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Context of 'October 7, 1991: Former State Department Official Pleads Guilty to Lying to Congress'

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Oliver North, the National Security Council staffer who handles the Iran-Contra dealings, tells Israeli Defense Ministry officials that he plans to use profits from future arms sales to Iran to fund the Nicaraguan Contras. (New York Times 11/19/1987) North will not inform his supervisor, National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane, for five more months (see May 29, 1986).

Congress narrowly defeats a measure pushed by, among others, Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams (see September 4, 1985), for $100 million in military and other aid for the Nicaraguan Contras. Abrams, National Security Council officer Oliver North (see December 6, 1985 and April 4, 1986), and senior CIA official Alan Fiers (see Late 1985 and After) quickly fly to Central America to reassure Contra officials that they will continue to receive funding from the Reagan administration. (Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters: Chapter 25: United States v. Elliott Abrams: November 1986 8/4/1993) Congress will approve the funding three months later (see June 16, 1986).

Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North, the National Security Council staffer who facilitates the secret Iran arms deals, helps divert $12 million in money from those arms sales to the Nicaraguan Contras. The deal is documented in a memorandum located in North’s desk by investigators for Attorney General Edwin Meese (see November 21-25, 1986). Meese will inform President Reagan and top White House officials of the memo, but many of the cabinet members and top officials he will inform already know of the transaction. (United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit 8/4/1993) National Security Adviser John Poindexter, the recipient of the memo, will later testify that President Reagan never saw the memo. Reagan will deny knowing anything about the diversion of arms profits to the Contras until November 1986 (see November 10, 1986 and After and November 13, 1986). (New York Times 11/19/1987)

Hassanal Bolkiah, the Sultan of Brunei.Hassanal Bolkiah, the Sultan of Brunei. [Source: Attar Maher / Corbis Sygma]National Security Adviser John Poindexter advises the National Security Council’s Oliver North that the Sultan of Brunei, Hassanal Bolkiah, will donate an unspecified sum of money to the Contras (see After May 16, 1986). Poindexter says the deal was brokered by Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams; Poindexter has discussed the deal over lunch with Abrams. (New York Times 11/19/1987; Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters: Chapter 25: United States v. Elliott Abrams: November 1986 8/4/1993)

Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams (see Late 1985 and After and September 4, 1985) testifies three times to Congress that the Contra resupply operation, exposed by the downing of a CIA transport plane (see October 5, 1986 and October 9, 1986), is not a US government operation. There is no coordination whatsoever from any government official (see Summer 1985, Mid-September 1985, October 1985, Late 1985 and After, February 7-8, 1986, May 16, 1986, July 1986 and After, September 19-20, 1986, September 25, 1986, and January 9, 1986), and no one in the government knows who organized or paid for the transport flight that was shot down.
'Not Our Supply System' - Abrams tells the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that while he and other government officials are aware of the Contra resupply operation, “[i]t is not our supply system. It is one that grew up after we were forbidden from supplying the resistance, and we have been kind of careful not to get closely involved with it and to stay away from it.… We do not encourage people to do this. We don’t round up people, we don’t write letters, we don’t have conversations, we don’t tell them to do this, we don’t ask them to do it. But I think it is quite clear, from the attitude of the administration, the attitude of the administration is that these people are doing a very good thing, and if they think they are doing something that we like, then, in a general sense, they are right.” In testimony to the House Intelligence Committee, Abrams is asked by Chairman Lee Hamilton (D-IN), “Can anybody assure us that the United States government was not involved, indirectly or directly, in any way in supply of the contras?” Abrams responds: “I believe we have already done that, that is, I think, the president has done it, the secretary has done it [Secretary of State George Shultz], and I have done it.… Now again, this normal intelligence monitoring is there, but the answer to your question is yes.” Abrams and CIA officials Clair George and Alan Fiers tell the same falsehoods to a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee. “We don’t know,” Abrams asserts, “because we don’t track this kind of activity.”
No Knowledge of 'Gomez' - He also claims under questioning not to know the identity of “Max Gomez,” who he well knows is former CIA agent Felix Rodriguez (see Mid-September 1985). Senator John Kerry (D-MA) asks, “You don’t know whether or not [Gomez] reports to the vice president of the United States?” (see October 10, 1986). Both George and Abrams deny any such knowledge, though Abrams is highly aware of Rodriguez’s activities in El Salvador (he does not inform the committee of those activities). During the Congressional sessions, media reports identify Gomez as Rodriguez. (Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters: Chapter 25: United States v. Elliott Abrams: November 1986 8/4/1993)

