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Context of 'November 21-25, 1986: Attorney General Meese Conducts ‘Investigation’ of Iran Arms Sales; Evidence Destroyed during Investigation'

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The first of three so-called “Boland amendments” becomes law. Named for Representative Edward Boland (D-MA), the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, the amendment is part of a larger appropriations bill. The amendment restricts US humanitarian aid to the Contras, and prohibits the use of US funds “for the purpose of overthrowing the government of Nicaragua.” The Reagan administration gets around the amendment by saying that its actions in support of the Contras are merely designed to force the Sandinistas to come to a peace agreement with the Contras, not to bring down the Nicaraguan government. [House Intelligence Committee, 2005; Savage, 2007, pp. 53]

Entity Tags: Edward Boland, House Intelligence Committee, Reagan administration, Contras

Timeline Tags: Iran-Contra Affair

Congress passes the second Boland Amendment, which outlaws the use of “third-party nations” to support the Contras. The bill also bars the use of funds by the CIA, the Defense Department, or any intelligence agency for “supporting, directly or indirectly, military or paramilitary operations in Nicaragua by any nation, group, organization or individual.” [PBS, 2000] The amendment is largely in response to the efforts of the Reagan administration to get around the restrictions of the first amendment (see December 1982), and the CIA’s mining of three Nicaraguan harbors. This amendment is far more restrictive than the first, saying flatly, “During fiscal year 1985, no funds available to the Central Intelligence Agency, the Department of Defense, or any other agency or entity of the United States involved in intelligence activities may be obligated or expended for the purpose or which would have the effect of supporting, directly or indirectly, military or paramilitary operations in Nicaragua by any nation, group, organization, movement, or individual.” [New York Times, 7/10/1987; House Intelligence Committee, 2005; Savage, 2007, pp. 53] “There are no exceptions to the prohibition,” says Edward Boland (D-MA), the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and the primary sponsor of the amemdment. Contra supporters in Congress denounce the bill, with Dick Cheney (R-WY) calling it a “killer amendment” that will force the Contras “to lay down their arms.” After President Reagan signs it into law, Cheney launches a lengthy, determined effort to persuade his colleagues to rescind the amendment. Inside the White House, particularly in the National Security Council, a number of Reagan officials, including National Security Adviser John Poindexter and his aide Colonel Oliver North, begin conspiring to circumvent the amendment with a complex scheme involving selling arms to Iran at inflated prices in exchange for American hostages held by Lebanese militants, and using the profits to fund the Contras. [Savage, 2007, pp. 53]

Entity Tags: US Congress, US Department of Defense, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, National Security Council, John Poindexter, Edward Boland, Contras, Central Intelligence Agency, Ronald Reagan, Reagan administration, Oliver North

Timeline Tags: Iran-Contra Affair

Neoconservative academic Michael Ledeen, who left the Defense Department under suspicion of engaging in espionage on behalf of Israel (see 1983), gains a position at the National Security Council. His boss is Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North (see July 7-10, 1987 and May-June, 1989). According to Iran-Contra investigators, it is Ledeen who suggests to North “that Israeli contacts might be useful in obtaining release of the US hostages in Lebanon” (see November 4, 1979-January 20, 1981). Ledeen is granted high-level security clearance. [CounterPunch, 2/28/2004]

Entity Tags: Michael Ledeen, National Security Council

Timeline Tags: Iran-Contra Affair, Neoconservative Influence

Israel, Turkey, and the US collaborate in supplying arms to the Islamic fundamentalist regime in Iran for use in the Iran-Iraq war. Unmarked Israeli and US planes transport TOW missiles and Hawk anti-aircraft batteries from Israel to Tabriz, Iran. The planes make occasional stopovers at newly-constructed Pentagon bases in eastern Turkey. [Evriviades, 1999]

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran, Iran-Contra Affair

Congress modifies the Boland Amendment (see October 10, 1984) by authorizing a one-time appropriation of $27 million for humanitarian aid for the Nicaraguan Contras. On August 29, 1985, President Reagan creates the Nicaraguan Humanitarian Assistance Office (NHAO) in the State Department for the purpose of administering the $27 million. [Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters: Chapter 25: United States v. Elliott Abrams: November 1986, 8/4/1993]

Entity Tags: Contras, Nicaraguan Humanitarian Assistance Office, US Department of State, Ronald Reagan

Timeline Tags: Iran-Contra Affair

August 20, 1985: Israel Sends Arms to Iran

Israel sends 96 TOW anti-tank missiles to Iran (see May 3, 1985). [New York Times, 11/19/1987] No American hostages are freed in return. [PBS, 2000]

Timeline Tags: Iran-Contra Affair

Newly ensconsced Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams (see April 19, 1985 and After) meets with Secretary of State George Shultz, Shultz’s executive assistant Charles Hill, and Shultz’s executive secretary Nicholas Platt. In this meeting, Abrams learns that National Security Council official Oliver North is conducting covert actions to support the Nicaraguan Contras (see December 6, 1985 and April 4, 1986). According to Abrams’s notes from the meeting, Shultz tasks him to “monitor Ollie.” Abrams will later testify to the Iran-Contra investigative committee (see May 5, 1987) about this meeting, saying that he asks, “All these accusations about Colonel North, you want me to try to find out whether they are true and what he is up to, or do you want me to sort of leave?” Shultz replies, “No, you have got to know.” During the meeting, Abrams notes that Shultz does not want White House officials to know too much about North’s activities in funding the Contras. Abrams notes that Shultz says to him: “We don’t want to be in the dark. You [are] suppose[d] to be mgr [manager] of overall CA [Central America] picture. Contras are integral part of it. So y[ou] need to know how they [are] getting arms. So don’t just say go see the WH [White House]. It’s very risky for WH.” Platt, too, takes notes of the meeting. According to his notes, Shultz says: “What is happening on other support for Contras for lethal aid etc.—E. Abrams doesn’t have the answer. Stayed away let Ollie North do it. Fundraising continuing—weapons stocks are high. We have had nothing to do with private aid. Should we continue? Hate to be in position, [Shultz] says, of not knowing what’s going on. You are supposed to be managing overall Central American picture. Ollie can go on doing his thing, but you, [Abrams], should know what’s happening.” The notes from Abrams and Platt, and Abrams’s own testimony all confirm that Abrams is aware of North’s activities by September 1985, though he will subsequently lie to Congress about possessing such knowledge (see November 25-28, 1986). Abrams will later testifz that he has a very good idea about North’s activities from working with North in an interagency group (see Late 1985 and After). [Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters: Chapter 25: United States v. Elliott Abrams: November 1986, 8/4/1993]

Entity Tags: Elliott Abrams, Charles Hill, Contras, Reagan administration, Nicholas Platt, National Security Council, George Shultz, Oliver North

Timeline Tags: Iran-Contra Affair

The National Security Council’s Oliver North persuades former CIA officer Felix Rodriguez to help him divert funds and weapons to the Nicaraguan Contras (see December 6, 1985 and April 4, 1986). Rodriguez agrees to set up the servicing of CIA transport planes and other aircraft at the Ilopango Air Base in San Salvador, El Salvador. Rodriguez works out of Ilopango, helping the Salvadoran Air Force in its own counter-insurgency activities. Rodriguez was placed at Ilopango by Donald Gregg, a former CIA agent who now serves as the foreign policy adviser to Vice President Bush (see March 17, 1983). While in El Salvador, Rodriguez uses the alias “Max Gomez.” [Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters: Chapter 25: United States v. Elliott Abrams: November 1986, 8/4/1993]

Entity Tags: National Security Council, Donald Gregg, Felix Rodriguez, George Herbert Walker Bush, Oliver North, Central Intelligence Agency, Contras

Timeline Tags: Iran-Contra Affair

The first meeting of the State Department’s Nicaraguan Humanitarian Assistance Office (NHAO) is held. Two aides to Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams (see April 19, 1985 and After and September 4, 1985) attend the meeting. During the meeting, National Security Council (NSC) officer Oliver North offers the services of former CIA agent Felix Rodriguez to assist in distributing the $27 million in humanitarian aid recently approved for the Contras (see August 1985). Rodriguez is helping North channel illegal funds to the Contras (see Mid-September 1985). The agreement is to channel the funds to the Contras through El Salvador’s Ilopango Air Base, Rodriguez’s center of operations. By early 1986, the legal NHAO fund distribution will merge with the illegal North fund distribution (see December 6, 1985 and April 4, 1986). [Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters: Chapter 25: United States v. Elliott Abrams: November 1986, 8/4/1993] Some of the $27 million is never used for humanitarian purposes, but instead used to buy weapons, both for the Contras and for the mujaheddin in Afghanistan. [Spartacus Schoolnet, 12/28/2007]

Entity Tags: Oliver North, Elliott Abrams, Felix Rodriguez, Nicaraguan Humanitarian Assistance Office, Contras, US Department of State

Timeline Tags: Iran-Contra Affair

Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North, a mid-level National Security Council staff member, is put in charge of the upcoming shipment of US Hawk anti-aircraft missiles to Iran (see November 24-25, 1985). [PBS, 2000]

Entity Tags: Oliver North, National Security Council

Timeline Tags: Iran-Contra Affair

Retired Air Force Major General Richard Secord becomes deeply involved in organizing a covert supply operation for Nicaragua’s Contras under the name “Airlift Project.” Secord later testifies to the Congressional Iran-Contra Committee that the project’s money comes from private donations and friendly foreign governments. [New York Times, 11/19/1987]

Entity Tags: Contras, Joint House-Senate Iran-Contra Committee, Richard Secord

Timeline Tags: Iran-Contra Affair

The CIA arranges for the shipment of 18 Hawk anti-aircraft missiles from Israel to Iran, ferried aboard a CIA front company transport plane. Within days, the Iranians reject the missiles because they do not meet their requirements. Some of the US officials involved in the missile transfer later claim they believe the CIA plane carried oil-drilling parts, and not weapons. After the transfer, John McMahon, the deputy director of the CIA, says that the agency can no longer provide covert assistance to Iran without explicit authorization from President Reagan. [New York Times, 11/19/1987] Reagan will authorize the sale of the missiles a month later (see December 5, 1985).

