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Context of 'July 24, 1992: Reagan Testifies in Weinberger Trial; Memory Loss Apparent'

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Former Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams, in testimony before the Iran-Contra committee, admits he previously lied under oath when he denied the existence of third-party funding of the Nicaraguan Contras. In fact, Abrams himself had facilitated the funding of the Contras by the Sultan of Brunei (see June 11, 1986). Abrams will eventually plead guilty to lying to Congress, but will never see the inside of a jail cell, as President George H. W. Bush will pardon him (see December 25, 1992). During questioning, Republican committee member Dick Cheney (R-WY) praises Abrams’s service, saying, “I do personally believe you have an extremely bright future in the public arena in the United States.” When Cheney becomes vice president in the Bush-Cheney White House, he will name Abrams as deputy national security adviser (see June 2001). [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 74-75]

Entity Tags: Elliott Abrams, Bush administration (41), Contras, Joint House-Senate Iran-Contra Committee, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, George Herbert Walker Bush

Timeline Tags: Iran-Contra Affair

Dan Rather interviews Vice President Bush, watching him on a monitor. Neither Rather nor the CBS viewers can see Bush’s consultant Roger Ailes off-camera.Dan Rather interviews Vice President Bush, watching him on a monitor. Neither Rather nor the CBS viewers can see Bush’s consultant Roger Ailes off-camera. [Source: Media Research Center]Roger Ailes, a former media consultant to the Nixon administration (see Summer 1970), comes up with a bold plan to help his new client, Vice President George H.W. Bush, who is running for president. Bush is neck-deep in the Iran-Contra scandal (see Before July 28, 1986, August 6, 1987, and December 25, 1992) and, as reporter Tim Dickinson will later write, comes across as “effete” in comparison to his predecessor Ronald Reagan. Ailes decides to use an interview with combative CBS News reporter Dan Rather to bolster his client’s image. Ailes insists that the interview be done live, instead of in the usual format of being recorded and then edited for broadcast. Dickinson will later write, “That not only gave the confrontation the air of a prizefight—it enabled Ailes himself to sit just off-camera in Bush’s office, prompting his candidate with cue cards.” Rather is in the CBS studio in New York and has no idea Ailes is coaching Bush. As planned, Bush begins the interview aggressively, falsely accusing Rather of misleading him by focusing the interview on Iran-Contra. (It is true that CBS had not informed the Bush team that it would air a report on the Iran-Contra investigation as a lead-in to the Bush interview, a scheduling that some in the Bush team see as a “bait-and-switch.”) When Rather begins to press Bush, Ailes flashes a cue card: “walked off the air.” This is a set piece that Bush and Ailes have worked out beforehand, based on an embarrassing incident in Rather’s recent past, when Rather angrily walked off the CBS set after learning that his newscast had been pre-empted by a women’s tennis match. Clenching his fist, Ailes mouths at Bush: “Go! Go! Just kick his ass!” Bush fires his rejoinder: “It’s not fair to judge my whole career by a rehash on Iran. How would you like it if I judged your career by those seven minutes when you walked off the set?” In their 1989 book The Acting President: Ronald Reagan and the Supporting Players Who Helped Him Create the Illusion That Held America Spellbound, CBS host Bob Schieffer and co-author Gary Paul Gates will write: “What people in the bureau and viewers at home could not see was that the response had not been entirely spontaneous. As the interview progressed, the crafty Ailes had stationed himself beside the camera. If Bush seemed to be struggling for a response, Ailes would write out a key word in huge letters on his yellow legal pad and hold it just beneath the camera in Bush’s line of vision. Just before Bush had shouted that it was not fair to judge his career on Iran, Ailes had written out on his legal pad the words.… Three times during the interview, Bush’s answer had come after Ailes had prompted him with key words or phrases scribbled on the legal pad.” Dickinson will later write: “It was the mother of all false equivalencies: the fleeting petulance of a news anchor pitted against the high crimes of a sitting vice president. But it worked as TV.” Ailes’s colleague Roger Stone, who worked with Ailes on the 1968 Nixon campaign, will later say of the interview: “That bite of Bush telling Rather off played over and over and over again. It was a perfect example of [Ailes] understanding the news cycle, the dynamics of the situation, and the power of television.” [Associated Press, 7/6/1989; NewsBusters, 1/25/2008; Rolling Stone, 5/25/2011] After the interview is concluded, Bush leaps to his feet and, with the microphone still live, says: “The b_stard didn’t lay a glove on me.… Tell your g_ddamned network that if they want to talk to me to raise their hands at a press conference. No more Mr. Inside stuff after that.” The unexpected aggression from Bush helps solidify his standing with hardline Republicans. The interview gives more “proof” to those same hardliners that the media is hopelessly liberal, “their” candidates cannot expect to be treated fairly, and that the only way for them to “survive” encounters with mainstream media figures is through aggression and intimidation. [Salon, 1/26/2011] Conservative commentator Rich Noyes will write in 2008 that Bush’s jab at Rather exposed the reporter’s “liberal bias,” though he will fail to inform his readers of Ailes’s off-camera coaching. [NewsBusters, 1/25/2008]

