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Attorney General Edwin Meese announces the results of his internal “investigation” of US arms sales to Iran (see November 21-25, 1986). In the conference, Meese announces that President Reagan did not learn of the US shipments of Hawk anti-aircraft missiles (see 1985, November 24-25, 1985, and August 4, 1986) until February 1986. Investigators for Independent Counsel Lawrence Walsh will later conclude that Meese lied; not only did Meese never ask Reagan about his knowledge of the Hawk shipments, he ignored evidence and testimony that proved Reagan did indeed know of the shipments, such as a statement from Secretary of State George Shultz that Reagan had told him that he had known of the Hawk shipments in advance. But Meese will also, reluctantly, admit that the US had illegally diverted between $10 million and $30 million in funds from Iranian arms sales to the Nicaraguan Contras (see April 4, 1986). National Security Adviser John Poindexter immediately resigns, and Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North is fired from the National Security Council staff. [New York Times, 11/19/1987; United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, 8/4/1993; PBS, 2000]
Alan Fiers, the head of the CIA’s Central America task force, testifies to Congress that neither he nor any of his superiors in the agency knew of the illegal diversion of funds to the Nicaraguan Contras (see December 6, 1985 and April 4, 1986). Fiers is lying. He was ordered by his superior, Deputy Director of Operations Clair George, to conceal his knowledge of the fund diversions (see Summer 1986). Fiers will admit to lying five years later, and plead guilty to misdemeanor charges arising from his false testimony (see July 17, 1991). [Time, 7/22/1991]
Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams, who has already lied repeatedly under oath to Congress about third-party funding of the Contras (see October 10-14, 1986), lies again to the Senate Intelligence Committee about his knowledge of any such funding (see August 9-19, 1986). Appearing before the committee with senior CIA official Alan Fiers, who has himself lied to Congress about the same activities, Abrams tells the committee: “Well, we—after the Hasenfus shootdown (see October 5, 1986) we were asked about, you know, what did you know about the funding of Hasenfus and his operation. And the answer here is the same answer. That is, that we knew there were private contributions coming in, because they sure weren’t surviving on the money that we were giving them, which at one time was nothing and then the 27 million came along (see August 1985). So there was money coming in. But there was no reason to think it was coming from foreign governments, and I certainly did not inquire as to which individuals it was coming from.” Abrams denies ever discussing third-party funding with anyone on the National Security Council staff, which would include Oliver North, Abrams’s partner in the $10 million Brunei deal (see June 11, 1986). A frankly disbelieving Senator Bill Bradley (D-NJ) says: “Well, you would say gee, they got a lot of problems, they don’t have any money. Then you would just sit there and say, what are we going to do? They don’t have any money. You never said, you know, maybe we could get the money this way?” Abrams replies: “No.… We’re not—you know, we’re not in the fundraising business.” Two weeks later, Abrams will “correct” his testimony, but will still insist that he knows nothing of any such third-party funding. [Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters: Chapter 25: United States v. Elliott Abrams: November 1986, 8/4/1993]
After Oliver North is fired by President Reagan over his involvement in the Iran-Contra affair (see November 25, 1986), North’s secretary Fawn Hall (who was also fired) recalls that she has not finished shredding documents that North had ordered destroyed (see November 21-23, 1986). She also realizes that other documents relating to the Iran arms sales and the Contra funding have not yet been destroyed. Hall is not allowed to remove any documents from the suite of offices used by North and other NSC officers. To avoid detection, Hall conceals documents in her clothing, inserting some inside her boots and others inside the back of her skirt. She receives the assistance of another NSC officer, Lieutenant Colonel Robert Earl, who helps her sneak documents out of the office suite. Earl also helps her adjust the documents so they cannot be seen under her clothes. During the process, Hall telephones North, who is not in the office; fearful of being overheard, she whispers to him that there is a problem with the documents and he needs to come in. He agrees, and says that he will be joined by his lawyer, Thomas Green. After Green and North arrive, the two men help shield Hall as she leaves the building with the documents hidden on her person. After the three get into Green’s car, Hall gives North the documents, and tells him that other potentially incriminating materials are still in the offices. Green drops Hall and North off in a parking lot, and, as Hall is leaving the vehicle, Green asks her what she will say if asked about the shredding. Hall replies that she will say, “We shred every day.” Green responds, “Good.” [United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, 12/13/2007]
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.” [Time, 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).