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, John McMahon, Ronald Reagan

Timeline Tags: Iran-Contra Affair

Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams (see April 19, 1985 and After) joins the National Security Council (NSC)‘s Oliver North and the CIA’s Central American Task Force chief Alan Fiers as the principal members of a Restricted Interagency Group (RIG) which works on Central American affairs for the Reagan administration. Abrams, a staunch supporter of Nicaragua’s Contras, becomes aware of North’s machinations to divert US funds to the Contras (see December 6, 1985 and April 4, 1986) in spite of Congress’s prohibition on such funding (see October 10, 1984). Abrams will also become directly involved in secret, illegal efforts to secure funding for the Contras from other nations (see June 11, 1986). [Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters: Chapter 25: United States v. Elliott Abrams: November 1986, 8/4/1993]

Entity Tags: Restricted Interagency Group, Contras, Oliver North, Elliott Abrams, Alan Fiers

Timeline Tags: Iran-Contra Affair

President Reagan issues a secret presidential finding that retroactively authorizes the sale of Hawk missiles to Iran, a sale that took place a month before (see November 24-25, 1985). When Attorney General Edwin Meese conducts his November 1986 “investigation” of the Iran arms sales, the documentation of that finding will be destroyed (see November 21-25, 1986). Congress will not be told of the Hawk sales, as mandated by law. [New York Times, 11/19/1987; Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 66]

Entity Tags: Edwin Meese, Ronald Reagan

Timeline Tags: Iran-Contra Affair

Oliver North, the National Security Council staffer who handles the Iran-Contra dealings, tells Israeli Defense Ministry officials that he plans to use profits from future arms sales to Iran to fund the Nicaraguan Contras. [New York Times, 11/19/1987] North will not inform his supervisor, National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane, for five more months (see May 29, 1986).

Entity Tags: Oliver North, Robert C. McFarlane

Timeline Tags: Iran-Contra Affair

Attorney General Edwin Meese becomes directly involved in the Reagan administration’s secret plan to sell arms to Iran, when he is asked to render a legal opinion supporting the plan. [United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, 8/4/1993] Months later, Meese will conduct an “investigation” of the Iran-Contra affair (see November 21-25, 1986), a possible conflict of interest in light of his legal opinion to justify the arms sales.

Entity Tags: Edwin Meese, Reagan administration

Timeline Tags: Iran-Contra Affair

National Security Council officer Oliver North, running the secret and illegal network that diverts funds from US-Iranian arms sales to the Nicaraguan Contras (see December 6, 1985 and April 4, 1986), has a phone conversation with CIA official Alan Fiers (see Summer 1986). A diary entry by North documenting the conversation reads in part, “Felix talking too much about V.P. connection.” “Felix” is CIA agent Felix Rodriguez, a key member of North’s network (see May 27, 1987). It is not clear whether the “V.P.” notation refers to Vice President George H. W. Bush or to former CIA official Donald Gregg, now Bush’s foreign policy adviser and a liaison to Rodriguez. In later testimony before the Iran-Contra Congressional committee (see May 5, 1987), Gregg will deny that Bush’s office was involved in recruiting Rodriguez to work with North. [Time, 7/22/1991] Gregg has a long and clandestine relationship with Rodriguez, going back as far as 1959, when the two were involved in “Operation 40,” a CIA-led attempt to overthrow Cuba’s Fidel Castro. [Spartacus Schoolnet, 2/3/2008] Gregg also worked with Rodriguez in covert operations during the Vietnam War. [Spartacus Schoolnet, 12/28/2007]

Entity Tags: Fidel Castro, Contras, Central Intelligence Agency, Alan Fiers, Donald Gregg, Felix Rodriguez, National Security Council, Oliver North, Joint House-Senate Iran-Contra Committee, George Herbert Walker Bush

Timeline Tags: Iran-Contra Affair

Congress narrowly defeats a measure pushed by, among others, Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams (see September 4, 1985), for $100 million in military and other aid for the Nicaraguan Contras. Abrams, National Security Council officer Oliver North (see December 6, 1985 and April 4, 1986), and senior CIA official Alan Fiers (see Late 1985 and After) quickly fly to Central America to reassure Contra officials that they will continue to receive funding from the Reagan administration. [Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters: Chapter 25: United States v. Elliott Abrams: November 1986, 8/4/1993] Congress will approve the funding three months later (see June 16, 1986).

Entity Tags: Elliott Abrams, Contras, Oliver North, Reagan administration, Alan Fiers

Timeline Tags: Iran-Contra Affair

Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North, the National Security Council staffer who facilitates the secret Iran arms deals, helps divert $12 million in money from those arms sales to the Nicaraguan Contras. The deal is documented in a memorandum located in North’s desk by investigators for Attorney General Edwin Meese (see November 21-25, 1986). Meese will inform President Reagan and top White House officials of the memo, but many of the cabinet members and top officials he will inform already know of the transaction. [United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, 8/4/1993] National Security Adviser John Poindexter, the recipient of the memo, will later testify that President Reagan never saw the memo. Reagan will deny knowing anything about the diversion of arms profits to the Contras until November 1986 (see November 10, 1986 and After and November 13, 1986). [New York Times, 11/19/1987]

Entity Tags: John Poindexter, Edwin Meese, Contras, Oliver North, Ronald Reagan, Reagan administration

Timeline Tags: Iran-Contra Affair

Senior White House officials attend a National Security Planning Group (NSPG) meeting on the subject of Central America. Attending the meeting are President Reagan, Vice President Bush, Secretary of State George Shultz, Treasury Secretary James Baker, Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, CIA Director William Casey, and White House Chief of Staff Donald Regan. The interests of the Nicaraguan Contras are represented by Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams (see September 4, 1985), NSC officer Oliver North (see December 6, 1985 and April 4, 1986), and senior CIA official Alan Fiers (see Late 1985 and After). According to minutes of the meeting, North reminds the group that under the 1986 Intelligence Authorization Bill, the State Department can legally approach other countries for non-military funding for the Contras. During the ensuing discussion, Reagan asks, according to the minutes: “What about the private groups who pay for ads for the contras? Have they been contacted? Can they do more than ads?” This indicates that Reagan is well aware of the private, illegal funding being channeled to the Contras. Fiers will later give a somewhat different version of events in his testimony to the Iran-Contra grand jury (see July 17, 1991), recalling Reagan asking about “Ollie’s people” working with the Contras and asking if they could help with funding. Fiers will recall the question causing tension among the group, and then someone quickly responding, “that’s being worked on.” After the meeting, North becomes more outspoken in his descriptions of his illegal funding of the Contras. [Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters: Chapter 25: United States v. Elliott Abrams: November 1986, 8/4/1993]

Entity Tags: William Casey, Contras, Caspar Weinberger, Alan Fiers, Donald Regan, Ronald Reagan, Elliott Abrams, James Baker, George Herbert Walker Bush, George Shultz, Oliver North, Reagan administration

Timeline Tags: Iran-Contra Affair

Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North, the NSC staffer running the Iran-Contra arms deals, informs National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane that money from the sales of arms to Iran is being diverted to the Nicaraguan Contras (see April 4, 1986). [PBS, 2000] North informed Israeli officials of the diversion five months before (see December 6, 1985).

Entity Tags: Contras, Robert C. McFarlane, Oliver North

Timeline Tags: Iran-Contra Affair

Alan Fiers, the head of the CIA’s Central America task force, learns of the Reagan administration’s illegal diversion of funds from the sale of weapons to Iran to the Nicaraguan Contras (see December 6, 1985 and April 4, 1986). Fiers informs his superior, Deputy Director of Operations Clair George. Instead of acting on the knowledge, George orders Fiers to conceal his knowledge of the diversions. George will order Fiers to lie to Congress about it in November 1986 (see November 25, 1986). Fiers will later plead guilty to lying to Congress (see July 17, 1991). [Time, 7/22/1991]

Entity Tags: Clair George, Alan Fiers, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Iran-Contra Affair

Unaware of the White House machinations with Iran and the Nicaraguan Contras (see 1984, May 1984, October 10, 1984, November 19, 1985, December 6, 1985, Mid-1980s, April 4, 1986, May 29, 1986, and June 11, 1986), Congress approves a $100 million appropriation for military and non-arms aid to the Contras. [New York Times, 11/19/1987]

Entity Tags: Reagan administration, Contras

Timeline Tags: Iran-Contra Affair

August 4, 1986: US Sends Iran Missile Parts

The US sends Iran a shipment of spare parts for its Hawk anti-aircraft missiles. [New York Times, 11/19/1987]

Entity Tags: Reagan administration

Timeline Tags: Iran-Contra Affair

The Reagan administration, led by CIA Director William Casey and National Security Adviser John Poindexter (Robert McFarlane’s replacement), decides to downplay and deny any arms-for-hostages deals as reported in the world press (see November 3, 1986), while maintaining the secret negotiations with Iran. President Reagan accepts their advice. In notes Reagan takes during a clandestine meeting about the situation, he writes, “Must say something because I’m being held out to dry.” [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 65-66]

Entity Tags: William Casey, John Poindexter, Reagan administration, Robert C. McFarlane, Ronald Reagan

