Lawmakers Setting Up Machinery for Iran-Contra Probes
Jan. 07, 1987
WASHINGTON (AP) _ A new Congress formally chartered the first of a pair of Iran-Contra investigative panels Tuesday, while Attorney General Edwin Meese III pledged Justice Department cooperation with an outside counsel's quest to get to the bottom of the arms-and-money scheme.
"Our first duty in this new Congress is the restoration of public trust in the formulation of American foreign policy," said Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D- W.Va., the majority leader in the new Democrat-controlled Senate, as the body opened for business.
Senators voted 88-4 to establish an 11-member panel which is expected to begin holding public hearings in mid-February into the allegations that proceeds from clandestine sales of U.S. arms to Iran were used to benefit the Nicaraguan rebels known as Contras.
"The Iran misadventure has hurt the presidency, made a shambles of American foreign policy and called into question just how our foreign policy is formulated and implemented," Byrd said.
Meanwhile, the former chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee said that panel's probe last month in secret hearings found no evidence that President Reagan knew about the diversion of money to Nicaraguan rebels, but did not conclusively answer that question.
"Unless Ollie North testifies, they'll never get the answer to, 'Did Ronald Reagan know?'" said Sen. David Durenberger, R-Minn., in a reference to the fired National Security Council aide.
Partisan tensions were already becoming apparent over the Iran issue and its potential for affecting the 1988 presidential elections, and Sen. Bob Dole, R-Kan., now the minority leader in the 100th Congress, urged colleagues not to be consumed by the Iran-Contra issue to the exclusion of other issues.
"There are too many other problems, domestic and foreign, problems that are not going to go away," Dole said. "They cannot, and should not, be swept aside because of an obsession with the Iranian affair."
A few blocks west of the Capitol, Meese agreed to an extensive widening of the crimial investigation by independent counsel Lawrence E. Walsh.
The 74-year-old Walsh met briefly with Meese, then held extensive discussions with two top Meese deputies, Associated Attorney General Stephen Trott and Assistant Attorney General William Weld, who heads Justice's criminal division.
In an interview afterward, Walsh said, "The attorney general has turned over to me all of those matters which are within the scope of the (court) order appointing me and has agreed to receive back from me those matters which I think would be better handled in the regular course by him."
Said Justice Department spokesman Patrick Korten: "We offered him everything. Anything he wants, he can have. The decision is his."
After the meeting, the department issued a statement saying that "arrangements were made to cooperate fully with the office of independent counsel and to receive back from him any matter which upon his review is determined to be outside the scope of his jurisdiction."
In Marinette, Wis., Ernest Pleger, an attorney for convicted gun-runner Eugene Hasenfus, said his client was questioned by FBI agents working for Walsh.
Pleger said that agents of the U.S. Customs Service also would question Hasenfus, 45, who was a crew member of a cargo plane that was shot down in Nicaragua Oct. 5 while delivering supplies to the Contras. Hasenfus was captured Oct. 6 and sentenced to 30 years in prison, but was pardoned and returned home Dec. 18.
At Georgetown University Hospital, officials said that CIA Director William J. Casey, who appeared before congressional committees last month to discuss the Iran-Contra affair, remains in stable condition and "continues to convalesce" from Dec. 18 surgery to remove a brain tumor.
But the hospital statement acknowledged, for the first time, that the spy chief "has been experiencing speech difficulties and right-side weakness. Both of these functions have been slowly improving since the surgery. He has begun radiation therapy which will continue for a number of weeks for treatment of his lymphoma."
And at the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger expressed doubts that profits from the sale of U.S. weapons to Iran actually had been provided to the U.S.-backed Contra rebels.
Weinberger, in an interview with a group of reporters, said "I think it's a possiblity" that the money never made it to the guerrillas. At this point, he said, the only evidence that such a transfer took place have been statements by Lt. Col. Oliver L. North to Attorney General Edwin Meese III.
"I think we're all assuming that what he said was true," Weinberger said of North. "And nobody knows that yet. I understand the Contras have denied receiving it."
Vice President George Bush, asked whether he agreed with Weinberger, said, "I am inclined to feel that way, based on some information." Bush spoke to reporters after visiting the president at Bethesda Naval Hospital, where is recovering from prostate surgery.
North was fired as a National Security Council staff deputy on Nov. 25, and he has cited his Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination in refusing to give testimony to congressional committees.
The House also was preparing to take up its own legislation on Wednesday to create a 15-member parallel panel to report no later than Oct. 30, 1987.
Senate Republicans worried that permitting the panel to issue its final report on Oct. 30, as originally envisioned, would drag the controversy into 1988, a presidential election year.
GOP lawmakers also continued to press for public release of a 133-page report by the Senate Intelligence Committee which the panel had voted 7-6 not to release the report late Monday.
Byrd strongly objected to release of the report, saying it had been ''sanitized'' by the administration and that at least one unclassified section had been deleted from the proposed report. ''Why all the hurry? Everything is going to be revealed ... Let's not get in too big a rush here.''