Entity Tags: Rich Noyes, CBS News, Bob Schieffer, Dan Rather, George Herbert Walker Bush, Tim Dickinson, Gary Paul Gates, Roger Stone, Roger Ailes, Ronald Reagan

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Elections Before 2000

Former President Ronald Reagan in January 1992.Former President Ronald Reagan in January 1992. [Source: SGranitz / WireImage]Former President Ronald Reagan is questioned for a single day in court after his former secretary of defense, Caspar Weinberger, is subpoenaed in the ongoing Iran-Contra trials. Reagan’s Alzheimer’s disease is by now painfully apparent; not only can he not remember facts and figures, he has trouble remembering his former Secretary of State, George Shultz. [PBS, 2000]

Entity Tags: Caspar Weinberger, Ronald Reagan, George Shultz

Timeline Tags: Iran-Contra Affair

The outgoing President Bush pardons six former Reagan officials for any crimes they may have committed as part of their involvement in the Iran-Contra affair. One of the six, former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, was slated to go on trial in January 1993 on charges that he lied to Congress about his knowledge of arms sales to Iran and funding from other countries for the Nicaraguan Contras (see July 24, 1992). Weinberger’s case was expected to reveal details of then-Vice President Bush’s involvement in the affair. Bush has refused to turn over a 1986 campaign diary he kept that may contain evidence of his involvement. Special prosecutor Lawrence Walsh says of the pardons, “[T]he Iran-Contra cover-up, which has continued for more than six years, has now been completed.” The pardons “undermine… the principle that no man is above the law. It demonstrates that powerful people with powerful allies can commit serious crimes in high office—deliberately abusing the public trust without consequence.” Walsh says that he believes Bush may have pardoned Weinberger to conceal his own complicity and possibly criminal actions in Iran-Contra. Bush also pardons former National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane and former Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams, both of whom have already pled guilty to misdemeanor charges of withholding information from Congress. Bush also pardons Clair George, the former head of the CIA’s clandestine services, convicted earlier in December of two felony charges of perjury and misleading Congress. Finally, he pardons two other CIA officials, Duane Clarridge, who is awaiting trial, and Alan Fiers, who pled guilty to withholding information from Congress, and who testified against George. For his part, Bush says he is merely trying to “put bitterness behind us” in pardoning the six, many of whom he said have already paid a heavy price for their involvement. Senator George Mitchell (D-ME) is sharply critical of the pardons, saying, “If members of the executive branch lie to the Congress, obstruct justice and otherwise break the law, how can policy differences be fairly and legally resolved in a democracy?” [New York Times, 12/25/1992]

Entity Tags: Robert C. McFarlane, Caspar Weinberger, Alan Fiers, Clair George, Lawrence E. Walsh, Contras, George Herbert Walker Bush, Duane Clarridge, Elliott Abrams, George Mitchell