Two days after sneaking classified documents out of the National Security Council (see November 25, 1986), Oliver North’s secretary, Fawn Hall, downplays the significance of the “shredding party” she and North engaged in days before, when they had worked to destroy evidence of North’s criminal activities surrounding the Iran-Contra affair (see November 21-23, 1986). When asked by Jay Stephens of the White House counsel’s office about reports of her and North shredding documents in North’s office, Hall replies as she has been coached to respond by North’s lawyer, Thomas Green. Hall later testifies, “I told him that we shred every day, and I led him to believe that there was nothing unusual about what had occurred.” [United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, 12/13/2007]
John Tower. [Source: Wally McNamee / Corbis]President Reagan appoints former Senator John Tower (R-TX) to head a commission to investigate the Iran-Contra affair. The so-called “Tower Commission” will issue its final report three months later (see February 26, 1987). [PBS, 2000] Tower left the Senate in 1985 and attempted to win the position of defense secretary for Reagan’s second term. Instead, Reagan appointed him to lead the US team of arms reduction negotiators in Geneva. Tower also became very rich very quickly lobbying for a variety of defense contractors. Between his overt lobbying for the defense industry and his notoriously libertine lifestyle—even consorting with prostitutes known to be KGB agents—Tower was unable to secure the position of defense secretary. But he is a Reagan loyalist, and well-known to the White House from their thorough vetting of his background and private life; perhaps this makes Tower a good administration choice to lead the investigative commission. [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 85-86]
Barbara Walters, in a 1988 photo. [Source: Raul Vega / Corbis]ABC News reporter Barbara Walters covertly provides the White House with documents from Iranian arms merchant Manucher Ghorbanifar, according to a Wall Street Journal article published in March 1987. The documents, prepared by Walters and given to the White House at Ghorbanifar’s request, report that Ghorbanifar believed, correctly, that National Security Council staffer Oliver North diverted profits from the sale of arms to Iran to Nicaragua’s Contra insurgents (see April 4, 1986). Walters will provide the White House with further documents on the arms sales in January 1987. The documents are given to Walters either just before or just after her interviews with Ghorbanifar and Saudi businessman and arms dealer Adnan Khashoggi for the ABC News program 20/20. The documents will eventually be turned over to the Tower Commission (see February 26, 1987). The White House will claim that the documents contain little more than reiterations of Ghorbanifar’s comments to Walters in the interview. ABC News will say that Walters’s actions—essentially acting as an information peddler or middleman between the Arab arms merchants and the US government—are “in violation of a literal interpretation of news policy.… ABC policy expressly limits journalists cooperating with government agencies unless threats to human lives are involved.… Ms. Walters believed that to be the case.” ABC does not explain why Walters believes “threats to human lives” were involved; this assertion also contradicts ABC’s assertions that the documents contained little more that what was said in the interview. [New York Times, 3/17/1987; Nation, 3/28/1987]
A day before he is slated to testify before the Senate on the US’s secret arms sales to Iran and the diversion of profits from those sales to the Nicaraguan Contras, CIA Director William Casey suffers two seizures and is hospitalized. The 73-year old Casey is diagnosed with brain cancer. [New York Times, 12/24/1986] He will undergo surgery three days later (see December 18, 1986) and, unable to continue his duties as CIA director, will resign shortly thereafter (see February 2, 1987). He will die six months after the surgery (see May 6, 1987).
The Supreme Court rules in Federal Election Commission v. Massachusetts Citizens for Life that an anti-abortion organization can print flyers promoting “pro-life” candidates in the weeks before an election, and that the portion of the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA—see February 7, 1972, 1974, and May 11, 1976) that bars distribution of such materials to the general public restricts free speech. In September 1978, the Massachusetts Citizens For Life (MCFL) spent almost $10,000 printing flyers captioned “Everything You Need to Vote Pro-Life,” which included information about specific federal and state candidates’ positions on abortion rights, along with exhortations to “vote pro-life” and “No pro-life candidate can win in November without your vote in September.” The Federal Election Commission (FEC) ruled that MCFL’s expenditures violated FECA’s ban on corporate spending in connection with federal elections. A Massachusetts district court ruled against the FEC, finding that the flyer distribution “was uninvited by any candidate and uncoordinated with any campaign” and the flyers fell under the “newspaper exemption” of the law. Moreover, the court found, FECA’s restrictions infringed on MCFL’s freedom of speech (see January 30, 1976 and April 26, 1978). An appeals court reversed much of the district court’s decision, but agreed that the named provision of FECA violated MCFL’s free speech rights. The FEC appealed to the Supreme Court. By a 5-4 vote, the Court affirms that FECA’s prohibition on corporate expenditures is unconstitutional as applied to independent expenditures made by a narrowly defined type of nonprofit corporation such as MCFL. The Court writes that few organizations will be impacted by its decision. The majority opinion is written by Justice William Brennan, a Court liberal, and joined by liberal Thurgood Marshall and conservatives Lewis Powell, Antonin Scalia, and (in part) by Sandra Day O’Connor. Court conservatives William Rehnquist and Byron White, joined by liberals Harry Blackmun and John Paul Stevens, dissent with the majority, saying that the majority ruling gives “a vague and barely adumbrated exception [to the law] certain to result in confusion and costly litigation.” [Federal Election Commission, 2011; Moneyocracy, 2/2012]
Entity Tags: Federal Election Commission, William Rehnquist, Antonin Scalia, Federal Election Campaign Act of 1972, US Supreme Court, William Brennan, Sandra Day O’Connor, Harry Blackmun, John Paul Stevens, Thurgood Marshall, Massachusetts Citizens for Life, Byron White, Lewis Powell
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
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]
CIA Director William Casey, one of the key figures in the Iran-Contra affair, undergoes surgery for a brain tumor (see December 15, 1986). [PBS, 2000] The lymphoma tumor will be removed and proven to be malignant. Doctors will refuse to give details about the size and placement of the tumor, any possible cognitive or physical loss caused by the tumor, or any prognosis for possible recovery. The particular cancer is a “B-cell lymphoma of the large cell type,” a quite rare and extraordinarily aggressive form of cancer. Experts say that most cancers of this type occur in people whose immune systems have been compromised, often by treatment for other cancers or people who suffer from AIDS. Casey may have undergone treatment for cancer at an earlier date [New York Times, 12/24/1986] ; it will later be learned that Casey had undergone treatment for prostate cancer. [New York Times, 5/7/1987] Casey will resign as CIA director shortly after his cancer treatments begin (see February 2, 1987). He will die six months after the surgery (see May 6, 1987).