Timeline Tags: Iran-Contra Affair

Ronald Reagan speaks to the nation.Ronald Reagan speaks to the nation. [Source: Bettmann / Corbis]President Reagan addresses the nation on the Iran-Contra issue (see October 5, 1986 and November 3, 1986). “I know you’ve been reading, seeing, and hearing a lot of stories the past several days attributed to Danish sailors (see Early November, 1986), unnamed observers at Italian ports and Spanish harbors, and especially unnamed government officials of my administration,” he says. “Well, now you’re going to hear the facts from a White House source, and you know my name.” But despite his direct introduction, Reagan presents the same half-truths, denials, and outright lies that his officials have been providing to Congress and the press (see Mid-October, 1986 and November 10, 1986 and After).
'Honorable' Involvement - He admits to an 18-month “secret diplomatic initiative” with Iran, for several “honorable” reasons: to renew relations with that nation, to bring an end to the Iran-Iraq war, to eliminate Iran’s sponsorship of terrorism, and to effect the release of the US hostages being imprisoned by Hezbollah. He calls the press reports “rumors,” and says, “[L]et’s get to the facts.”
Falsehoods Presented as Facts - The US has not swapped weapons to Iran for hostages, Reagan asserts. However, evidence suggests otherwise (see January 28, 1981, 1983, 1985, May 1985, June 11, 1985, July 3, 1985, July 8, 1985, August 6, 1985, September 15, 1985, December 6, 1985, December 12, 1985, Mid-1980s, January 7, 1986, January 17, 1986, Late May, 1986, September 19, 1986, and Early October-November, 1986). Reagan also claims the US has not “trafficked with terrorists,” although Iran is listed as a sponsor of terrorism by the State Department. It “has not swapped boatloads or planeloads of American weapons for the return of American hostages. And we will not.” Reports of Danish and Spanish vessels carrying secret arms shipments, of Italian ports employed to facilitate arms transfers, and of the US sending spare parts and weapons for Iranian combat aircraft, all are “quite exciting, but… not one of them is true.” Reagan does admit to his authorization of “the transfer of small amounts of defensive weapons and spare parts for defensive systems to Iran,” merely as a gesture of goodwill. “These modest deliveries, taken together, could easily fit into a single cargo plane,” he says. (In reality, the US has already sent over 1,000 missiles to Iran over the course of a number of shipments.) He says the US made it clear to Iran that for any dialogue to continue, it must immediately cease its support of Hezbollah and other terrorist groups, and to facilitate the release of US hostages held by that group in Lebanon. Evidence exists, Reagan says, of the Iranians ramping down their support of terrorism. And some hostages have already been freed, a true statement, though he fails to mention that others have been taken.
Admission of May Meeting - Reagan admits that former National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane met with Iranian officials (see Late May, 1986). According to Reagan, McFarlane went to Iraq “to open a dialog, making stark and clear our basic objectives and disagreements.” He presents no further information about the meeting, except that the talks were “civil” and “American personnel were not mistreated.”
Exposure Risks Undermining Efforts to Facilitate Peace - The public disclosure of these “honorable” negotiations has put the entire US efforts to broker peace between Iran and Iraq in jeopardy, he says. In negotiations such as these, there is “a basic requirement for discretion and for a sensitivity to the situation in the nation we were attempting to engage.”
Reagan Says Congress Not Lied to - Reagan says that there is no truth to the stories that his officials ever lied to members of Congress about the Iranian negotiations (see Mid-October, 1986). The members of Congress who needed to know about the negotiations were informed, as were the “appropriate Cabinet officers” and others “with a strict need to know.” Since the story has now broken, “the relevant committees of Congress are being, and will be, fully informed.” [Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, 11/13/1986; Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 65-66]

Entity Tags: US Congress, Robert C. McFarlane, Hezbollah, Contras, Ronald Reagan, US Department of State

Timeline Tags: Iran-Contra Affair

Attorney General Edwin Meese.Attorney General Edwin Meese. [Source: Doug Mills / Bettman / Corbis]Attorney General Edwin Meese undertakes an internal fact-finding investigation focused on President Reagan’s involvement in the November 1985 sale of Hawk missiles to Iran (see 1985). Meese is apparently not interested in finding facts, because he refuses a request to assist from the FBI, and takes no notes during his interviews of administration officials.
'Shredding Party' - Additionally, during his investigation, National Security Council documents are altered or destroyed, including a presidential finding from December 1985 that retroactively authorized US missile sales to Iran (see November 24-25, 1985 and December 5, 1985); National Security Adviser John Poindexter will later admit to destroying this document. Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North holds what is later called a “shredding party,” destroying thousands of documents that would likely implicate White House officials in a criminal conspiracy to break the law (see November 21-23, 1986). The Iran-Contra investigative committee will later fault Meese for departing from “standard investigative techniques” during his investigation.
Document Linking Iran Arms Sales, Contra Supplies Survives - Meese also finds a potentially explosive document in the desk of North, the National Security Council staffer who managed the Iran arms deals. The document, an undated memorandum apparently from April 1986, outlined “a planned diversion of $12 million in proceeds from the Iran arms sales to the Nicaraguan contras” (see April 4, 1986). Meese’s investigation now diverges onto two tracks, one a continuation of the Hawk shipments, and the second an investigation into who knew about, and who had approved, the diversion.
Reagan Courting Impeachment? - Meese confirms from North that the $12 million had indeed been given to the Contras, and informs Reagan, Chief of Staff Donald Regan, and Vice President Bush. Reagan is reportedly shocked by the revelation, in part because he knows he could face impeachment for violating the Boland Amendment (see October 10, 1984). Meese informs the cabinet the next day. Apparently Meese does not want to know if any senior White House officials knew of the diversion, because he does not ask them about it. When Poindexter informs Meese that before December 1985, his predecessor Robert McFarlane handled the Iran arms sales “all alone” with “no documentation,” Meese accepts his word. Several White House officials present at the meeting—Reagan, Regan, Bush, Poindexter, Secretary of State George Shultz, and Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger—all know that Poindexter is lying, but none correct him. After the meeting, Shultz tells his aide, Charles Hill: “They may lay all this off on Bud [McFarlane].… They [are] rearranging the record.” Investigative counsel Lawrence Walsh will later write: “The Select Committees viewed this as an isolated error. It was not.”
'Case for Deniability' for Reagan - In Walsh’s opinion, Meese is not conducting an investigation at all, but instead is “building a case of deniability for his client-in-fact, President Reagan.” Walsh will characterize Meese’s actions as “an effort to obstruct a congressional inquiry.” In 2006, authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein will write, “The two strands of an illegal policy came together in that memo.” The authors refer to the US arms sales to Iran and the diversion of the profits from those sales to the Contras. [New York Times, 11/19/1987; United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, 8/4/1993; PBS, 2000; Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 66]

Entity Tags: Charles Hill, Edwin Meese, Caspar Weinberger, Ronald Reagan, Robert C. McFarlane, Oliver North, Federal Bureau of Investigation, George Herbert Walker Bush, George Shultz, Jake Bernstein, Contras, Donald Regan, Lou Dubose, Lawrence E. Walsh, John Poindexter

Timeline Tags: Iran-Contra Affair

Attorney General Edwin Meese announces the results of his internal “investigation” of US arms sales to Iran (see November 21-25, 1986). In the conference, Meese announces that President Reagan did not learn of the US shipments of Hawk anti-aircraft missiles (see 1985, November 24-25, 1985, and August 4, 1986) until February 1986. Investigators for Independent Counsel Lawrence Walsh will later conclude that Meese lied; not only did Meese never ask Reagan about his knowledge of the Hawk shipments, he ignored evidence and testimony that proved Reagan did indeed know of the shipments, such as a statement from Secretary of State George Shultz that Reagan had told him that he had known of the Hawk shipments in advance. But Meese will also, reluctantly, admit that the US had illegally diverted between $10 million and $30 million in funds from Iranian arms sales to the Nicaraguan Contras (see April 4, 1986). National Security Adviser John Poindexter immediately resigns, and Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North is fired from the National Security Council staff. [New York Times, 11/19/1987; United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, 8/4/1993; PBS, 2000]

Entity Tags: Ronald Reagan, National Security Council, Contras, Edwin Meese, George Shultz, John Poindexter, Lawrence E. Walsh, Oliver North, Office of the Independent Counsel (Iran-Contra)

Timeline Tags: Iran-Contra Affair

Oliver North’s secretary, Fawn Hall, learns that she is to be interviewed by the FBI over her knowledge of North’s illegal activities surrounding Iran-Contra (see November 21-25, 1986). She and two of North’s colleagues at the National Security Council (NSC), Lieutenant Colonel Robert Earl and Commander Craig Coy, discuss the upcoming interview. The three agree that they will not tell the FBI about Hall’s illegal removal of classified documents from NSC offices (see November 25, 1986). [United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, 12/13/2007]

Entity Tags: Fawn Hall, Craig Coy, Robert Earl, Oliver North, National Security Council, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: Iran-Contra Affair

Barbara Walters, in a 1988 photo.Barbara Walters, in a 1988 photo. [Source: Raul Vega / Corbis]ABC News reporter Barbara Walters covertly provides the White House with documents from Iranian arms merchant Manucher Ghorbanifar, according to a Wall Street Journal article published in March 1987. The documents, prepared by Walters and given to the White House at Ghorbanifar’s request, report that Ghorbanifar believed, correctly, that National Security Council staffer Oliver North diverted profits from the sale of arms to Iran to Nicaragua’s Contra insurgents (see April 4, 1986). Walters will provide the White House with further documents on the arms sales in January 1987. The documents are given to Walters either just before or just after her interviews with Ghorbanifar and Saudi businessman and arms dealer Adnan Khashoggi for the ABC News program 20/20. The documents will eventually be turned over to the Tower Commission (see February 26, 1987). The White House will claim that the documents contain little more than reiterations of Ghorbanifar’s comments to Walters in the interview. ABC News will say that Walters’s actions—essentially acting as an information peddler or middleman between the Arab arms merchants and the US government—are “in violation of a literal interpretation of news policy.… ABC policy expressly limits journalists cooperating with government agencies unless threats to human lives are involved.… Ms. Walters believed that to be the case.” ABC does not explain why Walters believes “threats to human lives” were involved; this assertion also contradicts ABC’s assertions that the documents contained little more that what was said in the interview. [New York Times, 3/17/1987; Nation, 3/28/1987]

Entity Tags: Barbara Walters, Contras, Manucher Ghorbanifar, Oliver North, Reagan administration, Adnan Khashoggi, ABC News

Timeline Tags: Iran-Contra Affair

Congress announces the creation of a special counsel to investigate the Iran-Contra affair. Lawrence Walsh is named the special prosecutor in charge of the investigation. [New York Times, 11/19/1987] Walsh, a retired federal judge, later says that he is worried from the outset about the potential for what he calls a “carnival atmosphere” surrounding the hearings. In creating the special counsel and the concurrent Congressional investigation (see January 6-7, 1987), Speaker of the House Jim Wright (D-TX) and Senate Majority Leader Robert Byrd (D-WV) want to head off any possibility of impeachment. “That is the last thing I wanted to do,” Wright later recalls. “Ronald Reagan had only two years left in his [second and final] term. I was not going to allow a procedure that would lead to his impeachment in his final year in office.” [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 67-68]

Entity Tags: Lawrence E. Walsh, Ronald Reagan, Robert C. Byrd, James C. (‘Jim’) Wright, Jr.