Timeline Tags: Iran-Contra Affair

A number of neoconservatives, led by retired General Wayne Downing (see 1990-1991) and retired CIA officer Duane “Dewey” Clarridge (see December 25, 1992), use the recently passed Iraqi Liberation Act (ILA—see October 31, 1998) to revive the failed “End Game” coup plans against Saddam Hussein (see November 1993 and March 1995). Both Downing and Clarridge are “military consultants” to Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress, who attempted to carry out the coup in 1995 with dismal results. Downing and Clarridge produce an updated version of the INC’s “End Game” scenario, calling it “The Downing Plan.” The Downing scenario varies very little from the original plan. Their plan stipulates that a “crack force” of 5,000 INC fighters, backed up by a detachment of US Special Forces soldiers, could bring down the Iraqi Army. Clarridge later tells reporters: “The idea from the beginning was to encourage defections of Iraqi units. You need to create a nucleus, something for people to defect to. If they could take Basra, it would be all over.” Former Defense Intelligence Agency official Patrick Lang will later write, “It is difficult to understand how a retired four-star Army general [Downing] could believe this to be true.” General Anthony Zinni, commander of CENTCOM, which has operational control of US combat forces in the Middle East, is provided with a copy of Chalabi’s military plan to overthrow Saddam Hussein. “It got me pretty angry,” he later recalls. He warns Congress that Chalabi’s plan is a “pie in the sky, a fairy tale,” and predicts that executing such a poorly envisioned assault would result in a “Bay of Goats.” Chalabi’s INC is nothing more than “some silk-suited, Rolex-wearing guys in London;” neither the INC nor any of the other 91 or so Iraqi opposition groups have anywhere near “the viability to overthrow Saddam.” He tells the New Yorker: “They were saying if you put a thousand troops on the ground Saddam’s regime will collapse, they won’t fight. I said, ‘I fly over them every day, and they shoot at us. We hit them, and they shoot at us again. No way a thousand forces would end it.’ The exile group was giving them inaccurate intelligence. Their scheme was ridiculous.” Zinni earns the enmity of the neoconservative developers of the plan for his stance. [Middle East Policy Council, 6/2004; New Yorker, 6/7/2004]

Entity Tags: Wayne Downing, Patrick Lang, Saddam Hussein, Ahmed Chalabi, Anthony Zinni, US Congress, Duane Clarridge, Iraqi National Congress

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

One of the first media-based attacks on Joseph Wilson and his wife Valerie Plame Wilson after her outing as a CIA agent (see July 14, 2003) comes from former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, who writes a scathing op-ed for the Wall Street Journal. Weinberger accuses the opponents of the Iraq invasion of mounting a baseless smear campaign against the Bush administration by “using bits and pieces of non-evidence to contend that we did not have to replace the brutal regime of Saddam Hussein.” He asserts that President Bush was correct to say that Iraq had attempted to buy uranium from Niger (see 9:01 pm January 28, 2003), using the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (see October 1, 2002) and a review by a British investigative commission (see September 24, 2002) as support for his argument. He insists that WMD will be found in Iraq. Weinberger then writes that “the CIA committed a major blunder [by asking] a very minor former ambassador named Joseph Wilson IV to go to Niger to investigate” (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002). Weinberger correctly characterizes Wilson as “an outspoken opponent” of the invasion, but then falsely asserts that “Mr. Wilson’s ‘investigation’ is a classic case of a man whose mind had been made up using any opportunity to refute the justifications for our ever going to war.” He asserts that Wilson spent eight days in Niger drinking tea and hobnobbing with ambassadors and foreign service types. Weinberger continues, “Because Mr. Wilson, by his own admission, never wrote a report, we only have his self-serving op-ed article in the New York Times to go by” (see July 6, 2003). He is apparently unaware that Wilson was thoroughly debriefed on his return from Niger (see March 4-5, 2002). He writes, “If we are to rely on this kind of sloppy tea-drinking ‘investigation’ from a CIA-chosen investigator—a retired ambassador with a less than stellar record—then I would say that the CIA deserves some of the criticism it normally receives.” Weinberger concludes that the US had a choice of “either… letting [Saddam Hussein] continue his ways, such as spraying poison on his own people, and breaking every promise he made to us and to the UN; or… removing him before he used nuclear weapons on his neighbors, or on us.” [Wall Street Journal, 7/18/2003]
Wilsons: Weinberger's Credibility Lacking because of Iran-Contra Connection - In 2007, Plame Wilson will write: “That’s rich, I thought. Weinberger had been indicted on charges stemming from the Iran-Contra affair (see December 25, 1992) and likely only avoided prison time because of a presidential pardon.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 146-147] Wilson himself will note that “Weinberger was not the most credible person to launch that particular counterattack, since, but for the grace of a pardon… he might have well had to do jail time for how poorly he had served his president, Ronald Reagan, in the Iran-Contra affair.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 338]
Attempt to Intimidate Others - Wilson will note in 2004 that Weinberger deliberately focused on a minor detail of his report—drinking mint tea with the various people he met during his trip—and used it to “suggest… that supposedly I’d been excessively casual and dilatory in my approach to the mission.” He will add: “It seemed that the motive for the attacks on me was to discourage anyone else from coming forward who had a critical story to tell.… In essence, the message was, ‘If you pull a “Wilson” on us, we will do worse to you.’ However offensive, there was a certain logic to it. If you have something to hide, one way to keep it secret is to threaten anyone who might expose it. But it was too late to silence me; I had already said all I had to say. Presumably, though, they thought they could still silence others by attacking me.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 338-339]

