Presidents Bush and Reagan Regarding Their Role in Iran-Contra: Dec 3, 1993
[Historical Context: Former presidents Ronald Reagan and George Herbert Walker Bush submitted their rebuttals to the Walsh Report, through their attorneys. The independent counsel's investigation concluded that both
President Reagan and then Vice President Bush, as well as other top
administration officials, had knowledge of the Iran operations.
that "the Iran-Contra Independent Counsel has misused and abused the reporting
process that is mandated by the independent counsel statute. The Final Report, according to Reagan,
unfairly and unnecessarily injures the rights and reputations of individuals, relies
on innuendo, speculation, and conjecture instead of proof, violates established
standards governing the conduct of prosecutors, and improperly relies on secret
grand jury materials to support the Independent Counsel's many accusations." Compare the views expressed by these two with those of the Walsh report.]
Statement of Former President George H. W. Bush
The investigation conducted by the Office of Independent Counsel ("OIC") under
Judge Lawrence Walsh has largely been an inquiry into a political dispute between a
Republican administration and a Democratic Congress over foreign policy. OIC has
spent over six years and $40 million trying to give a criminal hue to the serious
constitutional struggle over separation of
powers between the Congress and the Executive in the foreign policy area. While the
Report speculates that laws were broken by certain Administration officials other than
President Bush, the real thrust of its conclusions relate to purported contravention of
government policy. The Independent Counsel's authorizing legislation did not
contemplate the investigation of such policy differences.
Congress has used the Independent Counsel statute as a tool for inserting itself into
foreign policy, which is reserved under the Constitution to the Executive. An attempt to
criminalize public policy differences jeopardizes any President's ability to govern. By
seeking to craft criminal violations from a political foreign policy dispute, OIC was cast
in a biased Position from the beginning. Notwithstanding this inherent bias, however, the
Report does not and cannot dispute that:
(1) President Bush was unaware of the contra diversion as he has always maintained;
(2) President Bush told the truth in both his 1988 deposition to the OIC, which
subsequently he released to the public, and in his 1987 FBI interview; and
(3) President Bush never violated any criminal statute.
Furthermore, despite statements or inferences in the Report to the contrary:
(1) President Bush issued the pardons of Caspar Weinberger and others because he
believed it was the right and courageous thing to do. He was not concerned about the
upcoming trials nor that he might be called as a witness by the defense.
(2) President Bush completely cooperated with OIC's investigation. As the Report
even states, he told his staff to "give them [OIC] everything."
(3) President Bush had no idea that his personal, political thoughts, dictated well after
the events of Iran-contra, were responsive to any OIC document requests until a
member of his staff discovered them in a safe and reviewed them in late September
1992. President Bush immediately directed that the diary be turned over to White
House Counsel Boyden Gray for his review, which was done. Mr. Gray subsequently
produced the diary to OIC in December.
(4) President Bush's diary was exculpatory and would have had no material effect on
the investigation had it been produced sooner. The Report acknowledges that the
contents of the diary did not justify a reopening of the investigation.
(5) President Bush, through King & Spalding, provided OIC with thousands of
additional documents in 1993 that related, generally to Iran-contra, even though OIC
had declared months earlier that the investigation was finished.
(6) President Bush would have a to a final interview/deposition under reasonable
conditions. OIC refused to negotiate and decided to simply declare in its Report that
the President was uncooperative.
IIran Arms Sale
President Bush has always acknowledged that he was aware that arms were sold to
Iran. The Report offers nothing new on this issue.
On December 3, 1986, then Vice-President Bush told the American public about his
knowledge of the Iran arms initiative immediately after the story broke:
I was aware of our Iran initiative and I support the President's decision. I was not aware of
and I oppose any diversion of funds, any ransom payments, or any circumvention of the
will of the Congress, the law or the United States of America.
Speech to American Enterprise Institute ("AEI"). . . .
This statement was accurate, and the Report offers no evidence to the contrary.
Inexplicably, however the Report contends that President Bush's public statements
conflicted with his deposition testimony and FBI interview, all of which reflected his
knowledge of the Iran arms sales. The Report is simply wrong.
