Al Gore.

None of Jeb Bush’ aides has been hauled before Congress to explain how thousands of African-American voters apparently were purged from voting lists based on an inaccurate computer program for eliminating supposed felons.

Having retreated so far and so often, today’s Democrats seem incapable of fighting back. It is a pattern of behavior that - as much as anything - has made the Republicans the dominant political force in Washington and left American democracy in an endangered state.

Robert Parry is an investigative reporter who broke many of the Iran-contra stories in the 1980s for The Associated Press and Newsweek.


Iran-Contra COVER UP

The New York Times


This event took place on December 24, 1992, and was reported in the The New York Times the following day.

Bush pardons 6 in Iran affair, aborting a Weinberger trial; Prosecutor assails 'COVER UP'.

Special to The New York Times

Six years after the arms-for-hostages scandal began to cast a shadow that would darken two Administrations, President Bush today granted full pardons to six former officials in Ronald Reagan's Administration, including former Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger.

Mr. Weinberger was scheduled to stand trial on Jan. 5 on charges that he lied to Congress about his knowledge of the arms sales to Iran and efforts by other countries to help underwrite the Nicaraguan rebels, a case that was expected to focus on Mr. Weinberger's private notes that contain references to Mr. Bush's endorsement of the secret shipments to Iran.

In one remaining facet of the inquiry, the independent prosecutor, Lawrence E. Walsh, plans to review a 1986 campaign diary kept by Mr. Bush. Mr. Walsh has characterized the President's failure to turn over the diary until now as misconduct.

Decapitated Walsh Efforts

But in a single stroke, Mr. Bush swept away one conviction, three guilty pleas and two pending cases, virtually decapitating what was left of Mr. Walsh's effort, which began in 1986. Mr. Bush's decision was announced by the White House in a printed statement after the President left for Camp David, where he will spend the Christmas holiday.

Mr. Walsh bitterly condemned the President's action, charging that 'the Iran-contra cover-up, which has continued for more than six years, has now been completed.'

Mr. Walsh directed his heaviest fire at Mr. Bush over the pardon of Mr. Weinberger, whose trial would have given the prosecutor a last chance to explore the role in the affair of senior Reagan officials, including Mr. Bush's actions as Vice President.

'Evidence of Conspiracy'

Mr. Walsh hinted that Mr. Bush's pardon of Mr. Weinberger and the President's own role in the affair could be related. For the first time, he charged that Mr. Weinberger's notes about the secret decision to sell arms to Iran, a central piece of evidence in the case against the former Pentagon chief, included 'evidence of a conspiracy among the highest ranking Reagan Administration officials to lie to Congress and the American public.'

The prosecutor charged that Mr. Weinberger's efforts to hide his notes may have 'forestalled impeachment proceedings against President Reagan' and formed part of a pattern of 'deception and obstruction.' On Dec. 11, Mr. Walsh said he discovered 'misconduct' in Mr. Bush's failure to turn over what the prosecutor said were the President's own 'highly relevant contemporaneous notes, despite repeated requests for such documents.'

The notes, in the form of a campaign diary that Mr. Bush compiled after the elections in November 1986, are in the process of being turned over to Mr. Walsh, who said, 'In light of President Bush's own misconduct, we are gravely concerned about his decision to pardon others who lied to Congress and obstructed official investigations.'

In an interview on the 'McNeil-Lehrer Newshour' tonight, Mr. Walsh said for the first time that Mr. Bush was a subject of his investigation. The term 'subject,' as it has been used by Mr. Walsh's prosecutors, is broadly defined as someone involved in events under scrutiny, but who falls short of being a target, or a person likely to be charged with a crime. In the inquiry into the entire Iran-contra affair, a number of Government officials have been identified as subjects who were never charged with wrongdoing.

What Charges Are Unlikely

The prosecutor said he would take appropriate action in Mr. Bush's case, implying he might contemplate future legal action against the President for withholding relevant documents. But prosecutors have said in the past that charging a President or former President with wrongdoing would be highly unlikely without overwhelming evidence of a serious crime.

C. Boyden Gray, the White House counsel, said today that Mr. Bush had voluntarily supplied the disputed material to Mr. Walsh, asserting that the notes contained no new information about the affair. Mr. Gray said Mr. Bush wanted make the notes public, but did not say when.

President-elect Bill Clinton, at a news conference in Little Rock, Ark., to announce his remaining Cabinet selections, said he wanted to learn more about the pardons, adding, 'I am concerned by any action that sends a signal that if you work for the Government, you're beyond the law, or that not telling the truth to Congress under oath is somehow less serious than not telling the truth to some other body under oath.'