Congress announces the creation of a special counsel to investigate the Iran-Contra affair. Lawrence Walsh is named the special prosecutor in charge of the investigation. [New York Times, 11/19/1987] Walsh, a retired federal judge, later says that he is worried from the outset about the potential for what he calls a “carnival atmosphere” surrounding the hearings. In creating the special counsel and the concurrent Congressional investigation (see January 6-7, 1987), Speaker of the House Jim Wright (D-TX) and Senate Majority Leader Robert Byrd (D-WV) want to head off any possibility of impeachment. “That is the last thing I wanted to do,” Wright later recalls. “Ronald Reagan had only two years left in his [second and final] term. I was not going to allow a procedure that would lead to his impeachment in his final year in office.” [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 67-68]
Justice William Brennan. [Source: University of Pennsylvania]Supreme Court Justice William Brennan, an Eisenhower appointee, writes that the behavior of the US during war is predictable: “After each perceived security crisis ended, the United States has remorsefully realized that the abrogation of civil liberties was unnecessary. But it has proven unable to prevent itself from repeating the error when the next crisis came along.” [Dean, 2004, pp. 195]
A young Timothy McVeigh, wearing quasi-military garb. [Source: ForbiddenTruth (.com)]Timothy McVeigh, a distant, solitary young man in Pendleton, New York, takes a job as a security guard with an armored car company after graduating from Starpoint High School in 1986. (Some sources will inaccurately give his home town as nearby Lockport, New York; he did live there for a time as a child.) He grew up as an outgoing and easygoing young man, but began to withdraw into himself after his mother began leaving home (and having extramarital affairs) in 1977. McVeigh began retreating into himself even more after his parents separated in 1984 and his mother left for Florida with his two sisters. He received his first rifle, a .22 caliber gift from his gun-collector grandfather, when he was 13, and was immediately fascinated with the weapon, though he never became interested in hunting, as so many others in the area were (McVeigh always displayed a strong empathy towards animals). He joined the National Rifle Association in 1985. In high school, he told counselors he wanted to be a gun shop owner; though he earned a Regents Scholarship upon graduating, he only spent a few months at a nearby business college before deciding further schooling was not for him. McVeigh has already begun to turn his father’s home into a survivalist compound, stockpiling water, gunpowder, and other items in the basement and amassing a collection of magazines like Guns & Ammo and SCOPE Minuteman, a local publication distributed by a Niagara County gun advocacy organization. His father, William “Bill” McVeigh, will later explain: “I guess he thought that someday a nuclear attack or something was going to happen. That was my feeling. You know, he was ready for anything.” [New York Times, 5/4/1995; Stickney, 1996, pp. 44, 49, 65-66, 70; Serrano, 1998, pp. 11-20; Douglas O. Linder, 2006]
First Exposure to African-Americans, Survivalism - McVeigh, a 19-year-old sometimes called by the disparaging nickname “Noodle” who is unable to connect with women on almost any level due to his shyness, works for a firm currently called Burke Armor Inc., which will later rename itself as Armored Services of America, though he has a considerable amount of expertise with computers and conceivably could have landed a job in that field. McVeigh works out of a depot in Cheektowaga, near Buffalo, mostly delivering money to and from banks and stores, quickly earning a reputation as a reliable, hardworking employee. He works for eight months with a partner, Jeff Camp. This job gives him his first opportunity to work closely with African-Americans; the region of upstate New York he resides in is almost devoid of African-Americans, and the area has long supported a large and active Ku Klux Klan chapter. McVeigh learns from some of his fellow employees about inner-city strife and other related racial and economic issues. Later, he will recall making special deliveries at the beginning and end of each month to check-cashing firms; sometimes he would have to wade through long lines of African-American welfare recipients, and on occasion would brandish his gun to get through the lines. He often drives by African-American homes and sees the residents sitting on their porches, one of the reasons he begins calling African-Americans “porch monkeys.” He also begins reading “survivalist” books such as The Turner Diaries (see 1978), The Anarchist’s Cookbook, and The Poor Man’s James Bond.
Discomfits Co-Workers with Militia-Style Appearance - Several months into the job, as Camp will recall, McVeigh begins coming to work “looking like Rambo.” McVeigh has frequently expressed an interest in guns—some sources say he calls guns “the great equalizer[s]”—and has a licensed handgun for his job along with other weapons, including an AR-15 assault rifle. On one particular morning, he comes in with a sawed-off shotgun and ammunition bandoliers slung in an “X” over his chest, apparently as a joke meant to surprise and discomfit his colleagues. “It looked like World War III,” Camp will recall. McVeigh’s supervisor refuses to let McVeigh go out on the truck, angering him. Camp will later recall: “He used to bring in two or three guns that he carried all the time. He had a .45 and a .38. He had a Desert Eagle [pistol]. That thing was huge.” (McVeigh will later sell the Desert Eagle, calling it “unreliable.”) McVeigh, Camp will continue, is “intense.… He ate a lot. I don’t know if it was nervousness. Sometimes he could be quiet. Some days he was hyper, some days he wouldn’t say a word.”
Buys Property for Shooting Range - After getting his first gun permit, McVeigh buys 10 acres of wooded property north of Olean, New York, with a partner, David Darlak, and the two use it as a shooting range. As teenagers, he and Darlak formed their version of a “survivalist group” after watching movies such as The Day After, a television movie about the aftermath of a nuclear strike in Kansas. A neighbor, Robert Morgan, later recalls his father calling the police to complain about the incessant gunfire. “My dad turned him in,” Morgan will recall. “One day it sounded like a war out there. Sometimes he’d come down during the week, sometimes the weekend. He had on hunting clothes. Camouflage.” McVeigh continues his shooting activities even after Darlak loses interest.