Most importantly President Bush did not believe there was anything illegal about the
arms sale to Iran. In fact, after six years of investigation and expenditures of $40
million, OIC remains unsure whether any laws were violated by the arms sale. As the
Report acknowledges, the Reagan Administration Justice Department issued an opinion
that the shipments of U.S. weapons to Iran did not violate the law. President Bush
was never advised by anyone that the Iran arms shipments were illegal.
President Bush was unaware of the contra diversion until the news of the diversion
broke publicly in November 1986. The Report confirms this fact.
Moreover, the Report found that there was an effort to keep then Vice-President
Bush and his staff in the dark about the entire resupply effort:
There was no credible evidence obtained that the Vice-President or any member of his
staff directly or actively participated in the contra resupply effort that existed during the
Boland Amendment prohibition on military aid to the contras. To the contrary, the OVP's
[Office of the Vice President] staff was largely excluded from RIG meetings when contra
matters were discussed and during which North openly discussed operational details of
his contra efforts.
OIC contends that defense counsel for Caspar Weinberger indicated their intent to
call President Bush as a witness. In fact, President Bush was never subpoenaed or
included on any witness list.
The sole allusion to the possibility that Secretary Weinberger's counsel might attempt
to call President Bush occurred two weeks before the Weinberger trial was to com-
mence in a pre-trial conference during which numerous matters were discussed. The
possibility that President Bush would actually be called to testify was always remote.
Furthermore, there was little chance that President Bush would actually be required to
testify even if called. Secretary Weinberger's counsel did not give any notice to the
White House of an intent to call President Bush nor was it likely that counsel could have
made the required showing that President Bush would provide any testimony that
Could not have been obtained through other means. The slim possibility that he could
be called as a witness was not a factor in issuing the pardons.
IVPresident Bush's Diary
President Bush issued the pardons of Caspar Weinberger and others on December
That evening, Judge Walsh publicly proclaimed President Bush to be a "subject" of his
investigation on ABC's Nightline for allegedly failing to produce earlier a personal
diary of primarily political thoughts. The public pronouncement constituted a
remarkable departure from prevailing prosecutorial standards of conduct. Judge Walsh
then began a new investigation into the timing of the production of the Bush diary, a
diary that was exculpatory and contained information that would have helped, not
hurt, President Bush's reelection chances.
At the time of Judge Walsh's proclamation, OIC had already reviewed the diary and
was aware of its personal, political nature. As OIC later stated in its Report, the Bush
diary did not warrant a reopening of the investigation.
As the Report also acknowledges, "Bush's notes themselves proved not as significant"
as others. In fact, the diary was made after the events of Iran-contra and corroborated
his lack of knowledge as events were uncovered.
The Report implies that President Bush was aware that his diary dictation was
responsive to OIC's document requests and purposefully did not produce the material.
In support, the Report cites a 1987 Bush diary entry that indicates surprise at Secretary
Shultz' production of his personal, contemporaneous notes dictated immediately
following meetings with President Reagan. Contrary to the Report's implication,
President Bush never believed that his random, personal dictation on a variety of issues,
contemporaneous only with the aftermath and not the events of Iran-contra, was
responsive to any OIC document request until September 1992 when his staff
reviewed the diary. President Bush was concerned, however, that by keeping their
own, sometimes unreliable notes of confidential communications with the President,
cabinet members could have a chilling effect upon the ability of the Executive to benefit
from frank and candid discussions. Hence, the passage in his diary relating to Secretary
The bottom line is that President Bush turned over all of his responsive documents on
V President George Herbert Walker Bush's Cooperation
Completely at odds with the Report's implication of willful withholding of documents
is the following passage in the Report:
Related to the issue of the diary was the production of the chron files. When the
Iran/contra document request was circulated, Bush instructed [Suzie] Peake to "just give
them everything." (Emphasis added.)
The Report fails to acknowledge that Peake was one of the people who typed the
dictated diary. If President Bush was trying to withhold the diary, he never would have
given Peake such an instruction. Furthermore, none of the other staff members who had
knowledge of President Bush's diary dictation, Don Rhodes, Jack Steel, and Betty
Green, believed that the diary was responsive to OIC's document requests.