Mr. Bush, in a statement accompanying the pardon, seemed to anticipate his critics, acknowledging that his decision might be interpreted as an effort to 'prevent full disclosure of some new key fact to the American people.' He said, 'That is not true.'

Asserting that 'no impartial person has seriously suggested that my own role in this matter is legally questionable,' the President sought to position himself on the side of greater openness. Mr. Bush said he had asked Mr. Walsh to provide him with a copy of his testimony to the prosecutor, which he would make public.

Lobbying by Ex-Reagan Aides

Today's action followed intensive lobbying by former Reagan aides to pardon Mr. Weinberger and a series of meetings in recent days at the White House, culminating with the President's decision this morning. Republicans, long angered by the prosecution, were incensed by the new indictment of Mr. Weinberger four days before the election. The indictment said Mr. Weinberger's notes contradicted Mr. Bush's assertions that he had only a fragmentary knowledge of the arms secretly sold to Iran in 1985 and 1986 in exchange for American hostages in Lebanon.

Mr. Weinberger was also charged with testifying falsely to Congress that he did not recall whether Saudi Arabia had ever contributed to the contras. Prosecutors said his notes showed that he had known of the Saudi contributions.

Records made public over the years included no evidence that Mr. Bush knew about he secret efforts to arm the Nicaraguan rebels, but they did suggest he knew of Iran operation almost from its inception in 1985 and took part in crucial meetings where the arms sales were openly discussed as an arms-for-hostages swap. The Reagan Administration's public policy was never to bargain for the freedom of hostages.

Mr. Bush said today that the Walsh prosecution reflected 'a profoundly troubling development in the political and legal climate of our country : the criminalization of policy differences.'

Question of Politics

He added : 'These differences should have been addressed in the political arena without the Damocles sword of criminality hanging over the heads of some of the combatants. The proper target is the President, not his subordinates; the proper forum is the voting booth, not the courtroom.'

In his comments, Mr. Bush said he was trying to 'put bitterness behind us,' asserting that each of the men he was pardoning had a long record of public service and had already paid a heavy price for their involvement in the affair in damaged careers, hurt families and depleted savings.

The Iran-contra affair, the worst scandal of Mr. Reagan's Presidency, came into the open in the fall of 1986 with the disclosure of two intertwined secret operations : the arms sales to Teheran, and the diversion of profits from those sales to help finance a covert weapons supply network to the contras, set up in 1985, after Congress barred direct aid to the rebels.

Besides Mr. Weinberger, the President pardoned Robert C. McFarlane, the former national security adviser, and Elliott Abrams, the former assistant Secretary of State for Central America. Both officials had pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges of withholding information from Congress about support for the contras.

Others Who Are Pardoned

The President also pardoned Clair E. George, the former head of the Central Intelligence Agency's clandestine services, who was convicted earlier this month, at his second trial, of two felony charges of perjury and misleading Congress about both the contras and the Iran initiative -- crimes for which he faced up to five years in prison and $250,000 in fines.

Two other intelligence officials were granted clemency, Duane R. Clarridge, the former head of the C.I.A.'s European division, who was awaiting trial on charges that he misled Congressional investigators about a missile shipment to Iran in 1985.

The other was Alan D. Fiers Jr., once a rising star with the agency, who had pleaded guilty in 1991 to withholding information about the contras from Congress and who later decided to cooperate with the prosecution, becoming Mr. George's chief accuser at both his trials.

Mr. Bush described Mr. Weinberger as a 'true American patriot' and he said clemency was granted both to spare him torment and cost of lengthy legal proceedings as well as out of a concern for the health of Mr. Weinberger, who is 75 year old.

Mr. Weinberger, who was asked at a news conference today whether his notes contained any entries that might be embarrassing to Mr. Bush, replied: 'No, certainly not. There's nothing in those notes that in any way contradicts what President Bush said, or what President Reagan said.'

But not since President Gerald R. Ford granted clemency to former President Richard M. Nixon for possible crimes in Watergate has a Presidential pardon so pointedly raised the issue of whether the President was trying to shield officials for political purposes. Mr. Walsh invoked Watergate tonight in an interview on the ABC News program 'Nightline,' likening today's pardons to President Richard M. Nixon's dismissal of the Watergate special prosecutor, Archibald Cox, in 1973. Mr. Walsh said Mr. Bush had 'succeeded in a sort of Saturday Night Massacre.'

Democratic lawmakers assailed the decision. Senator George J. Mitchell of Maine, the Democratic leader, called the action a mistake. 'It is not as the President stated today a matter of criminalizing policy differences,' he said. 'If members of the executive branch lie to the Congress, obstruct justice and otherwise break the law, how can policy differences be fairly and legally resolved in a democracy.'

