Reagan, Saying Iran-Contra Affair Is Settled, Looks to Future
WASHINGTON (AP) _ President Reagan, pressing a campaign to get the spotlight off the Iran- Contra affair, says he is concentrating on what his administration will accomplish in the future and not dwelling on the crisis.
The president, addressing hundreds of cheering administration appointees on Monday, said that for four months the White House has ″endured a relentless barrage″ and ″ceaseless attack″ that weakened his support in Congress.
″But now we’ve heard from the Tower board and we have a clear account of what took place instead of a barrage of speculation, assumptions and rumors,″ Reagan added.
″We can get on with the business that brought us here and institutionalize the improvements that we’ve made so that someone doesn’t take us back down the spend-and-spend, tax-and-tax path we were on for a century or so,″ he said.
Invoking a football metaphor, the president said that for his remaining two years in office, ″We’re not about to fall on the ball and wait for the clock to run out. Instead, we’re going to have the greatest fourth quarter in presidential history.″
Reagan spoke as congressional auditors released a report saying the Pentagon gave the CIA a $2.1 million discount on anti-tank missiles that ultimately were sold to Iran.
However, the report from the General Accounting Office - the investigative arm of Congress - said there was no apparent effort to intentionally lower the price of the weapons to create a slush fund to aid the Nicaraguan Contra rebels.
Iran paid more than $20 million for the missiles, according to the Tower commission report, and at times complained about overcharges. Special congressional investigative committees are probing allegations that some of the payments were diverted to the Contras.
The report also concluded that the president - and not Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger or other Pentagon officials - is responsibile for not having told Congress about the arms sale to Iran.
″The president’s finding shifted any responsibility for congressional notification from the agencies to the president,″ the report said, referring to Reagan’s approval of the sale.
The Tower commission, which Reagan appointed to study the activities of the National Security Council, concluded that the Iran-Contra affair, in some respects, ″still is an enigma″ and that ″the whole story cannot be fully explained.″
It said Reagan was not aware of the way the arms-for-hostages deals were being carried out and did not recognize their consequences.
Nonetheless, Reagan, referring to the episode Monday as ″one of the more frustrating times of this or any administration,″ increasingly has been trying to demonstrate that he has not been hobbled by the controversy.
In other developments on Monday:
-Former classmates and colleagues of Marine Lt. Col. Oliver L. North and Rear Adm. John M. Poindexter said money is flowing in for the legal-defense expenses of the two embattled officers - $65,000 so far in unsolicited contributions for North and an undisclosed amount for Poindexter. Poindexter, Reagan’s former national security adviser, and North, Poindexter’s aide, have emerged as key figures in the controversy.
-The Senate investigating committee said retired Maj. Gen. Richard V. Secord had been given until April 6 to file a response in U.S. District Court to the panel’s request that he be cited for civil contempt for not authorizing release of overseas bank records related to the affair. Oral arguments were scheduled for April 14.
Today, The Los Angeles Times, quoting unidentified American and European sources, said independent counsel Lawrence E. Walsh and the Senate Iran-Contra committee are investigating a CIA purchase of $1.2 million in smuggled weapons from two men involved with North in the Iranian arms dealing.
The story said investigators are questioning whether the CIA made the unusual purchase last September as a financial reward for Secord and Iranian- American businessman Albert Hakim.
In the speech Monday at Constitution Hall, Reagan talked mostly of his intention to veto any tax increase Congress might pass, made another pitch for his ″Star Wars″ missile defense plan - formally called the Strategic Defense Initiative - and said he is hopeful that the Democratic-controlled Congress can be persuaded to continue sending U.S. aid to the rebels in Nicaragua.
Reagan’s effort to revitalize his presidency comes as special congressional investigating panels are taking testimony in secret from various players in the Iran-Contra affair. A tight lid has been clamped on the committees’ work and little is expected to be heard from the investigators until public hearings begin in May.
The GAO report, part of the overall congressional investigation, said the Army used the wrong price in figuring its costs for the missiles sent to the CIA.
While the Army charged the spy agency $7.3 million, the price should have been $9.4 million to cover all costs for hardware, transportation and handling, the investigators said.
Pricing for other weapons sold to Iran as part of an arms-for-hostages deal - nearly 4,000 spare parts for Hawk anti-aircraft missiles - was done fairly accurately, the GAO concluded.