The Report does acknowledge that when the diary was discovered in a personal safe
by Patty Presock in late September 1992, President Bush, who was in the middle of
the campaign, immediately stated "let's call Boyden and he can sort it out." Mr. Gray
subsequently reviewed and turned over the diary to OIC. President Bush's policy was
always to provide OIC whatever material it requested.
A1993 Document Production
The Report contends that in 1993 King & Spalding adopted a "very narrow
approach to the OIC document request, allowing production of only those materials
that related to the production of the diary." The report asserts that King & Spalding
claimed that all other documents requested wore protected by the attorney-client
privilege. Again, OIC's position is contrary to the facts.
By letter dated January 27, 1993 . . . King & Spalding informed OIC as follows:
Although it is our understanding that the [OIC is] investigating the delay in the
production of President Bush's November/December 1986 dictation transcripts, consistent
with your request we will nevertheless provide you non-privileged documents which
related generally to Iran contra.
In accordance with our representation, King & Spalding reviewed 111 boxes of files
stored at the National Archives and produced approximately 6,500 pages of
nonprivileged documents related to Iran-contra and unrelated to the diary production
issue. King & Spalding also produced all documents, regardless of privilege, related to
the diary production.
OIC lawyers originally directed King & Spalding to review 400 boxes of documents
stored at the Bush Presidential Materials Project in College Station, Texas but later
backed off once they realized the breadth of their request. (See letter dated February
22, 1993, Attachment 3). King & Spald-
ing subsequently produced 326 pages of documents from College Station relating to the
diary production issue.
Finally, King & Spalding also produced President Bush's "chron" files to OIC in their
entirety, constituting in excess of 29,000 pages of documents. (The chron files had been
made available to OIC prior to then Vice-President Bush's deposition in 1988.) Only a
total of 14 documents were withheld because of attorney-client privilege. President
Bush never asserted, as would be his right, executive privilege over any documents.
BInterview of George Herbert Walker Bush
President Bush fully cooperated with the OIC investigation. He voluntarily gave a 5
hour videotaped deposition to OIC lawyers in 1988 covering the entire subject of
Irancontra. In addition, he was interviewed at length by the FBI. In all respects, he was
truthful and candidthe Report never contends otherwise.
The Report, however, contends that the investigation of President Bush was
somehow incomplete, citing OIC's inability to question President Bush further in 1993.
As is evident by the following chronology, OIC had effectively finished its investigation
in September 1992 and absent the issuance of the pardons would never have sought
another deposition of President Bush.
In the summer of 1992, OIC indicated to the White House that it might seek
additional information from President Bush in the form of interrogatories. Later in the
summer, OIC postponed until after the election any request for additional information.
In September 1992, OIC reported to the special D.C. Court of Appeals panel (the
"Special Panel") that the investigation was complete, barring unforeseen developments
at the upcoming Weinberger and Claridge trials. The Report's admission that OIC had
concluded its investigation is inconsistent with any need or even desire on the part of
OIC to interview President Bush again on the substance of Iran-contra.
After the election, OIC remained silent regarding the notion of obtaining additional
information from President Bush through interrogatories.
OIC did not renew its request for responses to interrogatories even after the White
House informed OIC on December 11, 1992 about the discovery of President Bush's
It was the issuance of the pardons on December 24, 1992 that triggered OIC's
deposition request to President Bush and the general reopening of the investigation.
In its Report, OIC misstated the negotiations, or lack thereof, surrounding a possible
second Bush deposition in 1993. The following are the facts.
First, Judge Walsh turned down Griffin Bell's offer to have Judge Walsh conduct
President Bush's deposition. Judge Walsh stated that he was too busy preparing the
Report and that it would be necessary for his deputy, Craig Gillen, to conduct the
In addition to Judge Walsh's refusal to conduct the deposition, OIC refused to
consider any reasonable limitations on the deposition, including the following specific
(1) That the deposition be conducted in Houston or any location other than
OIC's office in D.C.