Timeline Tags: Iran-Contra Affair

President Reagan testifies before the Tower Commission. His chief of staff, Donald Regan, had previously told the commission that the US had not given its approval for the August 1985 sale of TOW missiles to Iran via Israel (see August 6, 1985 and August 20, 1985), but Reagan shocks both Regan and White House counsel Peter Wallison by admitting that he had indeed approved both the Israeli sale of TOWs to Iran and had agreed to replenish the Israeli stocks. Reagan uses the previous testimony of former National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane as a guide. After Reagan’s testimony, Regan attempts to refocus Reagan’s memories of events, going through the chain of events with Reagan and asking questions like, “Were you surprised” when you learned about the TOW sales? Reagan responds, “Yes, I guess I was surprised.” Regan hammers the point home: “That’s what I remember. I remember you being angry and saying something like, ‘Well, what’s done is done.’” Reagan turns to Wallison and says, “You know, I think he’s right.” [Cannon, 1991, pp. 630-631]

Entity Tags: Tower Commission, Donald Regan, Peter Wallison, Robert C. McFarlane, Ronald Reagan

Timeline Tags: Iran-Contra Affair

President Reagan testifies for a second time to the Tower Commission (see January 26, 1987). His testimony is incoherent and confused; some observers outside the White House begin speculating that Reagan suffers from Alzheimer’s disease or senile dementia. Commission investigators note that while the Meese investigation claimed Reagan did not know of the August 1985 shipment of missiles to Iran (see August 20, 1985 and November 21-25, 1986), Reagan himself claimed in his previous testimony he did know of the shipments. When asked to clarify the inconsistency, Reagan shocks onlookers by picking up a briefing memo he had been given and reading aloud, “If the question comes up at the Tower Board meeting, you might want to say that you were surprised.” [PBS, 2000] White House counsel Peter Wallison is stunned. “I was horrified, just horrified,” he later recalls. “I didn’t expect him to go and get the paper. The purpose of it was just to recall to his mind before he goes into the meeting” what he, Wallison, and Chief of Staff Donald Regan had agreed was the proper chain of events—that Reagan had not known of the shipments beforehand, and had been surprised to learn of them. [Cannon, 1991, pp. 631-632]

Entity Tags: Peter Wallison, Tower Commission, Ronald Reagan, Donald Regan

Timeline Tags: Iran-Contra Affair

President Reagan sends a memo to the Tower Commission in an attempt to clarify his previous rambling and incoherent testimony (see January 26, 1987 and February 2, 1987). The memo does not improve matters. It reads in part: “I don’t remember, period.… I’m trying to recall events that happened eighteen months ago, I’m afraid that I let myself be influenced by others’ recollections, not my own.… The only honest answer is to state that try as I might, I cannot recall anything whatsoever about whether I approved an Israeli sale in advance or whether I approved replenishment of Israeli stocks around August of 1985 (see August 20, 1985). My answer therefore and the simple truth is, ‘I don’t remember, period.’” [PBS, 2000]

Entity Tags: Tower Commission, Ronald Reagan

Timeline Tags: Iran-Contra Affair

President Reagan tells a national television audience that he has made mistakes on Iran-Contra, and claims he has had massive memory failures. “A few months ago I told the American people I did not trade arms for hostages,” he says (see February 2, 1987 and February 20, 1987). “My heart and my best intentions tell me that’s true, but the facts and evidence tell me it is not. As the Tower Board reported (see February 26, 1987), what began as a strategic opening to Iran deteriorated, in its implementation, into trading arms for hostages. This runs counter to my own beliefs, to administration policy, and to the original strategy we had in mind. There are reasons why it happened, but no excuses. It was a mistake.” Reagan’s sympathetic message resonates with US viewers; his popularity rebounds to over 50 percent in national polls. [White House, 3/4/1987; White House, 3/4/1987; PBS, 2000]

Entity Tags: Ronald Reagan, Tower Commission

Timeline Tags: Iran-Contra Affair

The Democratic and Republican leaders of Congress’s joint Iran-Contra investigation begin meetings to discuss the logistics of the upcoming public hearings (see May 5, 1987). Speaker of the House Jim Wright (D-TX) later recalls that House committee chairman “Lee Hamilton and I bent over backwards to be fair to the Republicans.” Many of the committee Republicans are not predisposed to return the favor. Moderate Republican Warren Rudman (R-NH), the co-chairman of the Senate committee, recalls that deep divides were forming between the committee’s moderate Republicans and the more hardline Republicans led by Dick Cheney (R-WY). “The meetings were very, very intensive,” Rudman will recall. Cheney helps put together the Republican committee members’ staff, and includes a number of hardline Reagan loyalists: the Justice Department’s Bruce Fein; the former assistant general counsel to the CIA, David Addington; and others. Notably, it is during the Iran-Contra hearings where Cheney and Addington form their lasting professional association.
Artificial Deadline - The first battle is over the length of the hearings. Cheney’s hardliners want the hearings over with quickly—“like tomorrow,” one former staffer recalls. Hamilton will recall: “Did I know Dick wanted to shorten it? Yes, I knew that.” Committee Democrats, fearful of extending the proceedings into the 1988 presidential campaign and thusly being perceived as overly partisan, agree to an artificial ten-month deadline to complete the investigation and issue a final report. Authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein later write that the deadline is “an invitation to the administration to stall while simultaneously burying the committee under mountains of useless information.” When, in the fall of 1987, the committee receives large amounts of new information, such as White House backup computer files, Cheney’s hardliners will succeed in insisting that the committee adhere to the deadline.
Jousting with the Special Prosecutor - The committee also has trouble co-existing with the special prosecutor’s concurrent investigation (see December 19, 1986). The special prosecutor, Lawrence Walsh, wants a long, intensive investigation culminating in a round of prosecutions. The committee worries that in light of Walsh’s investigation, key witnesses like Oliver North and John Poindexter would refuse to testify before the committee, and instead plead the Fifth Amendment. Rudman and committee counsel Arthur Liman want Walsh to quickly prosecute North for obstruction of justice based on North’s “shredding party” (see November 21-25, 1986). Rudman believes that he can get his Republican colleagues to agree to defer their investigation until after North’s trial. But Walsh declines. Rudman later says: “Walsh might have been more successful if he had followed our suggestion.… But he had this grand scheme of conspiracy.” As such, the committee has a difficult choice: abort the investigation or grant North immunity from prosecution so he can testify. Cheney and his hardliners, and even some Democrats, favor not having North testify in deference to his upcoming prosecution. “People were all over the place on that one,” Rudman will recall. Hamilton is the strongest proponent of immunity for North. “He believed that North had information no one else had,” a staffer will recall. Hamilton and the moderate Republicans are more interested in finding the details of the Iran-Contra affair rather than preparing for criminal prosecutions. The committee eventually compromises, and defers the testimony of North and Poindexter until the end of the investigation. Another committee staffer later recalls, “Hamilton was so fair-minded and balanced that in order to get agreements, he gave ground in areas where he shouldn’t have.”
North Deal 'Dooms' Investigation - Dubose and Bernstein later write, “The deal the committee struck with North’s canny lawyer, Brendan Sullivan, doomed Walsh’s investigation and the hearings.” The committee offers North “use immunity,” a guarantee that his testimony cannot be used against him in future prosecutions. The committee also agrees, unwisely, to a series of further caveats: they will not depose North prior to his testimony, his testimony will be strictly limited in duration, the committee will not recall North for further testimony, and he will not have to produce documents to be used in his testimony until just days before his appearance. [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 70-72, 77]

Entity Tags: Oliver North, Jake Bernstein, David S. Addington, Bruce Fein, Brendan Sullivan, Arthur Liman, James C. (‘Jim’) Wright, Jr., John Poindexter, Joint House-Senate Iran-Contra Committee, Lawrence E. Walsh, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Warren Rudman, Lee Hamilton, Lou Dubose

Timeline Tags: Iran-Contra Affair

Richard Secord receives whispered advice from his attorney, Thomas Green, during his testimony.Richard Secord receives whispered advice from his attorney, Thomas Green, during his testimony. [Source: Bettmann / Corbis]Public testimony begins in the joint House and Senate investigations of the Iran-Contra affair. General Richard Secord (see November 19, 1985) is the first witness (see May 5, 1987). [New York Times, 11/19/1987]
'Hero's Angle' - The televised hearing area in Room 325 of the Senate Office Building, built to accommodate over two dozen committee members, their staff, witnesses, lawyers, and television reporters and camera operators, features a series of two-tiered stages. Film director Steven Spielberg will later tell Senate counsel Arthur Liman that from a visual viewpoint, the staging is a terrible mistake; the witnesses appear on television “at the hero’s angle, looking up as though from a pit at the committees, who resembled two rows of judges at the Spanish Inquisition.” Authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein will note with some sardonicism that the committee’s two lawyers could not have been better choices to play television villains. Liman is “a nasal-voiced New York ethnic with ‘spaghetti hair,’” and House counsel John Nields is “a balding lawyer with long locks down to his collar who couldn’t keep his distaste for the witnesses from creeping into his voice.”
Opening Statements; Cheney Blames Congress, Not the White House - The hearings open with the usual long-winded opening statements from the various committee members. Representative Dick Cheney (R-WY), the leader of the Republican hardline contingent, makes it clear from the outset where he intends to go in the investigation. “Some will argue that these events justify the imposition of additional restrictions on presidents to prohibit the possibility of similar occurrences in the future,” he says. “In my opinion, this would be a mistake. In completing our task, we should seek above all to find ways to strengthen the capacity of future presidents and future Congresses to meet the often dangerous and difficult challenges that are bound to rise in the years ahead.” He then introduces his counter-argument: Congress’s dithering, not the Reagan administration’s clear violation of the law, is the crux of the problem with the Iran-Contra affair. “One important question to be asked is to what extent did the lack of a clear-cut policy by the Congress contribute to the events we will be exploring in the weeks ahead?” Cheney and his colleagues will argue that because Congress had supported the Contras in the past, its decision not to continue that support was an unforgivable breach, “a form of actionable negligence,” in Dubose and Bernstein’s words, that made it necessary for the Reagan administration to establish “a parallel support network as a ‘bridging’ mechanism until Congress could be brought around to a sensible policy.” Oliver North will echo this concept in his own testimony (see July 7-10, 1987), driving committee Vice Chairman Warren Rudman (R-NH) to retort: “The American people have the Constitutional right to be wrong. And what Ronald Reagan thinks, or what Oliver North thinks or what I think or what anybody else thinks makes not a whit if the American people say, ‘Enough.’” [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 72-75]

Entity Tags: Richard Secord, John Nields, Jake Bernstein, Contras, Arthur Liman, Joint House-Senate Iran-Contra Committee, Reagan administration, Lou Dubose, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Steven Spielberg, Oliver North

