Violating Boland Amendment Could Be Impeachable Offense, Scholar Says
WASHINGTON (AP) _ President Reagan may have committed an impeachable offense if he authorized a violation of a congressional ban on aid to Nicaraguan rebels, says a leading constitutional scholar.
However, House Speaker Jim Wright, though accusing the administration of ″systematically″ violating the ban, says neither Congress nor the American people want impeachment.
Reagan, for his part, says the ban didn’t apply to him but that he didn’t violate it in any case.
Professor Laurence H. Tribe of Harvard University Law School disputed the administration’s contention that the president is not bound by the Boland amendment, the law that barred U.S. assistance to the Nicaraguan Contras.
Tribe said Reagan broke the law if he encouraged his National Security Council aides to raise and funnel money to the rebels, or even if he failed to prevent such activities.
″In other words, if the puppets are subject to the law and violate it, the puppet master cannot escape accountability,″ Tribe said.
″Therein lies what appears to be the most serious breach of duty by the president - a breach that may well entail an impeachable abuse of power, however politically unlikely impeachment of this affable officeholder may be.″
Reagan expressed his view on the Boland amendment last week, telling reporters, ″It so happens that it does not apply to me, but I have never done anything that encroaches on or violates it.″
House Speaker Jim Wright said Thursday the Reagan administration ″systematically violated″ the Boland amendment, which he said applies to the National Security Council and was ″clearly prohibitive enough that it proscribed the kinds of things that were done ... by members of the executive branch of government.″
Asked if such actions were impeachable, Wright said he is not suggesting impeachment and neither Congress nor the public wants to see that pursued.
″I do not want to provoke a confrontation. I’m trying to give good advice as to how a constitutional confrontation can be avoided,″ he said.
Tribe made his statement in an opinion column in Wednesday’s editions of The New York Times.
In an interview, Tribe said Reagan might even have violated the Boland amendment if he gave ″a signal″ to the NSC that the amendment was a ″nettlesome constraint″ that should be ignored and then, in effect, said, ″I don’t want to know any more″ about his aides’ activities.
″It should be obvious ... this is a deliberate scheme to evade (the law) and is a serious abuse of power,″ Tribe said.
He added in the Times column, ″When the president’s status as a perpetually bemused and patriotic outsider is transformed from a political stance into a shield against the rule of law, a constitutional crisis is at hand.″
Tribe, the author of an oft-quoted textbook on the Constitution, has been a leading critic of Reagan administration policies and positions on various legal issues.
The administration and its defenders say the Boland amendment’s ban on aid to the Contras by ″any agency or entity involved in intelligence activities″ does not apply to Reagan or the NSC staff. And if it was intended to apply, that would be unconstitutional, they say.
For example, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said Congress may not ″dictate terms and conditions of foreign policy″ to the president. He said that would amount to ″an unconstitutional encroachment on the presidential prerogatives and power.″
Hatch said the president is ″the sole person to whom our Constitution gives the responsibility for conducting foreign relations.″
The Boland amendment, sponsored by Rep. Edward Boland, D-Mass., was passed in October 1984 as Congress sought to cut off assistance to the Contras and enforce an earlier ban against U.S. efforts to overthrow the Sandinista government in Nicaragua.
The law remained in effect, in one form or another, from October 1984 through September 1986.
The current congressional investigation into the Iran-Contra affair is focusing on alleged attempts to circumvent the ban during that period by officials including Marine Lt. Col. Oliver North, the former aide to then- national security advisers Robert C. McFarlane and John M. Poindexter.
Direct military assistance to the Contras resumed last fall after Congress approved $100 million in aid.
In March 1985, Assistant Secretary of State Langhorne A. Motley testified before Congress that the Boland amendment banned U.S. officials from asking foreign countries to help the Contras. Reagan has acknowledged thanking Saudi Arabia’s King Fahd in 1985 for promising to double his contribution to the Contras to $2 million a month, but Reagan said he didn’t solicit the gift.
Tribe said Wednesday the amendment applies to NSC efforts to funnel money to the Contras in two ways.
He said NSC staff salaries and expenses are paid by American tax dollars and, moreover, the amendment prohibited any agency involved in intelligence from diverting money from sources other than the U.S. Treasury to the rebel forces.