Joins US Army - On May 24, 1988, spurred by his partner Darlak, he joins the Army (see March 24, 1988 - Late 1990). [New York Times, 5/4/1995; Stickney, 1996, pp. 54-57, 72, 82; PBS Frontline, 1/22/1996; Serrano, 1998, pp. 20-24; Douglas O. Linder, 2006]
Warren Rudman and Daniel Inouye. [Source: Time & Life Pictures / Getty Images]Both the House and Senate name special committees to investigate the Iran-Contra affair. [New York Times, 11/19/1987]
Avoiding Impeachment - The two investigations will quickly merge into one joint, unwieldy committee. Neither Speaker of the House Jim Wright (D-TX) nor Senate Majority Leader Robert Byrd (D-WV) have any intention of allowing the investigations to become impeachment hearings against President Reagan (see December 19, 1986). They decide to combine the House and Senate investigations in the hopes that the investigation will move more quickly and limit the damage to the presidency. They envision a bipartisan committee made up of wise, sober lawmakers able to prevent the investigation from becoming a witch hunt. Wright will remember telling the Republican minority leadership, “You appoint and we appoint and we can maintain some control.”
Choosing Chairmen, Members - Byrd chooses Senator Daniel Inouye (D-HI), a decorated World War II veteran who had served on the Senate Watergate Committee (see February 7, 1973) and the Senate Intelligence Committee. In turn, Inouye names Warren Rudman (R-NH), a former federal prosecutor, as his vice chairman, promising to share all the powers and responsibilities of the chairmanship with him. According to authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein, Rudman “would overshadow” the self-effacing Inouye. For the House side, Wright names conservative Lee Hamilton (D-IN) to chair that portion of the committee. Both Hamilton and Inouye have a deep conviction that to accomplish anything of lasting import, decisions must be arrived at in a bipartisan fashion. Wright names several powerful Democratic committee chairmen to the House committee; their responsibilities as committee chairmen will interfere with their ability to devote the proper time and effort to the investigation. House Minority Leader Robert Michel (R-IN) chooses his members with a very different agenda in mind. Michel, himself a relatively moderate Republican, chooses Dick Cheney (R-WY) as the ranking member of the House investigation. Cheney is well-informed about intelligence and foreign affairs, and, in Dubose and Bernstein’s words, “ruthlessly partisan.” In addition, Cheney will function as the White House “mole” on the committee, alerting White House officials as to the thrust and direction of the investigation and allowing them time to prepare accordingly. Michel salts the House committee with right-wing ideologues, including Henry Hyde (R-IL) and Bill McCollum (R-FL). Few of Michel’s House committee members have any intention of pursuing the facts behind Iran-Contra; instead, they are bent on undermining the Democrats on the committee and ensuring that the committee achieves few, if any, of its goals.
Loss of Leverage - From the outset, Wright and Byrd’s opposition to any consideration of presidential impeachment, no matter what evidence is unearthed, loses them their biggest advantage in the proceedings. Not only will committee Republicans feel more confident in pulling the investigation away from sensitive and potentially embarrassing matters, the committee will ignore important evidence of Reagan’s own involvement in the Iran-Contra decision-making process, including recordings of telephone conversations showing Reagan discussing financing the Contras with foreign leaders. Hamilton in particular will be an easy mark for the ideologues in the Republican group of committee members; his biggest worry is whether Reagan “would be able to govern” after the investigation, and his relentless bipartisanship makes him easy for the committee Republicans to manipulate and sway. As for the Republicans, even fellow GOP committee member Rudman will become disgusted with their naked partisanship and their refusal to pursue the facts. “It was obvious that Dick Cheney and others were more interested in protecting the president than in finding out what had happened,” Rudman will later recall. Dubose and Bernstein add that Cheney has another agenda as well: preserving the powers of the presidency against Congressional encroachment.