The main supporters of the pardon were Vice President Quayle, the Senate Republican leader, Bob Dole, and Mr. Gray, one senior Administration official said today. The decision, discussed in private, seemed to coalesce in the last three weeks although Mr. Bush was said to believe that Mr. Weinberger had been unfairly charged ever since the former Reagan Cabinet officer was first indicted in June.

Throughout the deliberations, Mr. Bush consulted with Attorney General William P. Barr and Brent Scowcroft, the national security adviser, who had sat on a Presidential review panel that examined the affair in early 1987.

In lengthy Oval Office meetings in the last week, Mr. Bush and his advisers, none of whom offered a sharp dissent, discussed how to balance their desire to grant a pardon with their realization that such an act would almost certainly provoke hostility.

In the end, Mr. Bush's advisers decided he could surmount his critics by expressing, as did in his statement, his willingness to make public additional documents about the affair, like his statement to the prosecutors and Mr. Weinberger's notes.


Caspar W. Weinberg, former Secretary of Defense. Charged with perjury and making false statements stemming from a secret missile shipment to Iran in 1985. Trial was scheduled for next month.

Duane R. Clarridge, former senior C.I.A. official. Charged with seven counts of perjury and making false statements stemming from secret missile shipment to Iran. Trial was scheduled for March.

Clair E. George, former head of C.I.A. covert operations. Found guilty this month on two felony counts of lying to Congress. Was awaiting sentence.

Elliott Abrams, former Assistant Secretary of State. Pleaded guilty in 1991 to withholding information from Congress. Sentenced to two years' probation and 100 hours of community service.

Alan G. Fiers Jr., former head of C.I.A. Central American Task Force. Pleaded guilty in 1991 to withholding information from Congress. Sentenced to one year probation and 100 hours of community service.

Robert C. McFarlane, former national security adviser. Pleaded guilty in 1988 to withholding information from Congress. Sentenced to two years' probation and 200 hours of community service and fined $20,000. (pg. A1

'Presidential Pardons, Historically' Article 2 of the United States Constitution gives the President broad power 'to grant reprieves and pardons for offences against the United States.' Most Presidents grant hundreds of individual pardons during their terms of office, and a few, including Abraham Lincoln and Jimmy Carter, have granted blanket amnesties, another form of pardon, to a whole class of people. Pardons can be granted at any time, before or after a person has been convicted of a crime.

The following are among the more noted Presidential pardons :

Thomas Jefferson, elected in 1800, pardoned all those convicted of violating the Alien and Sedition Acts enacted two years earlier. The Act expired in 1800, and was later found unconstitutional.

Abraham Lincoln, in 1863, and Andrew Johnson, in 1868, proclaimed amnesty for Confederate soldiers.

Andrew Johnson, in 1869, pardoned Dr. Samuel A. Mudd, the doctor who set John Wilkes Booth's broken leg after Mr. Booth assassinated President Lincoln.

Warren G. Harding, in 1921, pardoned Eugene V. Debs, a Socialist who was jailed for sedition, and dozens of others jailed under World War I seidtion and espionage laws.

Richard M. Nixon, in 1971, commuted the prison term of Jimmy Hoffa, the former president of the teamsters' union, on the condition that Mr. Hoffa not resume union activities.

Gerald R. Ford, in 1974, granted a full pardon to Mr. Richard M. Nixon, who had resigned the Presidency because of the Watergate scandal.

Jimmy Carter, on the first day of his Presidency in 1977, proclaimed amnesty for those who evaded the draft during the Vietnam War. President Ford, earlier, had offered a more limited amnesty for the Vietnam War resisters.

Ronald Reagan, in 1989, pardoned George Steinbrenner 3d, the owner of the New York Yankees, who had been convicted on illegal contributions to Mr. Nixon's 1972 re-election campaign.

George Bush, in 1989, pardoned Armand Hammer, the chairman of Occidental Petroleum, who had pleaded guilty to making illegal contributions to Mr. Nixon's 1972 re-election campaign.

Chart : 'Touched by Scandal'


Caspar W. Weinberger : The former Defense Secretary, who operated within the inner circle of Ronald Reagan's advisers on military and diplomatic affairs, was indicted in June on five felony charges, including accusations that he had lied to Congress and concealed more than 1,700 pages of notes from a personal diary recording his discussions with other officials about arms sales to Iran. He was indicted again on Oct. 30 on a charge of making a false statement to Congress. The indictment was brought to replace a similar charge dismissed in September by a Federal district judge. He was scheduled to stand trial next month.