Former Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams testifies to the House Intelligence Committee about his knowledge of the Iran-Contra affair (see Mid-October, 1986). Like CIA official Alan Fiers (see November 25, 1986), Abrams testifies that neither he nor his superiors at the State Department knew anything of the illegal diversion of funds to the Nicaraguan Contras (see December 6, 1985 and April 4, 1986); like Fiers, Abrams is lying (see Late 1985 and After). Several days later, Abrams testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Senator Thomas Eagleton (D-MO) accuses Abrams of lying during the first session, and Abrams replies, “You’ve heard my testimony.” Eagleton retorts, “I’ve heard it, and I want to puke.” (Lacayo, Beaty, and van Voorst 7/22/1991; Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters: Chapter 25: United States v. Elliott Abrams: November 1986 8/4/1993) Abrams will later admit to lying to both the House and Senate (see October 7, 1991).

Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams, testifying before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, says that before the Iran-Contra revelations of October 1986 (see October 5, 1986, October 10-15, 1986, and October 11-14, 1986) he had never even heard of CIA agent Felix Rodriguez, the liaison between the Nicaraguan Contras and the National Security Council (see Mid-September 1985). As he has done so many times before, Abrams is lying. When he took his position in July 1985 (see April 19, 1985 and After), Rodriguez was already working out of the Ilopango airfield in El Salvador. Notes taken by the US Ambassador to El Salvador, Edwin Corr, indicate that Abrams knew of Rodriguez by September 1985 at the latest (see September 4, 1985). During that month, Abrams and Corr discussed Rodriguez in at least one meeting. (Corr will later say he cannot recall any such meeting.) Rodriguez was also a frequent topic of discussion in meetings held in late 1985 by the Restricted Interagency Group (RIG—see Late 1985 and After) chaired by Abrams. And Abrams was aware of concerns within the government about Rodriguez’s involvement in disbursing humanitarian funds allocated by the US Congress to the Contras (see October 1985). (Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters: Chapter 25: United States v. Elliott Abrams: November 1986 8/4/1993)

Oliver North testifying before the Iran-Contra Committee.Oliver North testifying before the Iran-Contra Committee. [Source: Bettmann / Corbis]Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North testifies before the joint House-Senate Iran-Contra investigative committee. During the course of his testimony, he says he does not know if President Reagan had any knowledge of the diversion of funds from Iranian arms sales to the Nicaraguan Contras (see December 6, 1985 and April 4, 1986). North also testifies that William Casey, the recently deceased CIA director (see May 6, 1987), knew of and approved the diversion of funds to the Contras. North admits that the Iranian arms sales were initially designed to help facilitate the release of the American hostages being held by Hezbollah. (New York Times 11/19/1987)
Tour de Force - North’s testimony is a “tour de force,” in the words of authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein, that allows Republicans the opportunity to reverse the field of the hearings and go on the offensive instead of defending the conduct of the Reagan administration. North, a Marine lieutenant colonel, wears his full-dress Marine uniform throughout his entire testimony with rows of ribbons festooning his chest. Handsome and full of righteous patriotism, he is striking on television, and contrasts well with the nasal, disdainful committee lawyers (see May 5, 1987) who spend four days interrogating him.
Need to Free Hostages Trumps Law - For the first two days, North and House counsel John Nields spar for the cameras. North says that Casey had directed him to create the so-called “Enterprise” (see November 19, 1985 and February 2, 1987), the clandestine organization that supported the Nicaraguan Contras with money, weapons, and sometimes US personnel. North admits to shredding untold amounts of evidence after the operation came to light (see November 21-25, 1986). He also admits to lying to Congress in previous testimony. But all of his actions are justified, he says, by the need to get Iran to free the American hostages. “I’d have offered the Iranians a free trip to Disneyland if we could have gotten Americans home for it,” he declares in response to one question about US arms sales to Iran. Senate counsel Arthur Liman will later write, “He made all his illegal acts—the lying to Congress, the diversion [of funds from Iranian arms sales to the Contras], the formation of the Enterprise, the cover-up—seem logical and patriotic.”
Targeting Covert Operations - Nields’s preferred line of questioning—covert operations—makes many committee members uncomfortable. Some House Democrats want to use the investigation to further their own goals of limiting covert actions, and others simply want the truth to be revealed. In contrast, House Republicans are united in opposition to any details of covert operations being revealed on national television and thus hampering the president’s ability to conduct future operations as needed. After the first day of North’s testimony, committee member Dick Cheney (R-WY) exults on PBS that North “probably was as effective as anybody we’ve had before the committee in coming forward very aggressively and stating what he did, saying why he did it, arguing that he was in fact authorized to take the activities that he did.”
Leaky Congress Unfit to Know of Covert Ops, North Contends - North echoes Cheney’s position that the question is not whether White House officials broke the law, but whether Congress was fit to consider the question of national security at all. North goes so far as to question the propriety of the hearings themselves: “I believe that these hearings, perhaps unintentionally so, have revealed matters of great secrecy in the operation of our government, and sources of methods of intelligence activities have clearly been revealed, to the detriment of our security.” North’s message is clear: Congress is not fit to handle covert operations or, by and large, to even know about them. Best for the legislature to allow the White House and the intelligence community to do what needs doing and remain quiet about it. North’s contention that Congress has leaked vital national security information is shot down by Senate committee chairman Daniel Inouye (D-HI), who not only forces North to admit that he has no evidence of his contention, but that the White House, not Congress, is the main source of leaked classified information. Indeed, North himself has leaked information (see July 7-10, 1987). Inouye’s co-chair, Warren Rudman (R-NH) will later say: “The greatest leaks came out of the White House. North and company were the biggest leakers of all during that period.” (Dubose and Bernstein 2006, pp. 75-78) Nields, addressing North’s implication that the NSC has no obligation to tell the truth to Congress, says towards the end of his session with North: “We do believe in a democracy in which the people, not one lieutenant colonel, decide important policy issues, don’t we? … You denied Congress the facts North had admitted to lying about the government’s involvement with the Hasenfus plane. You denied the elected representatives of the people the facts.” (Siegel 7/9/1987)
Impact on Public Opinion - Results will differ on North’s popularity with viewers (see July 9-31, 1987).