Cheney's Influence - Cheney has always succeeded in lulling his opposition with his unruffled demeanor. He is able to do the same thing on the investigative committee. “We totally misread the guy,” a Democratic staffer later recalls. “We thought he was more philosophical than political.” [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 68-69]
Entity Tags: Robert C. Byrd, James C. (‘Jim’) Wright, Jr., Jake Bernstein, Henry Hyde, Daniel Inouye, Contras, Bill McCollum, Joint House-Senate Iran-Contra Committee, Lee Hamilton, Ronald Reagan, Robert Michel, Warren Rudman, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Lou Dubose
Timeline Tags: Iran-Contra Affair
Alann Steen and his wife on their honeymoon in 1986. [Source: Evelyn Floret / Time Life Pictures / Getty Images]Four teachers at Beirut University College—Americans Alann Steen, Jesse Turner, and Robert Polhill, and Indian-born US resident Mithileshwar Singh—are kidnapped by Hezbollah militants. [New York Times, 11/19/1987]
President Reagan testifies before the Tower Commission. His chief of staff, Donald Regan, had previously told the commission that the US had not given its approval for the August 1985 sale of TOW missiles to Iran via Israel (see August 6, 1985 and August 20, 1985), but Reagan shocks both Regan and White House counsel Peter Wallison by admitting that he had indeed approved both the Israeli sale of TOWs to Iran and had agreed to replenish the Israeli stocks. Reagan uses the previous testimony of former National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane as a guide. After Reagan’s testimony, Regan attempts to refocus Reagan’s memories of events, going through the chain of events with Reagan and asking questions like, “Were you surprised” when you learned about the TOW sales? Reagan responds, “Yes, I guess I was surprised.” Regan hammers the point home: “That’s what I remember. I remember you being angry and saying something like, ‘Well, what’s done is done.’” Reagan turns to Wallison and says, “You know, I think he’s right.” [Cannon, 1991, pp. 630-631]
President Reagan testifies for a second time to the Tower Commission (see January 26, 1987). His testimony is incoherent and confused; some observers outside the White House begin speculating that Reagan suffers from Alzheimer’s disease or senile dementia. Commission investigators note that while the Meese investigation claimed Reagan did not know of the August 1985 shipment of missiles to Iran (see August 20, 1985 and November 21-25, 1986), Reagan himself claimed in his previous testimony he did know of the shipments. When asked to clarify the inconsistency, Reagan shocks onlookers by picking up a briefing memo he had been given and reading aloud, “If the question comes up at the Tower Board meeting, you might want to say that you were surprised.” [PBS, 2000] White House counsel Peter Wallison is stunned. “I was horrified, just horrified,” he later recalls. “I didn’t expect him to go and get the paper. The purpose of it was just to recall to his mind before he goes into the meeting” what he, Wallison, and Chief of Staff Donald Regan had agreed was the proper chain of events—that Reagan had not known of the shipments beforehand, and had been surprised to learn of them. [Cannon, 1991, pp. 631-632]
CIA Director William Casey abruptly resigns due to terminal brain cancer (see December 18, 1986). Casey’s illness makes him unavailable to testify before the Congressional Iran-Contra investigation, a huge boon for committee Republicans who are determined to keep the truth of Iran-Contra from being revealed (see January 6-7, 1987). Casey had been one of the prime movers behind the Iran arms sales, and was National Security Council staffer Oliver North’s prime supervisor in what insiders call “the Enterprise”—the ad hoc organization run by North and retired General Richard Secord (see November 19, 1985) that trained, supplied, and even at times fought for Nicaragua’s Contras. North and Secord’s organization managed to evade Congressional oversight and ignore laws passed to limit US involvement in the Nicaraguan insurgency (see October 10, 1984). According to upcoming testimony from North, Casey saw “the Enterprise” as such a success that it should serve as a model for other US covert operations around the globe. It was Casey’s idea to have foreign countries such as Saudi Arabia (see July, 1984) and Brunei (see June 11, 1986) supply money to the Contras, over the objections of White House officials such as Secretary of State George Shultz, who told Casey in reference to the phrase “quid pro quo” that he should remember that “every quid had a quo.” As one Democratic congressmen later puts it, Casey was the “godfather” of the entire Iran-Contra operation, and his unavailability to the committee is a tremendous blow to its ability to find the truth. [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 70]
President Reagan sends a memo to the Tower Commission in an attempt to clarify his previous rambling and incoherent testimony (see January 26, 1987 and February 2, 1987). The memo does not improve matters. It reads in part: “I don’t remember, period.… I’m trying to recall events that happened eighteen months ago, I’m afraid that I let myself be influenced by others’ recollections, not my own.… The only honest answer is to state that try as I might, I cannot recall anything whatsoever about whether I approved an Israeli sale in advance or whether I approved replenishment of Israeli stocks around August of 1985 (see August 20, 1985). My answer therefore and the simple truth is, ‘I don’t remember, period.’” [PBS, 2000]
The FBI’s sketch of the as-yet-unidentified ‘Unabomber.’ [Source: FBI]Gary Wright, the owner of CAAMS Inc., a Salt Lake City, Utah, computer shop, is injured when he attempts to remove a “road hazard” at the rear entrance of his shop. The “hazard” is actually a bomb, similar to one that killed another computer shop owner in Sacramento, California, over a year ago (see December 11, 1985). A secretary saw a man wearing a hooded sweatshirt and sunglasses leave the bag containing the bomb; she becomes the first eyewitness in what will later become the “Unabomber” investigation (see April 3, 1996). [BBC, 11/12/1987; Washington Post, 1998] The “Unabomber” is improving his skills; this bomb contains a more sophisticated triggering device than earlier constructions. [World of Forensic Science, 1/1/2005] Almost six years ago, Theodore “Ted” Kaczynski, the so-called “Unabomber,” planted another bomb in Salt Lake City (see October 8, 1981). But for now, the FBI has no knowledge of Kaczynski’s identity. It has, however, found what it calls “an absolute link” between the Wright bombing and the “Unabom” serial bombings that have been going on since 1978 (see May 25-26, 1978). Federal bomb expert Ron Wolters says the bombs in the different cases display a high level of similarity. Police describe the as-yet-unidentified bomber as a disgruntled academician or computer worker. [Chicago Sun-Times, 2/24/1987]