Timeline Tags: Iran-Contra Affair

May 6, 1987: Former CIA Director Casey Dies

Former CIA Director William Casey (see February 2, 1987) dies as a result of his inoperable brain cancer. Casey was a key figure in the Iran-Contra machinations. Authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein will later write, “In death he would become a helpful scapegoat for Oliver North and a resting place for missing information that would have filled out the contours of the scandal.” [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 70] Casey had been named as one of the architects of the scheme to use profits from illegal arms sales to Iran to secretly fund the Nicaraguan Contras (see May 5, 1987). He had been hospitalized since April 25, and unable to testify in the Iran-Contra hearings. The immediate cause of death is what doctors call “aspiration pneumonia,” which may mean that Casey inhaled food or food particles in his lungs that set up a toxic chemical reaction. A physician not involved in Casey’s treatment says that Casey may have had trouble swallowing properly. The hospital in Glen Cove, Long Island refuses to give any more details. Despite the swirling Iran-Contra controversy, President Reagan says of his longtime colleague and friend: “His nation and all those who love freedom honor today the name and memory of Bill Casey. In addition to crediting him with rebuilding America’s intelligence capability, history will note the brilliance of his mind and strategic vision, his passionate commitment to the cause of freedom and his unhesitating willingness to make personal sacrifices for the sake of that cause and his country.” [New York Times, 5/7/1987]

Entity Tags: Lou Dubose, Oliver North, Ronald Reagan, William Casey, Contras, Jake Bernstein

Timeline Tags: Iran-Contra Affair

Fawn Hall, the former secretary to fired National Security Council officer Oliver North (see November 25, 1986), defends her illegal actions in helping North destroy evidence of his criminal activities in the Iran-Contra affair (see November 21-23, 1986). Testifying before the House and Senate, Hall says, “There are times when you have to go above the written law.” [Reeves, 2005, pp. 400; United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, 12/13/2007]

Entity Tags: Oliver North, Fawn Hall

Timeline Tags: Iran-Contra Affair

Oliver North testifying before the Iran-Contra Committee.Oliver North testifying before the Iran-Contra Committee. [Source: Bettmann / Corbis]Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North testifies before the joint House-Senate Iran-Contra investigative committee. During the course of his testimony, he says he does not know if President Reagan had any knowledge of the diversion of funds from Iranian arms sales to the Nicaraguan Contras (see December 6, 1985 and April 4, 1986). North also testifies that William Casey, the recently deceased CIA director (see May 6, 1987), knew of and approved the diversion of funds to the Contras. North admits that the Iranian arms sales were initially designed to help facilitate the release of the American hostages being held by Hezbollah. [New York Times, 11/19/1987]
Tour de Force - North’s testimony is a “tour de force,” in the words of authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein, that allows Republicans the opportunity to reverse the field of the hearings and go on the offensive instead of defending the conduct of the Reagan administration. North, a Marine lieutenant colonel, wears his full-dress Marine uniform throughout his entire testimony with rows of ribbons festooning his chest. Handsome and full of righteous patriotism, he is striking on television, and contrasts well with the nasal, disdainful committee lawyers (see May 5, 1987) who spend four days interrogating him.
Need to Free Hostages Trumps Law - For the first two days, North and House counsel John Nields spar for the cameras. North says that Casey had directed him to create the so-called “Enterprise” (see November 19, 1985 and February 2, 1987), the clandestine organization that supported the Nicaraguan Contras with money, weapons, and sometimes US personnel. North admits to shredding untold amounts of evidence after the operation came to light (see November 21-25, 1986). He also admits to lying to Congress in previous testimony. But all of his actions are justified, he says, by the need to get Iran to free the American hostages. “I’d have offered the Iranians a free trip to Disneyland if we could have gotten Americans home for it,” he declares in response to one question about US arms sales to Iran. Senate counsel Arthur Liman will later write, “He made all his illegal acts—the lying to Congress, the diversion [of funds from Iranian arms sales to the Contras], the formation of the Enterprise, the cover-up—seem logical and patriotic.”
Targeting Covert Operations - Nields’s preferred line of questioning—covert operations—makes many committee members uncomfortable. Some House Democrats want to use the investigation to further their own goals of limiting covert actions, and others simply want the truth to be revealed. In contrast, House Republicans are united in opposition to any details of covert operations being revealed on national television and thus hampering the president’s ability to conduct future operations as needed. After the first day of North’s testimony, committee member Dick Cheney (R-WY) exults on PBS that North “probably was as effective as anybody we’ve had before the committee in coming forward very aggressively and stating what he did, saying why he did it, arguing that he was in fact authorized to take the activities that he did.”
Leaky Congress Unfit to Know of Covert Ops, North Contends - North echoes Cheney’s position that the question is not whether White House officials broke the law, but whether Congress was fit to consider the question of national security at all. North goes so far as to question the propriety of the hearings themselves: “I believe that these hearings, perhaps unintentionally so, have revealed matters of great secrecy in the operation of our government, and sources of methods of intelligence activities have clearly been revealed, to the detriment of our security.” North’s message is clear: Congress is not fit to handle covert operations or, by and large, to even know about them. Best for the legislature to allow the White House and the intelligence community to do what needs doing and remain quiet about it. North’s contention that Congress has leaked vital national security information is shot down by Senate committee chairman Daniel Inouye (D-HI), who not only forces North to admit that he has no evidence of his contention, but that the White House, not Congress, is the main source of leaked classified information. Indeed, North himself has leaked information (see July 7-10, 1987). Inouye’s co-chair, Warren Rudman (R-NH) will later say: “The greatest leaks came out of the White House. North and company were the biggest leakers of all during that period.” [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 75-78] Nields, addressing North’s implication that the NSC has no obligation to tell the truth to Congress, says towards the end of his session with North: “We do believe in a democracy in which the people, not one lieutenant colonel, decide important policy issues, don’t we? … You denied Congress the facts North had admitted to lying about the government’s involvement with the Hasenfus plane. You denied the elected representatives of the people the facts.” [Boston Globe, 7/9/1987]
Impact on Public Opinion - Results will differ on North’s popularity with viewers (see July 9-31, 1987).

Entity Tags: William Casey, Warren Rudman, Ronald Reagan, Oliver North, Joint House-Senate Iran-Contra Committee, Arthur Liman, Bush administration (41), Contras, Daniel Inouye, Hezbollah, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, John Nields, Jake Bernstein, Lou Dubose

Timeline Tags: Iran-Contra Affair

Public opinion is sharply divided on the testimony, believability, and popularity of Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North after his testimony before Congress’s Iran-Contra committee (see July 7-10, 1987). A Washington Post/ABC News poll shows 64 percent of those surveyed have a “favorable opinion” of North after watching his testimony. But the “scores of letters received” by the Post was almost exactly opposite, with two-thirds expressing disapproval or reservations about North’s testimony. The Post reports, “Of 130 letters that could be categorized easily as either favorable or unfavorable, 39 were favorable, 91 unfavorable.” One of the unfavorable letters reads in part: “I wish to register an emphatic voice that does not join in the general adulation of… North. He is certainly bright, articulate, sincere and dedicated—but not to the basics of democracy, the rule of law or the tenets of the Constitution.” One favorable letter characterizes North as “the guy we thought we were voting for when we voted for Reagan,” and lauds North for “his endeavor to help release our hostages, get a better relationship with Iran and most of all support the Nicaraguan contras with both military arms and humanitarian supplies.” Many of the letters in support of North chastize the media. One letter writer accuses the Post and the television news media of mocking North throughout his testimony, and concludes that after North’s performance, “the media have, at long last, been hoist on their own petard.” The Post reports that “the mix of letters” is “evidently not so very different from that received at other newspapers across the country,” with “letters editors at the Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times all reported more mail against North. USA Today said the mail is now running 50-50 after an initial flurry of mail in North’s favor.” According to Gallup Polls president Andrew Kohut, letter writers are more articulate, more involved in public affairs, and more politicized than people who don’t write. Also, “people who hold intense attitudes tend to write…” [Washington Post, 7/31/1987] Television news anchors and pundits are equally divided. NBC’s Tom Brokaw says North “performed the congressional equivalent of a grand slam, a touchdown, a hole-in-one, a knockout. You can almost hear his supporters around the country chanting ‘Ol-lie, Ol-lie, Ol-lie.’” But CBS’s Dan Rather asks why North did not do as he had sworn to do and take all the blame for the Iran-Contra machinations: “Whatever happened to the idea that he would take arrows in his chest?” [Boston Globe, 7/9/1987]

Entity Tags: Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Andrew Kohut, ABC News, Dan Rather, Joint House-Senate Iran-Contra Committee, Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Tom Brokaw, USA Today, Oliver North

Timeline Tags: Iran-Contra Affair

On the last day of Oliver North’s testimony to the Joint House-Senate Iran-Contra Committee (see July 7-10, 1987), ranking Republican Dick Cheney handles the questioning. Authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein will observe that the questioning is more of “a duet than an interrogation.”
Praise from Cheney to North - Cheney opens by praising North’s handling of the hearings, saying, “I know I speak for a great many people who have been watching the proceedings, because the Congress has been absolutely buried in the favorable public reaction to your testimony and phone calls and telegrams” (see July 9-31, 1987). North has taken to stacking piles of supportive telegrams on his witness table; what he and Cheney do not tell those watching the hearings is that Western Union is offering a half-price special on pro-North telegrams sent to the committee.
Obvious Orchestration - Dubose and Bernstein later write that Cheney and North’s session is so perfectly carried out that it seems scripted and rehearsed, “complete with programmed queries and answers not available to everyone else.” Committee co-chairman Warren Rudman (R-NH) later says, “It was apparent to me that there was coordination going on.” Bruce Fein, the Republican staff’s chief of research, later admits that there was indeed such collaboration, though he says it was nothing more than “coordinat[ing] strategy.” Cheney and North’s duet paints North as nothing more than a guy who wanted “to cut through red tape” to save Nicaragua from Communism. North takes the opportunity to portray the selfless hero: “Hang whatever you want around the neck of Ollie North… but for the love of God and the love of this nation, don’t hang around Ollie North’s neck the cutoff of funds to the Nicaraguan resistance again. This country cannot stand that, not just because of Nicaragua, but because of all the other nations in the world who look at us and measure by what we do now in Nicaragua, the measure of our whole commitment to their cause. To things like NATO, to things like our commitment to peace and democracy elsewhere in the world.”
'Turnaround from Defense to Offense [Is] Complete' - Dubose and Bernstein later write, “The two men were now in the zone, a parallel radical-right fantasyland, blissfully ignoring the damage to America’s reputation caused by the administration’s support for the Contras and its willingness to barter weapons for hostages with Iran and Hezbollah.” Cheney and North ignore the World Court’s condemnation of the US mining of Nicaraguan harbors, the Contras’ attacks on civilian targets such as medical centers while refusing to engage the Sandinista forces themselves, which had inflamed outrage in Europe, and the ridicule that Iranian hardliners had subjected US attempts to open negotiations. Cheney’s questioning strategy is so successful that he is able to offer North his remaining time to present a slideshow on why funding the Contras is so important. Dubose and Bernstein later write, “The turnaround from defense to offense was complete.” [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 75-78, 80]

Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Contras, Jake Bernstein, Joint House-Senate Iran-Contra Committee, Lou Dubose, Oliver North, Warren Rudman

Timeline Tags: Iran-Contra Affair

Former National Security Adviser John Poindexter (see November 25, 1986) testifies before the joint House-Senate Iran-Contra investigative committee. Poindexter says that he never told President Reagan of the diversion of funds from the Iranian arms sales to the Nicaraguan Contras (see December 6, 1985 and April 4, 1986). He says he never told Reagan in order to preserve the president’s “plausible deniability.” [New York Times, 11/19/1987]

Entity Tags: Ronald Reagan, Contras, Joint House-Senate Iran-Contra Committee, John Poindexter

Timeline Tags: Iran-Contra Affair

Former National Security Adviser John Poindexter is indicted on seven felony counts relating to his participation in the Iran-Contra affair. Poindexter is named with fellow Iran-Contra conspirators Oliver North, Richard Secord, and Albert Hakim as part of a 23-count, multi-defendant indictment. The charges are based on evidence that shows all four defendants conspired to defraud the United States and violate federal law by secretly providing funds and supplies to the Nicaraguan Contras. The cases will soon be severed and each defendant will be tried separately (see May-June, 1989). [FINAL REPORT OF THE INDEPENDENT COUNSEL FOR IRAN/CONTRA MATTERS: Chapter 3: United States v. John M. Poindexter, 8/4/1993; PBS, 2000]

Entity Tags: Richard Secord, Albert Hakim, Oliver North, Contras, John Poindexter

Timeline Tags: Iran-Contra Affair

Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North, the former National Security Council member who had been a key figure in the Iran-Contra scandal (see July 7-10, 1987), is tried for crimes related to the operation (see March 16, 1988). [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 82]

Entity Tags: Oliver North, National Security Council

Timeline Tags: Iran-Contra Affair

Dick Cheney’s official photo as Secretary of Defense.Dick Cheney’s official photo as Secretary of Defense. [Source: US Department of Defense]Former Representative Dick Cheney (R-WY) becomes secretary of defense under President George H. W. Bush. [US Department of Defense, 11/24/2005] Cheney is the second choice; Bush’s first consideration, former Texas senator John Tower, lost key Senate support when details of his licentious lifestyle and possible alcoholism became known. Cheney was the choice of, among others, Vice President Dan Quayle and National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft, who both feel that Bush needs someone in the position fast, and the best way to have someone move through the confirmation process is to have someone from Congress. Although Cheney never served in the military, and managed to dodge service during the Vietnam War with five student deferments, he has no skeletons in his closet like Tower’s, and he has the support of Congressional hawks. His confirmation hearings are little more than a formality.
Cheney Leaves the House, Gingrich Steps In - Cheney’s House colleague, Republican Mickey Edwards, later reflects, “The whole world we live in would be totally different if Dick Cheney had not been plucked from the House to take the place of John Tower.” Cheney was “in line to become the [GOP’s] leader in the House and ultimately the majority leader and speaker,” Edwards will say. “If that [had] happened, the whole Gingrich era wouldn’t have happened.” Edwards is referring to Newt Gingrich (R-GA), the future speaker of the House who, in authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein’s own reflections, “ushered in fifteen years of rancorous, polarized politics.” While Cheney is as partisan as Gingrich, he is not the kind of confrontational, scorched-earth politician Gingrich is. According to Edwards, no one can envision Cheney moving down the same road as Gingrich will.
Successful Tenure - As the Pentagon’s civilian chief, many will reflect on Cheney’s tenure as perhaps his finest hour as a public servant. “I saw him for four years as [defense secretary]. He was one of the best executives the Department of Defense had ever seen,” later says Larry Wilkerson, who will serve in the Bush-Cheney administration as chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell. “He made decisions. Contrast that with the other one I saw [Clinton Secretary of Defense Lester Aspin], who couldn’t make a decision if it slapped him in the face.” Cheney will preside over a gradual reduction in forces stationed abroad—a reduction skillfully managed by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Colin Powell.
Bringing Aboard the Neoconservatives - Cheney asks one of Tower’s putative hires, Paul Wolfowitz, to stay; Wolfowitz, with fellow Pentagon neoconservatives Lewis “Scooter” Libby and Zalmay Khalilzad, will draft the Pentagon’s 1992 Defense Planning Guide (DPG) (see February 18, 1992), a harshly neoconservative proposal that envisions the US as the world’s strongman, dominating every other country and locking down the Middle East oil reserves for its own use. Though the DPG is denounced by President Bush, Cheney supports it wholeheartedly, even issuing it under his own name. “He took ownership in it,” Khalilzad recalls. Cheney also brings in his aide from the Iran-Contra hearings, David Addington (see Mid-March through Early April, 1987), another neoconservative who shares Cheney’s view of almost unlimited executive power at the expense of the judicial and legislative branches. [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 87-95]

Entity Tags: Lester Aspin, George Herbert Walker Bush, David S. Addington, Dan Quayle, Colin Powell, Brent Scowcroft, Jake Bernstein, Lawrence Wilkerson, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, John Tower, Newt Gingrich, Zalmay M. Khalilzad, Mickey Edwards, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Lou Dubose, Paul Wolfowitz

Timeline Tags: US Military

Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North, a key figure in the Iran-Contra scandal (see February 1989), is convicted of three counts of falsifying and destroying documents (see November 21-25, 1986 and March 16, 1988), of obstructing a Congressional investigation, and of illegally receiving a gift of a security fence around his home. He is acquitted of nine other counts. Though facing up to ten years in prison and a $750,000 fine, North receives an extremely lenient sentence: three years’ suspended, two years’ probation, community service, and a $150,000 fine. He also has his Marine service pension suspended. During the trial, North admits he lied repeatedly to Congress during his testimony (see July 7-10, 1987), but says that his superiors, including National Security Adviser John Poindexter, ordered him to lie under oath. North contends that he was made a scapegoat for the Reagan administration. “I knew it wasn’t right not to tell the truth about these things,” he says, “but I didn’t think it was unlawful.” US District Court Judge Gerhard Gesell calls North a “low-ranking subordinate who was carrying out the instructions of a few cynical superiors,” and says to North: “I believe you still lack understanding of how the public service has been tarnished. Jail would only harden your misconceptions.” North, who had been staunch in justifying his actions in the Iran-Contra hearings, now expresses remorse over his crimes, saying, “I recognize that I made many mistakes that resulted in my conviction of serious crimes… and I grieve every day.” North, who is a popular speaker with conservative organizations, can pay off his fine with six speaking engagements. Nevertheless, he says he will appeal his conviction. [BBC, 7/5/1989; New York Times, 9/17/1991] North’s conviction will indeed be overturned by an appeals court (see September 17, 1991).

Entity Tags: John Poindexter, Reagan administration, Oliver North, Gerhard Gesell

Timeline Tags: Iran-Contra Affair

Former CIA agent Alan Fiers.Former CIA agent Alan Fiers. [Source: Terry Ashe / Time Life Pictures / Getty Images]The former head of the CIA’s Central America task force, Alan Fiers, pleads guilty to two counts of lying to Congress. Fiers has admitted to lying about when high-ranking agency officials first learned of the illegal diversion of US funds to the Nicaraguan Contras (see December 6, 1985 and April 4, 1986). Fiers now says that when he learned of the diversions in the summer of 1986, he informed his superior, then-Deputy Director for Operations Clair George, who ordered him to lie about his knowledge (see Summer 1986). In return for his guilty pleas to two misdemeanor counts instead of far harsher felony charges, Fiers is cooperating with the Iran-Contra investigation headed by Lawrence Walsh (see December 19, 1986). Time reports: “The Iran-Contra affair has been characterized by US officials as a rogue operation managed by overzealous members of the National Security Council. But if Fiers is correct, top-ranking CIA officials not only knew about the operation and did nothing to stop it; they also participated in an illegal cover-up.… Suddenly a number of unanswered questions assume a new urgency. Just what did Ronald Reagan—and George Bush—know? And when did they know it?” [Time, 7/22/1991]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Alan Fiers, Contras, Ronald Reagan, George Herbert Walker Bush, Clair George

Timeline Tags: Iran-Contra Affair

According to investigators working with Iran-Contra special prosecutor Lawrence Walsh (see December 19, 1986), the Iran-Contra affair is closely linked to the burgeoning scandal surrounding the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI—see Shortly After September 1, 1976, 1978-1982, 1981-1991, 1981-1983, 1984-1986, January 1985, December 12, 1985, February 1988-December 1992, March 1991-December 1992, and July 5, 1991.) Former government officials add that the CIA kept secret funds hidden in BCCI accounts, and used the monies to fund covert operations in Nicaragua and elsewhere. Investigators confirm that a US defense intelligence organization used BCCI to maintain a secret “slush fund” for financing covert operations. And, months before National Security Council (NSC) official Oliver North set up his network for diverting funds to the Contras (see December 6, 1985 and April 4, 1986), the NSC used BCCI to divert funds to the Contras (see Early 1986). [Time, 7/22/1991]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Bank of Credit and Commerce International, Oliver North, National Security Council, Lawrence E. Walsh, Contras

Timeline Tags: Iran-Contra Affair

A federal judge drops all charges against convicted felon Oliver North (see May-June, 1989). A federal appeals court had reversed part of North’s conviction and ordered the case returned to a US District Court for the remainder of the convictions. District Judge Gerhard Gesell, who presided over the original trial that found North guilty of three felonies, drops the charges after special prosecutor Lawrence Walsh says he is forced to abandon the prosecution of North. In order to testify before the Iran-Contra hearings (see July 7-10, 1987), North was granted limited immunity from prosecution, and Walsh says prosecutors will be unable to show that North’s immunity grant did not affect his trial testimony, and the testimony of witnesses in his earlier trials. The decision by Walsh and Gesell brings to an end five years of court proceedings against North, who calls himself “fully, completely” vindicated. Last week, former National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane, North’s former superior and mentor, testified that his testimony in North’s earlier trials had been heavily influenced by North’s testimony before Congress. President Bush says: “He’s been through enough. There was an appeal. He’s been let off. Now that’s the system of justice is working.… I’m very, very pleased.” Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole (R-KS) says the Walsh investigation should be closed down entirely, saying, “What have American taxpayers received for their $50 million?” referring to some estimates of the cost of the overall inquiry. “A lot of press releases. A lot of rumor and innuendo. But little in terms of justice.” Walsh, who had opposed immunity for North from the start of the investigations in 1987, says: “This is a very, very serious warning that immunity is not to be granted lightly. Now, I have never criticized Congress. I urged them not to grant immunity, but they have the very broad political responsibility for making a judgment as to whether it’s more important that the country hear the facts quickly or that they await a prosecution.” [New York Times, 9/17/1991] An outraged New York Times editorial says that North’s claim of complete exoneration is a “wild overstatement” and calls the reversal “a serious setback for another objective of democratic government: promptly to uncover the truth in high-profile cases and to prosecute them when necessary without sacrificing the Constitution’s privilege against compelled self-incrimination.” It concludes: “Mr. North can thank his battling lawyers and a fastidious judiciary for letting him beat the rap. That remains far short, however, of exoneration.” [New York Times, 9/17/1991]