(2) That there be some general understanding of the time to be devoted to the
deposition. OIC would not even commit to finishing in one day.
(3) That there be an agreement as to the scope of the questioning. We would
have considered favorably a request to explore new Iran/contra material or
issues, in addition to the questions surrounding production of the diary. OIC
made no counterproposal.
(4) That the inquiry be conducted, as originally contemplated, through
(5) That there be some assurances concerning the purpose of the inquiry and
OIC never discussed with King & Spalding lawyers any one of these proposals, as
King & Spalding fully expected OIC would. Mr. Gillen's response in his February 26,
1993 letter . . . was that "further negotiation was pointless." In fact, OIC refused to
negotiate on any points.
If OIC believed that President Bush had important additional information as the
Report suggests, OIC would have negotiated over the terms of a voluntary deposition.
If President Bush remained an "important witness," despite having already submitted to
a lengthy deposition and FBI interview OIC would have issued a grand jury subpoena.
OIC's excuse for not doing so, the absence of an "appropriate likelihood of a criminal
prosecution," misstates the standard for issuance of a grand jury subpoena to a witness.
VIRemaining Questions for President Bush
The Report lists seven areas of inquiry that OIC would have covered with President
Bush had another deposition occurred in 1993. Any deposition would have been
cumulative of the previous wide-ranging deposition and FBI interview conducted of
Three months before the pardons issued, OIC represented to the Special Panel that
the investigation was finished. Thereafter, no circumstances changed that warranted
another deposition of President Bush. Certainly, the diary produced in December 1992
did not warrant an additional deposition on the substance of Iran-contra. OIC's own
Report stated "They [the diaries] did not justify re-opening the investigation."
President Bush's knowledge of Iran-contra has been explored to exhaustion,
beginning with his December 3, 1986 speech to AEI, continuing with his 5 hour
deposition by OIC, his FBI interview and countless press conferences
and inquiries. OIC's suggestion that the investigation of President Bush was "regrettably
incomplete" is nonsense.
Preliminary Statement of Former President Ronald W. Reagan
President Reagan first learned in November of 1986 that proceeds from United States
Government arms sales to Iran may have been diverted to assist the Nicaraguan
resistance movement. He responded immediately by opening the records of his
Administration to congressional investigators and to an independent investigating
commission headed by former Senator John Tower. He waived of executive privilege
and instructed his subordinates to cooperate fully with all investigations. He asked his
Attorney General to seek the appointment of an independent counsel to investigate and,
where appropriate, to prosecute any violations of criminal law arising from the events
that became known as Iran-Contra.
Lawrence E. Walsh was appointed on December 19, 1986, to serve as Iran-Contra
Independent Counsel. President Reagan cooperated fully with that investigation from its
inception. He provided the Independent Counsel with unlimited access to the records
of his Administration. He answered the Independent Counsel's questions under oath in
writing and in person. He allowed the Independent Counsel access to all relevant
portions of his diaries. He denied no information to the Independent Counsel. His
cooperation has been both unlimited and unlimited and unstinting.
President Reagan has never publicly criticized any aspect of the investigation or conduct
of Independent Counsel Walsh. He has refrained from any statement or conduct that
might in any way be perceived as an impediment to the investigation. He declined
requests to pardon individuals being investigated by the Independent Counsel. He did
everything within his power to ensure that the Independent Counsel had the fullest
authority and unfettered discretion to conduct his investigation.
The Independent Counsel has now completed his almost seven-year investigation, and
it is now both appropriate and necessary for former President Reagan to respond. As
many others have commented, and as his Final Report reveals, the Independent
Counsel has permitted his investigation to become both excessive and vindictive. He
has abused his authority. He has used his office to intimidate and harass individuals and
otherwise to damage the lives of the persons he was given license to investigate. He and
his Final Report have violated the policies of the Department of Justice that he was
required by law to uphold, and he has disregarded the standards and ethics imposed
uniformly on public prosecutors. His Final Report exceeds the authority given to him by
law. He has used it to disseminate false and unfounded speculation, opinion and
innuendo. His Final Report is not a chronicle of facts, but a prolonged justification of his
own excessive investigation and a defamation of the individuals he was empowered to
Independent Counsel Walsh found no credible evidence of personal wrongdoing by
President Reagan or violation by the former President of any criminal laws. See, e.g.,
Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters, Vol. 1, at xiii
(Aug. 4, 1993) ("[T]he investigation found no credible evidence that President Reagan
violated any criminal statute.") (emphasis added) [hereinafter Final Report] . . . (the
former President's conduct fell well short of criminality") (emphasis added). Yet in
his Final Report the Independent Counsel attempts to indict President Reagan for
alleged misconduct by others and to hint, without the benefit of any evidence, at
wrongdoing by the former President himself.