The Tower Commission issues its final report about the Iran-Contra affair. Among its conclusions, it finds that President Reagan’s top advisers were responsible for creating the “chaos” that led to the affair. It also finds that Reagan was largely out of touch and unaware of the operations conducted by his National Security Council (NSC) staff, and allowed himself to be misled by his closest advisers (see February 20, 1987). Reagan had failed to “insist upon accountability and performance review,” thus allowing the NSC process to collapse. [New York Times, 11/19/1987; PBS, 2000]
Fawn Hall, who was NSC official Oliver North’s secretary and who helped North destroy critical documents pertaining to the Iran-Contra affair (see November 21-23, 1986), admits lying to the FBI about the removal and destruction of documents. In January, Hall told FBI investigators that she had indeed secretly removed documents from the NSC offices by hiding them in her clothes (see November 25, 1986), but had only taken out computer printouts of North’s notes. Now she admits that she secretly removed some of the original documents that North had ordered her to alter to conceal his criminal activities. [United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, 12/13/2007]
President Reagan tells a national television audience that he has made mistakes on Iran-Contra, and claims he has had massive memory failures. “A few months ago I told the American people I did not trade arms for hostages,” he says (see February 2, 1987 and February 20, 1987). “My heart and my best intentions tell me that’s true, but the facts and evidence tell me it is not. As the Tower Board reported (see February 26, 1987), what began as a strategic opening to Iran deteriorated, in its implementation, into trading arms for hostages. This runs counter to my own beliefs, to administration policy, and to the original strategy we had in mind. There are reasons why it happened, but no excuses. It was a mistake.” Reagan’s sympathetic message resonates with US viewers; his popularity rebounds to over 50 percent in national polls. [White House, 3/4/1987; White House, 3/4/1987; PBS, 2000]
The Democratic and Republican leaders of Congress’s joint Iran-Contra investigation begin meetings to discuss the logistics of the upcoming public hearings (see May 5, 1987). Speaker of the House Jim Wright (D-TX) later recalls that House committee chairman “Lee Hamilton and I bent over backwards to be fair to the Republicans.” Many of the committee Republicans are not predisposed to return the favor. Moderate Republican Warren Rudman (R-NH), the co-chairman of the Senate committee, recalls that deep divides were forming between the committee’s moderate Republicans and the more hardline Republicans led by Dick Cheney (R-WY). “The meetings were very, very intensive,” Rudman will recall. Cheney helps put together the Republican committee members’ staff, and includes a number of hardline Reagan loyalists: the Justice Department’s Bruce Fein; the former assistant general counsel to the CIA, David Addington; and others. Notably, it is during the Iran-Contra hearings where Cheney and Addington form their lasting professional association.
Artificial Deadline - The first battle is over the length of the hearings. Cheney’s hardliners want the hearings over with quickly—“like tomorrow,” one former staffer recalls. Hamilton will recall: “Did I know Dick wanted to shorten it? Yes, I knew that.” Committee Democrats, fearful of extending the proceedings into the 1988 presidential campaign and thusly being perceived as overly partisan, agree to an artificial ten-month deadline to complete the investigation and issue a final report. Authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein later write that the deadline is “an invitation to the administration to stall while simultaneously burying the committee under mountains of useless information.” When, in the fall of 1987, the committee receives large amounts of new information, such as White House backup computer files, Cheney’s hardliners will succeed in insisting that the committee adhere to the deadline.
Jousting with the Special Prosecutor - The committee also has trouble co-existing with the special prosecutor’s concurrent investigation (see December 19, 1986). The special prosecutor, Lawrence Walsh, wants a long, intensive investigation culminating in a round of prosecutions. The committee worries that in light of Walsh’s investigation, key witnesses like Oliver North and John Poindexter would refuse to testify before the committee, and instead plead the Fifth Amendment. Rudman and committee counsel Arthur Liman want Walsh to quickly prosecute North for obstruction of justice based on North’s “shredding party” (see November 21-25, 1986). Rudman believes that he can get his Republican colleagues to agree to defer their investigation until after North’s trial. But Walsh declines. Rudman later says: “Walsh might have been more successful if he had followed our suggestion.… But he had this grand scheme of conspiracy.” As such, the committee has a difficult choice: abort the investigation or grant North immunity from prosecution so he can testify. Cheney and his hardliners, and even some Democrats, favor not having North testify in deference to his upcoming prosecution. “People were all over the place on that one,” Rudman will recall. Hamilton is the strongest proponent of immunity for North. “He believed that North had information no one else had,” a staffer will recall. Hamilton and the moderate Republicans are more interested in finding the details of the Iran-Contra affair rather than preparing for criminal prosecutions. The committee eventually compromises, and defers the testimony of North and Poindexter until the end of the investigation. Another committee staffer later recalls, “Hamilton was so fair-minded and balanced that in order to get agreements, he gave ground in areas where he shouldn’t have.”