Entity Tags: Oliver North, Robert C. McFarlane, Robert J. (“Bob”) Dole, Lawrence E. Walsh, New York Times

Timeline Tags: Iran-Contra Affair

Former Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams, facing multiple counts of lying under oath to Congress about, among other things, his knowledge of the US government’s involvement in the resupply operation to the Nicaraguan Contras (see October 10-15, 1986), his knowledge of the role played by former CIA agent Felix Rodriguez in the resupply (see December 17, 1986), and his knowledge of third-party funding of the Nicaraguan Contras (see November 25, 1986), agrees to plead guilty to two misdemeanor charges of withholding evidence from Congress. Abrams agrees to the plea after being confronted with reams of evidence about his duplicity by investigators for special prosecutor Lawrence Walsh as well as from testimony elicited during the House-Senate investigation of 1987 (see July 7-10, 1987) and the guilty plea and subsequent testimony of former CIA agent Alan Fiers (see July 17, 1991). Abrams pleads guilty to two counts of withholding information from Congress, to unlawfully withholding information from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the House Intelligence Committee, and admits lying when he claimed that he knew nothing of former National Security Council official Oliver North’s illegal diversion of government funds to the Contras (see December 6, 1985, April 4, 1986, and November 25-28, 1986). Abrams says that he lied because he believed “that disclosure of Lt. Col. [Oliver] North’s activities in the resupply of the Contras would jeopardize final enactment” of a $100 million appropriation pending in Congress at the time of his testimony, a request that was narrowly defeated (see March 1986). Abrams also admits to soliciting $10 million in aid for the Contras from the Sultan of Brunei (see June 11, 1986). [Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters: Chapter 25: United States v. Elliott Abrams: November 1986, 8/4/1993]

Entity Tags: Elliott Abrams, Alan Fiers, Contras, Felix Rodriguez, House Intelligence Committee, Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Lawrence E. Walsh

Timeline Tags: Iran-Contra Affair

Retired Colonel David Hackworth, a columnist for Newsweek, talks to PBS interviewer Charlie Rose about his recent interview with accused Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995 and April 21, 1995). Hackworth’s interview will result in a brief column (see July 3, 1995) and a cover story (see June 26, 1995), both of which engender tremendous controversy; critics have said that Hackworth has played into McVeigh’s lawyers’ efforts to “soften his image” (see June 26, 1995). Hackworth says that while he “expected to find a monster,” he found a normal young man, “disarming… laid back,” and a “very cool” person. “He came across as the boy that lived next door.” Hackworth says he set up the interview after sending McVeigh a copy of his book About Face, which interested McVeigh enough to have him and attorney Stephen Jones agree to the interview, McVeigh’s first after being arrested. McVeigh is “nothing like I had read in the press.” Rose asks how much of McVeigh’s presentation was “spin” to affect the press, and Hackworth says, “One hundred percent.… He knew that Newsweek talks to 20 million people, he knew that if he could project this kind of ‘boy next door’ image, it would hit the, uh, it might present a new twist on where he is coming from.… He handled himself very well.… He’s so smart that he’s capable of masterminding the operation, which a lot of people in the press said” he was too unintelligent to have done on his own. People in the Pentagon have told him, Hackworth says, that McVeigh could have been a brilliantly successful officer had he stayed in the military. Hackworth says that McVeigh refused to answer direct questions about his carrying out the bombing, instead saying, “We’re going to trial… we’re pleading not guilty.” He calls the bombing a “precise… military operation” that “wasn’t something a militia type, frothing at the mouth, could have put together.” The bombing was handled well, he says, up until McVeigh’s “bug out,” or escape: “To jump in that old car… and get stopped (see 9:03 a.m. -- 10:17 a.m. April 19, 1995) was a minor charge.” Asked what that says about McVeigh, Hackworth replies, “It was almost one of those odd coincidences that we saw in the Lee Harvey Oswald case [the purported assassin of President John F. Kennedy], you know, it was perfect except he’s got the wrong ammunition or something.” Hackworth reiterates his characterization in Newsweek of McVeigh suffering from a “postwar hangover,” a depression that ensued after the war ended and he lost his battlefield comrades (see November 1991 - Summer 1992); his judgment became clouded and his thinking became skewed. Hackworth says that McVeigh denies any miltia ties whatsoever, and denies ever claiming he was being held as a “prisoner of war,” as news reports have alleged. Hackworth says that McVeigh told him he was treated well by his jailers, but says that McVeigh asked why he was not given a bulletproof vest on his short walk from the Noble County Courthouse to his transport to the El Reno federal facility. Hackworth says that the blank, grim look on McVeigh’s face that has characterized him in the news is actually the “thousand-yard stare” that soldiers get when they are expecting to be shot. Hackworth says he expected to “push a button” by asking McVeigh about the Branch Davidian standoff and ultimate tragedy (see April 19, 1993 and April 19, 1993 and After), but McVeigh was not rattled. He concludes that when he interviewed accused Iran-Contra conspirator Oliver North (see May-June, 1989), he caught North in “a hundred lies,” but he did not catch McVeigh in a single lie. Either McVeigh was telling the truth, Hackworth says, or he is a masterful liar. [PBS, 6/26/1995]

Entity Tags: Charlie Rose, Timothy James McVeigh, El Reno Federal Corrections Center, David Hackworth

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Jury selection begins in the trial of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995 and August 10, 1995). Judge Richard Matsch has denied defense attempts to delay the trial after a brief controversy erupted over media reports using defense documents (see February 28 - March 4, 1997). “I have full confidence that a fair-minded jury can and will be impaneled and that those selected will return a just verdict based on the law and evidence presented to them,” Matsch wrote on March 17. Jurors’ identities are kept hidden from the press. One potential juror, asked by US Attorney Patrick Ryan, “Did you watch a lot of the coverage?” answers: “It was unavoidable. In Oklahoma, it was wall to wall and floor to ceiling.” Another potential juror says he worries about his safety in regards to what he will learn in the course of the trial: “It would seem this case goes further, wider, and deeper in many ways. A juror is going to be an insider on information he might just as soon not know.” [Washington Post, 3/18/1997; New York Times, 4/1/1997; Douglas O. Linder, 2001] The pressure of this being a death-penalty trial, and the prospect of potentially confusing forensic evidence countered by the raw emotions of the bombing itself and of the conspiracy theories surrounding the proceedings, raises oft-asked questions about the competence of 12 jurors to find the truth in such a complex situation. The difference between an open-minded juror and one who is ignorant or intellectually challenged is difficult for lawyers and observers to assess. New York Times reporter Laura Mansnerus reflects on the trial of Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North, charged with crimes relating to the Iran-Contra scandal (see July 7-10, 1987 and May-June, 1989), in which, she writes: “When the jury was selected for the 1989 trial of Oliver North, a search went out for 12 people who knew nothing about Oliver North, which produced, well, 12 people who knew nothing about Oliver North. One person who qualified for service said she had seen him on television, but added, ‘It was just like I was focusing on the Three Stooges or something.’” That ill-informed jury proved remarkably pliable to North’s theatrics, Mansnerus writes, and many believe McVeigh’s defense team hopes for a similar jury pool that may be willing to set aside scientific evidence in favor of conspiracy theories and emotional pleas. Jury expert Jeffrey Abramson of Brandeis University tells Mansnerus: “In a case that’s heavy on scientific, forensic evidence, the defense is going to favor people who are less sophisticated about scientific matters and who are prone to conspiracy theories. That’s the classic defense approach.” Philadelphia prosecutor Jack McMahon warned in a well-known 1986 instructional video of the pitfalls that can result in letting “smart people” on the jury, saying: “Smart people will analyze the hell out of your case. They have a higher standard. They take those words ‘reasonable doubt’ and they actually try to think about them. You don’t want those people.” Moreover, people with jobs requiring any real level of responsibility are routinely excused from jury service; this case is no exception, leaving a pool of jurors with little or no steady employment, spotty educational status, and somtimes limited intellectual capabilities to judge McVeigh’s innocence or guilt. [New York Times, 4/6/1997]

Entity Tags: Jeffrey Abramson, Timothy James McVeigh, Jack McMahon, Patrick M. Ryan, Laura Mansnerus, Richard P. Matsch