Entity Tags: Valerie Plame Wilson, George W. Bush, Caspar Weinberger, Bush administration (43), Joseph C. Wilson, Wall Street Journal

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Jack Kemp.Jack Kemp. [Source: Los Angeles Times]Former representative and Republican vice-presidential candidate Jack Kemp (R-NY) recommends that President Bush pardon convicted felon Lewis Libby (see March 6, 2007). Kemp’s column, printed in the conservative Web publication Town Hall, is not as vociferous in its condemnation of the Libby perjury trial and special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald as some published by his conservative colleagues (see March 6, 2007, March 6, 2007, March 7, 2007, March 7, 2007, March 8-9, 2007, March 9, 2007, and March 11, 2007). Kemp begins his column by telling his readers that two jurors in the trial, Ann Redington and Denis Collins, have “endors[ed] a pardon,” quoting Redington from her interview on MSNBC’s Hardball (see March 8, 2007) and Collins from a column by the New York Times’s Maureen Dowd (Collins’s “endorsement” was a tepid “I would really not care” when asked if he would support a pardon for Libby—see March 8, 2007). Kemp writes of a pardon, “It’s the right thing to do and it’s the right thing to do now—anything less makes a travesty of our system of justice.” Kemp echoes his colleagues’ arguments that Fitzgerald prosecuted Libby for political reasons, particularly in an attempt to target Vice President Dick Cheney. He then notes that two previous presidents, George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton, have pardoned government officials who were targeted by special prosecutors—Bush in his pardon of convicted Iran-Contra conspirator Caspar Weinberger (see December 25, 1992) and Clinton’s pre-emptive pardon of then-CIA Director John Deutch, who was under investigation for mishandling classified information on his home computer. Weinberger was facing the possibility of years of jail time; Deutch was negotiating with prosecutors for a guilty plea to a single misdemeanor charge. Kemp repeats debunked charges that the CIA did not treat Valerie Plame Wilson’s status as either classified or particularly sensitive (see Fall 1992 - 1996, Late 1990s-2001 and Possibly After, April 22, 1999, (July 11, 2003), Before July 14, 2003, July 22, 2003, July 30, 2003, September 30, 2003, October 11, 2003, October 22-24, 2003, January 9, 2006, February 13, 2006, September 6, 2006, and March 16, 2007) and also repeats his colleagues’ charges that the government’s witnesses had no better memories of key events than did Libby. Kemp concludes: “Most prosecutors would walk away from such a case—a case based on a faulty premise and focused on faulty memories months after the fact. President Bush would be well within presidential authority and past presidential practice if he were to rectify this travesty in the near future. My hope is he pardons Libby now!” [Town Hall (.com), 4/3/2007]

Entity Tags: John Deutch, Caspar Weinberger, Ann Redington, Denis Collins, Jack Kemp, Maureen Dowd, George W. Bush, Valerie Plame Wilson, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

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