North Deal 'Dooms' Investigation - Dubose and Bernstein later write, “The deal the committee struck with North’s canny lawyer, Brendan Sullivan, doomed Walsh’s investigation and the hearings.” The committee offers North “use immunity,” a guarantee that his testimony cannot be used against him in future prosecutions. The committee also agrees, unwisely, to a series of further caveats: they will not depose North prior to his testimony, his testimony will be strictly limited in duration, the committee will not recall North for further testimony, and he will not have to produce documents to be used in his testimony until just days before his appearance. [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 70-72, 77]
Entity Tags: Oliver North, Jake Bernstein, David S. Addington, Bruce Fein, Brendan Sullivan, Arthur Liman, James C. (‘Jim’) Wright, Jr., John Poindexter, Joint House-Senate Iran-Contra Committee, Lawrence E. Walsh, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Warren Rudman, Lee Hamilton, Lou Dubose
Timeline Tags: Iran-Contra Affair
In the first day of testimony before the Joint House-Senate Iran-Contra Committee (see May 5, 1987), General Richard Secord (see September 19, 1986) testifies that CIA Director William Casey was one of the driving forces behind the illegal sales of arms to Iran, and the equally illegal diversion of profits from those arms to the Nicaraguan Contras. Secord, the leadoff witness, testifies that in addition to Casey, CIA and State Department officials aided in the efforts to provide the Contras with weapons and funds. Secord says he spoke with Casey about arming the Contras three times. He does not go into detail about what specific information he received from Casey during these conversations, but says the quality and amount of information was disappointing: “I was never able to get the professional intelligence I was accustomed to having.” Secord testifies that under Casey, high-ranking CIA agents in Honduras and Costa Rica gave him intelligence and other assistance. [New York Times, 5/7/1987]
Felix Rodriguez, in US Army uniform. [Source: Cuba Informazione]CIA operative Felix Rodriguez testifies before the Iran-Contra committee (see May 5, 1987). Rodriguez, a Cuban exile and former US Army officer, is notorious for his involvement in the execution of South American revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevara in 1967. Rodriguez also ran covert assassination operations for the CIA during the Vietnam War. Rodriguez’s connection to the White House was through Donald Gregg, the national security adviser to Vice President Bush (see March 17, 1983). Gregg had helped station Rodriguez at an airport in El Salvador, where Rodriguez could, under the pseudonym “Max Gomez,” manage the Contra resupply operation for Oliver North and Richard Secord (see Mid-September 1985 and November 19, 1985). CIA cargo handler Eugene Hasenfus (see October 5, 1986) told his Sandinista captors that “Max Gomez” was his contact with the CIA. Rodriguez’s testimony is potentially explosive, but committee member Dick Cheney (R-WY) has no interest in eliciting any such infomation. Instead, he invites Rodriguez to launch a well-scripted diatribe against allowing the Soviet Union to establish a Communist foothold in Latin America. [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 73-74]
Members of the Army Inspector General’s Office travel to Fort Huachuca, Arizona, to investigate indications of corruption within the highly secretive Continuity of Government (COG) program, commonly referred to as the Doomsday project, which is designed to keep the government functioning in times of emergency. The investigators approach veteran Army intelligence officer Tom Golden, who was assigned to a watchdog position within the secret program in 1984 (see January 1984). Golden informs the Army Inspector General’s Office of several instances of waste, fraud, and abuse inside his unit at the base (see July 1987). He speaks personally with chief of the inspector general’s intelligence oversight division, Colonel Ned Bacheldor, who assures Golden his status as a whistleblower will be kept confidential. Bacheldor will in fact leak Golden’s name to members of the COG program, who will in turn launch a retaliatory smear campaign against Golden (see After July 1987). Bacheldor leaves the Army Inspector General’s Office midway through the investigation to join the COG unit at Fort Huachuca. The Army Inspector General’s Office expands its investigation to include the leak, but word of the new investigation is released to those on the base. Before investigators can be dispatched, members involved with the COG project at Fort Huachuca destroy documents pertaining to the probe. Despite facing several obstacles, the investigation concludes that two recently awarded no-bid contracts are illegal and whistleblower Tom Golden has been targeted for retaliation. The contracts are canceled and a high-ranking general is reprimanded, but questionable practices will continue within the program and the smear campaign against Golden will last for years (see After July 1987). “The Army couldn’t even stop what was going on,” Golden will tell CNN in 1991. “It was a program the Army did not have jurisdiction over.” The House Armed Services Committee will have similar troubles investigating Golden’s case, but will reach conclusions similar to the Army (see Summer 1988-1989). [Emerson, 8/7/1989; CNN Special Assignment, 11/17/1991]
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]
Richard Willard, assistant attorney general of the civil division, writes a memo to Deputy Attorney General Arnold Burns about the Inslaw affair. According to Willard, George Bason, the bankruptcy court judge dealing with the Justice Department’s alleged theft of enhanced PROMIS software, should be taken off the case. Willard writes that Bason’s conduct is “so extraordinary that it warranted reassignment to another judge.” The House Judiciary Committee will comment that department officials are “concerned” about Bason’s handling of the case “very early in the litigation,” and that they think Bason tends to believe statements made by Inslaw. The committee will add: “The department believed that Judge Bason disregarded the sworn statements of department witnesses. The department also believed that Judge Bason made lengthy observations regarding the credibility of its witnesses and that Judge Bason’s uniformly negative conclusions were based on inferences not supported by the record.” Therefore, by the summer of 1987, the department is “actively seeking ways to remove Judge Bason from the case.” Bason will rule in favor of Inslaw in the autumn (see September 28, 1987). [US Congress, 9/10/1992]
Testimony in the Iran-Contra investigations turns to the possibility that NSC aide Michael Ledeen may have profited from the US sales of arms to Iran through Israel (see January 24, 1986). Ledeen’s former supervisor at the Department of Defense, Noel Koch, who has long suspected Ledeen of spying for Israel (see 1983 and 1986), says that he first became suspicious of Ledeen when he learned that the price Ledeen had negotiated for the sale to the Israeli government of basic TOW missiles was $2,500 each. Koch found that no TOW missile had ever been sold to any foreign government for less than $6,800 per unit. Under orders from his superiors in the department, Koch renegotiated the deal with an Israeli official, eventually raising the price to $4,500 per missile, almost twice what Ledeen had “negotiated” in Israel. Author Stephen Green, who will write two books on US-Israeli relations, will comment, “There are two possibilities here—one would be a kickback, as suspected by his NSC colleagues, and the other would be that Michael Ledeen was effectively negotiating for Israel, not the US.” [CounterPunch, 2/28/2004]
Justice Department staff tell Attorney General Edwin Meese that Judge George Bason of the Bankruptcy Court for the District of Columbia is “off his rocker,” according to a sworn statement Meese will later make to the House Judiciary Committee. Bason is presiding over a dispute between the department and the software company Inslaw (see June 9, 1986) and will eventually rule against the department (see September 28, 1987). This comment appears to be part of a campaign to get Bason removed from the case (see June 19, 1987) and a judge more favorable to the department appointed. [US Congress, 9/10/1992]
According to a sworn statement made to the House Judiciary Committee by Martin Bloom, clerk of the Bankruptcy Court for the District of Columbia, the administration of the court by the clerk’s office is “up to par” by “the latter part of 1987.” Chief Judge Aubrey Robinson will agree with Bloom, complimenting the bankruptcy court’s judge, George Bason, on improvements in the court’s administrative condition in remarks to an annual judicial conference.