Former CIA agent Alan Fiers.Former CIA agent Alan Fiers. [Source: Terry Ashe / Time Life Pictures / Getty Images]The former head of the CIA’s Central America task force, Alan Fiers, pleads guilty to two counts of lying to Congress. Fiers has admitted to lying about when high-ranking agency officials first learned of the illegal diversion of US funds to the Nicaraguan Contras (see December 6, 1985 and April 4, 1986). Fiers now says that when he learned of the diversions in the summer of 1986, he informed his superior, then-Deputy Director for Operations Clair George, who ordered him to lie about his knowledge (see Summer 1986). In return for his guilty pleas to two misdemeanor counts instead of far harsher felony charges, Fiers is cooperating with the Iran-Contra investigation headed by Lawrence Walsh (see December 19, 1986). Time reports: “The Iran-Contra affair has been characterized by US officials as a rogue operation managed by overzealous members of the National Security Council. But if Fiers is correct, top-ranking CIA officials not only knew about the operation and did nothing to stop it; they also participated in an illegal cover-up.… Suddenly a number of unanswered questions assume a new urgency. Just what did Ronald Reagan—and George Bush—know? And when did they know it?” (Lacayo, Beaty, and van Voorst 7/22/1991)

Former Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams, facing multiple counts of lying under oath to Congress about, among other things, his knowledge of the US government’s involvement in the resupply operation to the Nicaraguan Contras (see October 10-15, 1986), his knowledge of the role played by former CIA agent Felix Rodriguez in the resupply (see December 17, 1986), and his knowledge of third-party funding of the Nicaraguan Contras (see November 25, 1986), agrees to plead guilty to two misdemeanor charges of withholding evidence from Congress. Abrams agrees to the plea after being confronted with reams of evidence about his duplicity by investigators for special prosecutor Lawrence Walsh as well as from testimony elicited during the House-Senate investigation of 1987 (see July 7-10, 1987) and the guilty plea and subsequent testimony of former CIA agent Alan Fiers (see July 17, 1991). Abrams pleads guilty to two counts of withholding information from Congress, to unlawfully withholding information from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the House Intelligence Committee, and admits lying when he claimed that he knew nothing of former National Security Council official Oliver North’s illegal diversion of government funds to the Contras (see December 6, 1985, April 4, 1986, and November 25-28, 1986). Abrams says that he lied because he believed “that disclosure of Lt. Col. [Oliver] North’s activities in the resupply of the Contras would jeopardize final enactment” of a $100 million appropriation pending in Congress at the time of his testimony, a request that was narrowly defeated (see March 1986). Abrams also admits to soliciting $10 million in aid for the Contras from the Sultan of Brunei (see June 11, 1986). (Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters: Chapter 25: United States v. Elliott Abrams: November 1986 8/4/1993)