The Independent Counsel's Final Report is the product of almost seven-year's work
involving sixty-eight lawyers and hundreds of investigators. It is several hundred pages
and several hundred-thousand words long. It is based upon years of secret grand jury
interrogations to which only the Independent Counsel has had access. It is therefore
impossible for anyone injured by the Report adequately to respond to it without
comparable resources and access to the same materials. However, the following pages
respond to the principal assertions and conclusions of the Independent Counsel. They
demonstrate that, except for matters already considered by Congress and the courts,
the Independent Counsel's speculation and conclusions regarding alleged misconduct
by many individuals, including former President Reagan, are without foundation, and
reflect, at best, a misunderstanding of the events he has investigated and a slanted and
completely misleading rendition of them.
Executive Summary: The Facts of Iran-Contra
The essential facts of Iran-Contra are as follows:
1. In the summer of 1985, the Reagan Administration, at the urging and with the
assistance of the Israeli government, determined to explore forming a relationship with
moderates in the government of Iran who were preparing to seek power upon the
death of Ayatollah Khomeini. The Iranians offered to demonstrate their "bona fides" by
attempting to assist the United States in achieving the release of American hostages
being held in Lebanon. To demonstrate the good faith of the United States in engaging
in these discussions, the United States agreed to sell a limited amount of arms to these
moderate an government officials. President Reagan was informed of and approved the
initiative, which at first involved Israel's shipment of U.S.-made TOW and HAWK
missiles to Iran, and, subsequently involved direct shipments of a limited amount of
arms to Iran by the United States. Three hostages were released during the
eighteen-month Iran initiative, which was first publicly reported on November 3, 1986,
and terminated shortly thereafter.
2. Beginning in 1983, Congress sought to impose a series of legal restrictions on the use
of certain appropriated funds by the Reagan Administration to support the Nicaraguan
Democratic Resistance, or "Contras," in their efforts to resist the excesses and
expansionism of the communist "Sandinistas," who had seized
control of the Nicaraguan government in 1979. Congress enacted and subsequently
repeatedly amended appropriations riders, the so-called Boland Amendments, to
restrict certain Executive Branch agencies from providing certain types of aid to the
Contras. President Reagan acted in compliance with the Boland Amendments and
directed his subordinates to do so as well.
3. In connection with a preliminary investigation of the Iranian arms sales directed by
Attorney General Edwin Meese III over the weekend of November 2123, 1986, the
Attorney General's staff discovered a memorandum in the files of Lt. Col. Oliver L.
North indicating that funds from the Iranian arms transactions may have been diverted
to support the Contras. President Reagan was first informed on November 24, 1986,
that a diversion may have occurred, and on November 25, 1986, the President and the
Attorney General held a press conference to disclose the discovery of the possible
diversion of funds. President Reagan moved immediately thereafter to assist
congressional investigations of these events, authorized the creation of an independent
Executive Branch investigation and urged the appointment of an independent counsel by
the Judiciary to conduct a third investigation. He opened the records of his
Administration to these three separate independent investigations.
Response of Former President Reagan to the Independent Counsel's Final Report
The Response of former President Reagan to the Final Report demonstrates the following:
1. The Iran-Contra Independent Counsel has misused and abused the reporting
process that is mandated by the independent counsel statute. The Final Report unfairly
and unnecessarily injures the rights and reputations of individuals, relies on innuendo,
speculation and conjecture instead of proof, violates established standards governing
the conduct of prosecutors, and improperly relies on secret grand jury materials to
support the Independent Counsel's many accusations.