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Legal and media analysts say the trial of convicted Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (see June 2, 1997) never captured the public’s attention the way some other trials have in recent years. “Maybe it was the absence of cameras in the courtroom,” writes the New York Times’s Bill Dedman. “Maybe the outcome never seemed in doubt. Maybe it was the numerousness of the victims or the nobodyness of the defendant or the mind-numbing horror of the event.” Dedman compares the public interest in the McVeigh trial to the far more sensational, media-saturated trials of acquitted murder suspect O.J. Simpson and the Los Angeles police officers acquitted of beating motorist Rodney King. The McVeigh trial did not attract anywhere near the media and public interest of those two trials, Dedman asserts, based on numerous polls and focus group studies. The McVeigh trial did not even garner the same level of interest as the Oliver North Iran-Contra trial (see July 7-10, 1987 and May-June, 1989). Jeffrey Toobin, a legal analyst for ABC News who wrote a best-selling book on the Simpson case, says: “It’s not that people are uninterested in this story. It’s just that it’s just another story. I’m certainly not writing a book about the McVeigh case.” Polls show that 30 percent of Americans followed the McVeigh case “very closely,” a number not significantly higher than the interest showed in most big news stories, and far lower than the public interest in the Simpson and King trials. Andrew Kohut, director of the Pew Center, says: “There is not the manic interest there was in O.J. at certain points in time. I don’t think people are swept up in the emotion of this. That’s for sure.” Merrill Brown of MSNBC’s Internet news service calls the McVeigh trial one of “the top half-dozen” stories he could recall in the network’s Internet news coverage. “It has not changed people’s lives, like the Simpson case,” Brown says. “It has not reached into the nation’s consciousness like Rodney King or William Kennedy Smith [a member of the Kennedy family accused of rape] or any trial that received national notoriety as a result of cameras.” Most media news outlets covered the McVeigh trial steadily, but with few pre-emptions and special reports. Neither Time nor Newsweek featured the trial as a cover story, and supermarket tabloids paid little attention to the trial. The most obvious reason for the relative lack of media coverage is the lack of cameras in the courtroom. Dedman writes: “As a result, people never got to scrutinize the witnesses’ demeanor, study the prosecutor’s hair style and wardrobe, hear the judge’s voice, watch the lawyers bicker, see the defendant react—all those things that… turned the Simpson case from a trial into a drama.” Media psychology professor Stuart Fischoff says: “I think America has very quickly adapted to a sense of judicial activities as entertainment. [Americans now] expect to see their trials on television” so they can become “hooked.” The trial also lacked the salacious and controversial elements of other trials: unlike the Simpson case, there was virtually no sexual content, nor was there the overt racism that permeated the King trial. And unlike Simpson and Smith, no celebrities or wealthy persons were involved. Fischoff says of McVeigh: “There’s nothing particularly interesting about him. He’s not particularly handsome, he’s not particularly verbal, he’s not particularly horrible. He’s not [convicted serial killer and cannibal] Jeffrey Dahmer; you really can’t love to hate this guy. There’s no Darth Vader quotient.” And though the victims evoked considerable sympathy among Americans, they did not evoke fascination such as the victims in the Simpson murders. Observers such as CNN’s Greta van Susteren have said the victims’ stories were just too painful to contemplate for long; others have said there were too many victims for Americans to focus upon. [New York Times, 6/4/1997]

Entity Tags: Merrill Brown, Andrew Kohut, Bill Dedman, Stuart Fischoff, Greta Van Susteren, Timothy James McVeigh, Jeffrey Toobin

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

The Bush White House alleges that officials and aides from the outgoing Clinton administration vandalized the White House in the last days before Bush officials took over. Conservative news site NewsMax reports that the “slovenly misfits” of the Clinton administration “left the [White House] in a shambles” in the transition between the outgoing Clinton administration and the incoming Bush administration. Clinton aides engaged in “deliberate vandalism,” the report says, and cites a General Services Administration (GSA) official estimating that it may cost up to $250,000 to repair the damage. NewsMax quotes a report by another conservative publication, the American Spectator, which itself quotes “an inspector… called in to assess the vandalism as saying that several executive desks were damaged to the point that they must be replaced, and several more offices must be repainted because of graffiti.” [Guardian, 1/26/2001; NewsMax, 1/26/2001] Conservative Internet gossip writer Matt Drudge reports that “White House offices [were] left ‘trashed’” and so-called “[p]orn bombs [and] lewd messages” were left behind. No explanation of what Drudge meant by the “porn bomb” allegation is ever given. [Chicago Sun-Times, 1/27/2001] The allegations of vandalism and theft will prove to be almost entirely false (see February 8, 2001, February 14, 2001, and May 18, 2001).
Gore's Staffers Charged with Worst of Vandalism - British newspaper The Guardian repeats earlier claims that the worst of the damage was found in offices once occupied by staffers for former Vice President Al Gore, and that Gore’s wife, Tipper, has phoned Lynne Cheney, the wife of Vice President Dick Cheney, to apologize for the damage. The story is false (see January 24, 2001). [Guardian, 1/26/2001]
Reports: Cut Phone Lines, Extensive Damage, Pornographic Photos - Both the Washington Post and The Guardian report allegations that computer and telephone lines were “sliced,” voice-mail messages were changed to “obscene remarks and lewd greetings,” desks were overturned, and trash strewn throughout the premises. The reports add that filing cabinets were glued shut with Superglue, pornographic photographs displayed in printers, and “filthy graffiti scrawled on at least one hallway wall.” The Spectator’s inspector adds that “[e]ntire computer keyboards will have to be replaced because the damage to them is more extensive than simply missing keys,” referring to allegations that some White House keyboards had the “W” keys pried off. The Spectator also reports tales of former Clinton staffers reportedly “laughing and giggling about the mess their former colleagues left behind.” A Bush White House official calls the White House “a pigsty” in the aftermath of the transition. “The Gore and Clinton people didn’t ‘clean out’ the place because there was nothing clean about what they did before they left.” The GSA will pursue the former Clinton officials for reimbursement and expenses. The Spectator reports that “investigators” conclude the damage was “the result of a carefully organized campaign of vandalism unlike anything ever seen in the aftermath of a presidential transition.” [NewsMax, 1/26/2001; Guardian, 1/26/2001; Washington Post, 1/26/2001] The New York Daily News reports, “The destruction was so vast that a telecommunications staffer with more than a quarter-century of service was seen sobbing near his office one night last week.” [New York Daily News, 1/27/2001] CNN’s Paula Zahn observes: “All right, but this is the White House, for God’s sakes. We’re not talking about people living in a fraternity.” [Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, 5/21/2001] Fox News is particularly vehement in its coverage. “They trash[ed] the place,” says Fox commentator Sean Hannity. ”$200,000 in furniture [was] taken out.” Fellow Fox commentator Oliver North (see May-June, 1989) adds: “We should expect from white trash what they did at the White House.… I recommend that what the Bush White House do is peel the wallpaper off that they defaced with their graffiti and ship it off to the Clinton Library so people can see it.” Fox host Bill O’Reilly says, “I mean, the price tag right now is about $200,000, so that’s a felony right there.” And O’Reilly guest Tom Schatz says, referring to the famous film about fraternity life, “They turned it into Animal House.” [Knight Ridder, 2/8/2001; Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, 5/21/2001]
Air Force One 'Stripped Bare,' Reports Claim - The Guardian also reports that during former President Clinton’s last trip in Air Force One, the presidential jet was subjected to what it calls “an orgy of pilfering” (see January 25-27, 2001). It was “stripped bare” by aides, who reportedly took china, silverware, salt and pepper shakers, and other items, most bearing the presidential seal. [Guardian, 1/26/2001] On Fox, Hannity charges, “They strip[ped] Air Force One of the china and everything else that wasn’t bolted down.” [Knight Ridder, 2/8/2001]
Clinton Officials Admit to 'Pranks,' Bush Officials Allege Attempts at Theft - Clinton and Gore officials deny the reports of vandalism, but admit to carrying out pranks such as removing the “W” keys and affixing satirical signs to office doors that read, “Office of Strategery,” “Office of Subliminable Messages,” and “Division of Uniting.” A former Clinton official says, “It’s childish, but it’s also funny.” However, a senior Bush official accuses Clinton staffers of attempting to steal White House paintings and official seals from doors, and attempting to have those items shipped to themselves; Bush officials have ordered that all packages leaving the White House be X-rayed. [Washington Post, 1/26/2001]
Bush Aide Documenting Damages - A Bush White House aide has been delegated to document the vandalism, videos are being taken of the damages, and White House officials are being interviewed. White House press secretary Ari Fleischer has confirmed that the administration is reviewing reports of the alleged vandalism. [NewsMax, 1/26/2001] Bush himself downplays the reports, saying: “There might have been a prank or two, maybe somebody put a cartoon on the wall, but that’s okay. It’s time now to move forward.” [New York Daily News, 1/27/2001]

Entity Tags: Mary Elizabeth (“Tipper”) Gore, Sean Hannity, Matt Drudge, New York Daily News, Paula Zahn, Oliver North, Lynne Cheney, NewsMax, The Guardian, Fox News, General Services Administration, Albert Arnold (“Al”) Gore, Jr., American Spectator, George W. Bush, Ari Fleischer, Bush administration (43), Bill O’Reilly, Tom Schatz, Clinton administration, Washington Post

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

Former Marine colonel and convicted felon Oliver North (see May-June, 1989), now a conservative radio host, is embedded with a Marine unit by Fox News. North reports “rumors” that French officials at the Embassy in Baghdad are destroying documents proving French complicity in Iraq’s chemical—and biological—weapons programs. The report is quickly proven false. Fox spokeswoman Irena Steffen tells a newspaper that North is “a military contributor to Fox. He is neither a reporter nor a correspondent.” [New Yorker, 5/26/2003]

Entity Tags: Oliver North, Fox News, Irena Steffen

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation, Domestic Propaganda

Lewis Libby’s defense team reiterates its demand for the disclosure of 10 months’ worth of Presidential Daily Briefings, or PDBs, some of the most highly classified of government documents (see December 14, 2005, January 9, 2006, and January 23, 2006). Defense lawyer John Cline has said he wants the information in part to compensate for what he says is Libby’s imperfect recollection of conversations he had with Vice President Dick Cheney and other government officials regarding CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson (see October 14, 2003, November 26, 2003, March 5, 2004, and March 24, 2004). In documents filed with the court, Libby’s lawyers argue, “Mr. Libby will show that, in the constant rush of more pressing matters, any errors he made in FBI interviews or grand jury testimony, months after the conversations, were the result of confusion, mistake, faulty memory, rather than a willful intent to deceive” (see January 31, 2006). Special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald has already informed Cline that his office has only “received a very discrete amount of material relating to PDBs” and “never requested copies of PDBs” themselves, in part because “they are extraordinarily sensitive documents which are usually highly classified.” Furthermore, Fitzgerald wrote that only a relatively small number of the PDB information he has received refers to Joseph Wilson’s trip to Niger (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002). Cline is considered an expert in using “graymail” techniques—demanding the broad release of classified documents from the government, and, when those requests are denied, demanding dismissal of charges against his client. He was successful at having the most serious charges dismissed against an earlier client, former Colonel Oliver North, in the Iran-Contra trials (see May-June, 1989). [US District Court for the District of Columbia, 1/31/2006 pdf file; National Journal, 2/6/2006]

Entity Tags: Valerie Plame Wilson, John Cline, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Retired Republican Senator Warren Rudman, the former co-chairman of Congress’s Iran-Contra investigation (see July 7-10, 1987), says that today’s White House officials are little different in at least one respect to the Reagan-era officials who constantly leaked information to the press, then claimed Congress leaked so much information that it was unfit to be trusted with the nation’s secrets. “Just look at the case now with that CIA agent [Valerie] Plame [Wilson],” Rudman says. “God forbid anyone did that on the Hill, there would be hell to pay. The administration would be lining up howitzers on the White House lawn to fire at the Capitol.” [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 76-77]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Warren Rudman, Valerie Plame Wilson

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

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