Durenberger, R-Minn., former Intelligence Committee chairman, said the deleted material, about four pages, was not particularly embarrassing to the White House, but was excised because it came from staff investigators rather than direct testimony, and said that not all members of the panel were familiar with it.
Durenberger said the panel's investigation concluded that $8.5 million in proceeds from the Iranian arms sale was deposited in a Swiss bank account for use by the Nicaraguan Contra rebels. However, the question of what happened to the money remains unanswered because of the lack of quick access to bank records.
Also unanswered by the 133-page report is the question of what became of $10 million that U.S. officials solicited from the Sultan of Brunei to aid the rebels, Durenberger said.
Durenberger said enough pressure had been generated as the new Congress convened Tuesday to force Democrats to eventually make it public. He predicted the report would be out at least by Jan. 20.
Opponents of releasing the report want to hamstring Reagan and keep the issue alive as long as possible, he said. ''They don't want him to be president for at least another year, at least until August,'' Durenberger said.
Dole also objected to a provision that would let the committee investigate private fund-raising efforts aimed at helping the Contras in their war against Nicaragua's leftist Sandinista government.
''If there is going to be an investigation of private contributions to the Contras, then we think it ought to include private contributions to the Sandinistas,'' Dole said.
Sen. David Boren, D-Okla., the current Intelligence Committee chairman, told Dole the panel would try to make public as much information ''as quickly as we can.''
Following adoption of the resolution setting up the special Senate select committee, the White House issued a statement saying it welcomed the language in the legislation that states a report should be prepared. ''We look for its prompt release,'' the statement said.
Byrd said the select committee would undertake a careful investigation and present its findings only after a full and complete picture is pieced together.
''The charge of the Senate select committee is to discover the facts, to ascertain if any laws have been broken, and to present its findings in such a way that there will be no lingering doubts in the minds of the American people,'' the West Virginia Democrat said.
At the White House, spokesman Larry Speakes reiterated Tuesday that Reagan is ''outraged'' at the Intelligence Committee's refusal to release its preliminary report on the Iran-Contra affair.
Bush echoed this view, telling reporters, ''I wish that the full Senate would vote to release that Senate Intelligence Committee report.''
''Here's a way to start getting this behind us,'' Bush said. ''Release that Senate report. And there's no reason in the world for that report not to be released.''
Speakes said White House officials believe that the testimony before the committee ''reveals that there are errors in fact'' in a chronology that North prepared detailing evolution of the secret arms sales to Iran.
''At the same time we don't object to those errors in fact being pointed out by testimony and conclusions reached by the committee,'' Speakes added.
''The reason we haven't released the chronology of Oliver North in its entirety is because we thought the document might . . . contain errors in fact, even though those errors might support the president's position,'' the spokesman said.
He said White House officials ''were suspicious'' of the chronology, had talked to people who ''have different recollections'' and found that ''the preponderance of evidence'' favored what they said.
But when asked whether North lied, he answered, ''I'm not prepared to say that.''
The New York Times, in its Wednesday editions, quoted White House officials as asserting that the chronologies show North falsified information on the secret arms sales to Iran to suggest prior approval by Reagan. The administration has said that Reagan did not approve arms sales to Iran until after the first one had been made in September 1985.
Speakes also said that examination of a shredding machine in North's office after he left showed that no substantial amount of documentation had been destroyed, and that th White House believes it has all of the documents involved in the case.
''We are not aware of any missing documents,'' he said. ''If there was shredding, it was very little.'' Speakes said a search of documents had failed to disclose any references to other documents that could not be found.
Bush, asked why the White House did not release the chronology, said, ''I'll look into that; I don't know the answer to it.''
He said it would be ''a good question for us to ask Dave Abshire (the new White House counselor on the Iran-Contra scandal), who has hit the ground running.''
In other developments:
-Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, D-Conn., introduced a bill to cut off U.S. military aid for the Contra rebels. Dodd, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee's subcommittee on western hemispheric affairs, said his measure would bar further military aid to the Contras and would prohibit the Reagan administration from spending much of the remainder of the $100 million appropriated last year for Contra aid.
-The Senate Foreign Relations Committee scheduled hearings beginning Jan. 14 on U.S. policy toward Iran, with witnesses to include former secretaries of state Cyrus Vance and Henry Kissinger and former national security adviser Robert C. McFarlane.
In succeeding weeks, the panel will hear from Deputy CIA Director Robert Gates, Attorney General Edwin Meese III and Secretary of State George P. Shultz. The committee also will invite representatives a presidential commission now looking into operations of the National Security Council staff.
''It is my hope that the ... hearings will focus attention on the Iran policy itself, the very premises of which warrant careful scrutiny,'' said Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Claiborne Pell, D-R.I.
-Bosco Matamoros, a spokesman for the Contras, said the financial records in the rebels' Washington office have disappeared and apparently were stolen. ''It appears to have been a very, very selective search by whomever did it,'' said Matamoros, who said the papers included ledgers for the past several years, copies of checks from private U.S. donors and receipts for payments made by the group.
He said he discovered the absence of the papers when he returned to the office after the Christmas holidays, finding the door to the office unlocked. There have been similar incidents reported recently at the offices of other groups and persons associated with the Contra issue.