Author and former Nixon White House counsel John Dean reviews former ambassador Joseph Wilson’s new book, The Politics of Truth (see April 2004). Dean, who has long been a fierce critic of the Bush administration, uses the review to examine aspects of the controversy surrounding the White House’s disproven claim that Iraq attempted to buy uranium from Niger (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002 and July 6, 2003) and the outing of Wilson’s wife as a CIA agent through a White House leak (see June 23, 2003, July 7, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, July 8, 2003, 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003, Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003, Before July 14, 2003, and July 14, 2003). Dean calls the book “riveting and all-engaging… provid[ing] context to yesterday’s headlines, and perhaps tomorrow’s, about the Iraq war and about our politics of personal destruction,” as well as detailed information about Wilson’s long diplomatic service in Africa and the Middle East, and what Dean calls “a behind-the-scenes blow-by-blow of the run-up to the 1991 Persian Gulf war.”
'Anti-Dumb-War' - Dean also admires Wilson’s opposition to the Iraq war, saying that “Wilson is not antiwar. Rather, he is ‘anti-dumb-war’” and noting that while Wilson is not himself particularly conservative (or liberal), he considers the neoconservatives who make up the driving force in President Bush’s war cabinet “right-wing nuts.”
'Vicious Hatchet Job' - Dean quickly moves into the White House-orchestrated attempt to besmirch Wilson’s credibility, calling it “the most vicious hatchet job inside the Beltway since my colleague in Richard Nixon’s White House, the dirty trickster Charles W. Colson, copped a plea for defaming Daniel Ellsberg and his lawyer (see June 1974).… It was an obvious effort to discredit Wilson’s [Niger] report, and, Wilson believes, a you-hurt-us-we-will-hurt-you warning to others.” While Wilson writes with passion and anger about the outing of his wife, he restrains himself from giving too many personal details about her, relying instead on material already revealed in press interviews and reports. Dean notes that Wilson believes his wife’s name was leaked to the press by any or all of the following White House officials: Lewis “Scooter” Libby, the chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney; Karl Rove, Bush’s chief political strategist; and Elliott Abrams, a national security adviser and former Iran-Contra figure (see October 7, 1991). Though Dean is correct in noting that Wilson comes to his conclusions “based largely on hearsay from the Washington rumor mill,” he will be proven accurate in two out of three of his assertions (see July 8, 2003, 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003, June 23, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, and Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003). Wilson continues to fight attacks from Bush supporters, but, Dean notes, if they actually read his book, “they should understand that they have picked a fight with the wrong fellow.” (Dean 5/12/2004)

US President Barack Obama and French President Nicolas Sarkozy review French troops during Obama’s 2009 visit to Strasburg.US President Barack Obama and French President Nicolas Sarkozy review French troops during Obama’s 2009 visit to Strasburg. [Source: Shawn Thew / EPA]Jon Scott and Jane Skinner, hosts of Fox News’s “straight news” program Happening Now (see October 13, 2009), air selectively edited clips of President Obama to give the false impression that he has singled out the US for criticism during a trip to France. The segment hinges on an upcoming trip by Obama to Europe and the Middle East. Scott asks if “the president’s upcoming trip [will] be what conservatives might call another apology tour”; in teasing Scott’s segment, Skinner raises the same point. Both Scott and Skinner then air cropped clips from Obama’s April 2009 visit to France. During his April speech, Obama both praised and criticized actions taken by the US, and criticized anti-American sentiment in Europe. However, Scott and Skinner air carefully selected portions of the speech to give impetus to their contention that Obama only criticized the US during his time in France. Fellow Fox News host Sean Hannity has suggested that Obama embarked on a “blame America first” visit and “apology tour.” On-air text and graphics illustrate the “apology tour” contention. Neither Scott nor Skinner inform their audience that in the same speech, Obama criticized Europe and praised the US. Guest Elliott Abrams, the convicted Iran-Contra conspirator (see October 7, 1991), advises Obama “to stop apologizing for our country,” and adds that Obama is making a mistake in spending time talking to Muslims during the trip. (Media Matters 6/2/2009)


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