Baker Confident That Reagan Has Surmounted Iran-Contra Revelations
WASHINGTON (AP) _ White House chief of staff Howard H. Baker Jr. voiced confidence Sunday that President Reagan has surmounted the most serious Iran-Contra revelations and said he doubts that any testimony by former Reagan aides will change that.
Baker said he assumes the affair is not over, but that ″I’m convinced the president is telling the truth″ when Reagan denies having known about the purported diversion of arms money to Nicaraguan rebels.
″I’ve looked very hard since I’ve been there to see if there are any other major new occurrences that the president is going to have to deal with, facts surrounding the Iran thing, that have to be coped with, and I haven’t found any,″ said Baker, who became White House chief of staff, replacing Donald T. Regan, at the end of February.
Interviewed on ABC-TV’s ″This Week with David Brinkley″ from his vacation condominium in Florida, Baker said, ″I’m convinced that we are not likely to have any big new devastating development,″ even when former national security adviser John M. Poindexter and former National Security Council deputy Oliver L. North begin to talk.
Reagan, returning to the White House from Camp David, Md., Sunday, did not respond to questions about a U.S. News & World Report story that said the United States and Israel had been taken advantage of by Iran’s revolutionary leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
In other developments in the Iran-Contra affair:
-Manucher Ghorbanifar, a middleman in the Iran arms deals, says he will testify before the joint congressional committees to reveal ″who are the liars and where the money is.″
″Everything that was suppressed will come out. From A to Z,″ Ghorbanifar said in an interview for Monday’s editions of The Washington Times.
The special Senate and House investigating committees are scheduled to open hearings on the affair May 5. Ghorbanifar did not say when he would testify, but he said he would tell the panels ″what really happened″ in the clandestine arms deals that ultimately embarrassed the administration and left millions of dollars unaccounted for. The Iranian arms dealer has been labeled in U.S. intelligence reports as ″a talented fabricator.″
-Alfonso Robelo, one of three leaders of the Contra umbrella organization, confirmed in a telephone interview from San Jose, Costa Rica, a report that North arranged for two Nicaraguan exile groups to receive about $100,000 in private donations.
Robelo, asked about a report in The Washington Post over the weekend, said North told him only the money came from ″private donations.″ Robelo said the money was used to pay for an office, telephone bills, travel and similar items.
Meanwhile, House Speaker Jim Wright, D-Texas, complained that the Iran affair is overshadowing other important national issues such as the need for additional tax revenue to pay off growing federal deficits.
Appearing on CBS-TV’s ″Face the Nation,″ Wright discounted a report that the Iran incident grew out of a scheme, mounted by Khomeini, to use the United States and Israel to get weapons badly needed in his country’s war against Iraq.
Baker said he felt that Reagan went a long way toward resolving public doubts about his leadership when he answered questions Thursday night at his news conference.
But Sen. David Boren, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said he thought Reagan possibly went too far in vehemently denying that he had ever been told that the Iranian arms sales were having a beneficial effect on the Nicaraguan Contra rebels.
Interviewed on the syndicated television show, ″John McLaughlin: One-on- One,″ Boren, D-Okla., said, ″I think the thing that surprised me the most was the intensity with which he said, ‘No one ever told me about the diversion.’ Yet the president was so emphatic on that point. He gave himself very little wiggle room.″
″I must say ... having run an office myself ... there are times when things are mentioned to you, you don’t understand the importance of them, the implications of them″ at the time, Boren said, adding that the congressional committees are going to ″hone in″ on the question of the possible diversion of money and whether Reagan ordered it or was informed of it.
At his news conference Thursday night, Reagan said without qualification that he had not been informed of the Contra connection, holding to his oft- stated contention that he first learned of the arms-and-money link when informed of it on Nov. 24, 1986, by Attorney General Edwin Meese III.
Reagan, reminded that he had acknowledged being unable to remember the precise date on which he authorized the first shipments of arms to Tehran, was asked if it was possible he could have forgotten about having been told about the Contra connection.
″Oh no,″ he replied. ″You would have heard me from (the Oval Office) ... without opening the door to the office, if I had been told that at any time. No. And I still do not have the answer to that money.″
There has been recurring speculation that Poindexter, recently reduced in rank from vice admiral to rear admiral, was preparing a defense on which he would maintain that he was acting at Reagan’s behest, and that the president had been told of the diversion. There have been reports, too, that North, who was fired last Nov. 25, the same day that Poindexter’s resignation was announced, would say he was only following orders.
Both North and Poindexter believe they were patriots carrying out Reagan’s policies in the interest of national security, The New York Times quoted friends and associates of the pair as saying in an article published Sunday.
Asked about this, Baker noted that Reagan in December had asked Congress to grant limited immunity to get testimony from his two former aides, and Baker said ″that’s not the action of a man who is greatly concerned with what they’ve got to say.″
″The other side of that coin is, what will North and Poindexter say, some fear, to save their own skin,″ Baker said, adding:
″But I don’t believe that. I think that both Admiral Poindexter and Colonel North are patriotic Americans, and I don’t believe for one moment that they’re going to fabricate or fudge on the facts in order to save their own skin at the expense of the president. I think they’re too loyal for that and too patriotic for that.″
Both Poindexter and North have taken the Fifth Amendment so far, citing their constitutional right against self-incrimination. Retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Richard V. Secord, reportedly a close North associate, also has refused to testify, and the Senate last week voted to hold Secord in contempt for refusing to allow investigators access to Swiss bank accounts that may shed some light on the money angle.
In another development Sunday, Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger, appearing on NBC-TV’s ″Meet the Press,″ said the Tower commission’s conclusion that he and Secretary of State George P. Shultz distanced themselves from the Iranian policy ″was simply wrong.″
Weinberger said he was thankful that Reagan had taken issue with that finding.
In his March 14 radio address to the nation, Reagan said both Weinberger and Shultz advised him against the policy and that he had overruled them. ″They were right and I was wrong,″ the president said.