2. The Independent Counsel's principal accusation in his Final Report is that officials at
the highest levels of the Reagan Administration engaged in a "cover-up" designed to
conceal the fact that President Reagan had contemporaneous knowledge of the 1985
arms shipments. There was, however, no "cover-up." To the contrary, President
Reagan repeatedly insisted, both publicly and privately, that the complete facts of
Iran-Contra be publicly aired and that his Administration cooperate fully with
investigators. Moreover, the evidence is overwhelming that the essential facts of the an
initiative were readily and repeatedly disclosed by President Reagan and his top
advisers. The contemporaneous notes of participants in the meetings referred to by the
Independent Counsel independently refute the notion of a cover-up and demonstrate
that the Independent Counsel has falsely depicted the events that he purports to
describe. In fact, President Reagan's knowledge of the 1985 arms transactions
supports, not undermines, the legality of those transactions.
3. The Independent Counsel's contention that President Reagan and his senior advisers
and Cabinet officials participated in a strategy to make National Security Council
("NSC") staff member Lt. Col. North, and National Security Advisers Robert C.
McFarlane and John M. Poindexter "scapegoats" with respect to Iran-Contra is
demonstrably false. President Reagan took full responsibility for the an initiative from
the outset. He also accepted responsibility for all actions within the scope of his
instructions taken by his subordinates in support of the Contras. But he was not aware
of and could not responsibly be blamed for the diversion of funds to the Contras, the
destruction of records by individuals acting contrary to his instructions or other conduct
that was not authorized or sanctioned. The "scapegoat" theory of the Independent
Counsel has been advanced and repeatedly rejected since the first public revelation of
Iran-contra, and was rejected by the Independent Counsel himself in the cases that he
prosecuted. His Final Report adds nothing to the record except his own, internally
inconsistent, personal theory.
4. The Independent Counsel repeatedly seeks to convey the impression that
high-ranking Reagan Administration officials, including the President, violated civil laws
and Executive Orders in carrying out the Iranian initiative, particularly with regard to the
1985 arms shipments. But there is, in fact, strong authority supporting the legality of the
Iranian arms shipments. The President had the power and responsibility to take certain
measures to advance U.S. policies and interests and the constitutional discretion to
protect the lives and liberty of Americans in foreign countries. The President properly
relied on legal experts to ensure that his actions were lawful, as the Independent
Counsel grudgingly acknowledges. The Iranian initiative was consistent with other
applicable laws, and the Independent Counsel has provided no reasoned legal analysis
to the contrary.
5. Although the Independent Counsel concedes that there is "no credible evidence that
the President authorized or was aware of the diversion of profits from the Iran arms
sales to assist the contras," Final Report, Vol. 1, at 443 (emphasis added), his Final
Report indulges in the irresponsible speculation that the President must have known
about the diversion. However, that speculation has no evidentiary support whatsoever,
and is directly contradicted by the findings of the Tower Commission and the
Congressional Committees that investigated Iran-Contra. President Reagan has
consistently, unequivocally and categorically stated that he had no knowledge of the
diversion, and every bit of credible evidence in the recordincluding the voluminous
record compiled by Independent Counsel Walshis consistent with the President's
clear and unwavering position on this point. The Independent Counsel's Report adds
nothing new beyond his capricious speculation.
6. The Independent Counsel asserts that President Reagan is responsible for "set[ting]
the stage" for alleged violations of the law by his subordinates by expressing his
continuing Public support for the Contras. . . . However, President Reagan gave
repeated instructions to members of his Administration to follow the law and abide by
the Boland restrictions. The activities authorized by President Reagan complied with the Boland Amendments and all other laws of the United States. The Independent Counsel has been unable to establish that any conduct by the President the various vague appropriations riders referred to as the Boland Amendments.
Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters, Vol. III:
Comments and Materials Submitted by Individuals and Their Attorneys
Responding to Volume I of the Final Report, December 3, 1993 (Washington,
D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1993), 2135, 639646. References to
attachments in George Bush's statement have been omitted.