Duane R. Clarridge : The Central Intelligence Agency's former chief of European operations was indicted Nov. 26, 1991, on 10 counts of perjury and making false statements stemming from a secret missile shipment to Iran in November 1985. He pleaded not guilty on Dec. 6, 1991. On Dec. 10, a Federal judge ordered prosecutors to drop two charges from the indictment. No trial date had been set.


Clair E. George : The highest-ranking former C.I.A. official charged in the scandal, he was indicted Sept. 6, 1991, on 10 counts of perjury, false statements and obstructing Congressional and Federal investigators. He pleaded not guilty on Sept. 12, 1991. Three obstruction-of-justice charges were dismissed by a Federal judge last May 18; two new obstruction-of-justice charges were filed two days later. A first trial ended in a mistrial in August, when the jury failed to reach a unanimous verdict. After a second trial, he was found guilty on Dec. 9 of two counts of lying to Congress, and faced sentencing in February of up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Robert C. McFarlane : President Reagan's national security adviser from to December 1985, he pleaded guilty March 11, 1988, to four misdemeanor charges of withholding information from Congress. On March 3, 1989, he was sentenced to two years probation and 200 hours of community service and fined $20,000.

Elliott Abrams : Former Assistant Secretary of State pleaded guilty on Oct. 7, 1991, to two misdemeanor counts of withholding information from Congress about secret Government efforts to aid the Nicaraguan rebels. Prosecutors said that he knew that Oliver L. North, then a National Security Council aide, had been in contact with people supplying the contra rebels and encouraged them to continue to aid the rebels despite a Congressional ban on such aid. He was sentenced Nov. 15, 1991, to two years' probation and 100 hours of community service.

Alan G. Fiers Jr. : The former head of the C.I.A.'s Central American Task Force, who had worked for Mr. George, pleaded guilty on July 9, 1991, to two misdemeanor charges of withholding information from Congress about diverting money from Iranian arms sales to the Nicaraguan contras. He was sentenced Jan. 31, 1992, to one year's probation and 100 hours of community service.


Carl R. (Spitz) Channell and Richard R. Miller : Both businessmen who helped Oliver L. North raise money from private donors for the contras. Both pleaded guilty to a charge of conspiring to defraud the Government by soliciting tax-deductible donations for non-deductible purposes, and both were sentenced to probation.

Albert A. Hakim : An Iranian-born businessman who created a company to funnel arms and money to the contras. He pleaded guilty on Nov. 21, 1989, to a misdemeanor charge of providing an illegal gratuity to Mr. North by paying for a security fence at Mr. North's home. He was sentenced on Jan. 24, 1990, to two years' probation.

Richard V. Secord : A retired Air Force major general who played a crucial role in the secret arms shipments to Iran and support for the Nicaraguan rebels. He pleaded guilty on Nov. 8, 1989, to lying to Congressional investigators. He was sentenced on Jan. 24, 1990, to two years' probation.

Thomas G. Clines : The former C.I.A. agent was a business partner of Mr. Secord and Mr. Hakim in supplying arms to Iran. He was convicted Sept. 18, 1990, on four felony counts involving the underreporting of his earnings to the Internal Revenue Service in 1986 and 1987 and falsely telling the Government that he had no foreign bank accounts. On Dec. 13, 1990, he was sentenced to 16 months in prison and fined $40,000. A Federal appeals panel upheld the convictions on Feb. 27, 1992. He began serving his jail sentence on May 25, the only defendant in the scandal to go to prison.


John M. Poindexter : President Reagan's national security adviser from December 1985 to November 1986 was convicted on April 7, 1990, on five counts involving charges that he obstructed, conspired to obstruct and made false statements to Congress. He was sentenced June 11, 1990 to six months in prison. A Federal appeals panel threw out the convictions on Nov. 15, 1991, on the ground that Mr. Poindexter's testimony to Congress under immunity was improperly used against him.

Joseph F. Fernandez : The case against the former C.I.A. station chief in Costa Rica was dismissed after the Government refused a defense request for classified documents.

Oliver L. North : The former Marine lieutenant colonel was a staff member of the National Security Council. Was convicted on May 4, 1989, on three felony counts for his role in the Iran-contra affair: aiding and abetting obstruction of Congress, destroying security council documents and accepting an illegal gift. He was acquitted on nine counts. He was sentenced July 5, 1989, to two years' probation and 1,200 hours of community service and fined $150,000. On Sept. 16, 1991, the convictions were thrown out on appeal because testimony in the trial might have been influenced by Mr. North's testimony before Congress under immunity.


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