Condition of Clerk's Office Later Becomes Important - The condition of the clerk’s office will later become significant because it will apparently be an important factor in the non-reappointment of Bason later this year (see December 15, 1987). For example, a confidential report about his possible reappointment (see December 8, 1987) will say, “Judge Bason evidenced no inclination to come to grips personally with the management challenge posed by the terrible shortcomings of the Office of the Clerk of our Bankruptcy Court.” Bason is currently at loggerheads with the Justice Department over the Inslaw case (see June 19, 1987) and will rule in favor of Inslaw in September (see September 28, 1987).
Previous Poor Condition - It will be established that the clerk’s office was not in good condition when Bason took over the bankruptcy court in the mid-1980s, although a May 1986 report said that the system was being brought under control and Bloom will blame the previous clerk for the problems. Bloom will also say that Bason takes an active role in providing whatever assistance he can in improving the administrative condition of the court.
Committee's Assessment of Court - However, the committee that fails to reappoint Bason will somehow come to believe that it is still a mess at this time and that this is Bason’s fault, although an investigation by the House Judiciary Committee will find that “most of the district and circuit judges interviewed [who were on the reappointment committee] said that they had little or no contact with Judge Bason and were not in a position to have firsthand knowledge of the condition of his court.” Neither Bloom nor the previous clerk will be interviewed by the panel about the court’s administration and, according to Bason, there is no mechanism in place for the judges to personally evaluate it. The committee will comment: “Considering that poor administrative controls seemed to be one of the primary reasons for Judge Bason’s failed attempt at reappointment, it is unusual that neither Judge Bason nor the other individuals most responsible for the administration of the court were interviewed by the panel. Judge Robinson made a telling comment to committee investigators when he said it is unfortunate bankruptcy judges are selected by judges furthest removed from the bankruptcy court.” [US Congress, 9/10/1992]
Robert Bork. [Source: National Constitution Center]The controversial nomination of conservative judge Robert Bork to the Supreme Court is defeated in the US Senate. Bork is denied a seat on the Court in a 58-42 vote, because his views are thought to be extremist and even some Republicans vote against him.
'Right-Wing Zealot' - Bork, nominated by President Reagan as one of the sitting judges who most completely reflects Reagan’s judiciary philosophy (see 1985-1986), is characterized even by administration officials as a “right-wing zealot.” Reagan also wants a nominee to placate the hard right over their disaffection caused by the brewing Iran-Contra scandal. However, to make him more palatable for the majority of Americans, Reagan officials attempt to repackage Bork as a moderate conservative. Senate Judiciary Committee member Edward Kennedy (D-MA) attacks Bork’s political philosophy, saying before the committee hearings: “[In Bork’s America] women would be forced into back alley abortions, blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters, rogue police could break down citizens’ doors in midnight raids, schoolchildren could not be taught about evolution, writers and artists could be censored at the whim of government, and the doors of the federal courts would be shut on the fingers of millions of citizens for whom the judiciary is the—and is often the only—protector of the individual rights that are the heart of our democracy.… No justice would be better than this injustice.” Kennedy’s words provoke complaint, but the characterization of Bork is based on his lengthy record of court verdicts and his large body of judicial writings.
Racial Equality Issues - Although there is no evidence to suggest that Bork is himself a racist, former Nixon White House counsel John Dean will write that “his positions on civil rights were an anathema to all who cared about equality in America.” Constitutional law professor Herman Schwartz will write in 2004, “Bork condemned the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause decisions outlawing the poll tax (to him it was just ‘a very small tax’), the decision establishing the one-person, one-vote principle, abolishing school segregation in the District of Columbia, barring courts from enforcing racially restrictive housing covenants, preventing a state from sterilizing certain criminals or interfering with the right to travel, and prohibiting discrimination against out-of-wedlock children…. Bork’s hostility to governmental action on behalf of minorities did not stop with his critique of court action. In 1963 he criticized a section of the proposed Civil Rights Act of 1964 that required white businesses to serve blacks as resting on a principle of ‘unsurpassed ugliness.’”
Ready to Fight - The Reagan administration understands that Bork’s nomination is opposed; on July 1, the day of his announced nomination, the media reports that Reagan will try to ensure Bork’s confirmation by waging an “active campaign.” Even Senate-savvy James Baker, Reagan’s chief of staff, is uncertain about Bork’s chances at being confirmed, and further worries that even if Bork wins the fight, the cost to Reagan’s political capital will be too high.
His Own Worst Enemy - Conservatives Justice Department official Terry Eastland will later say Senate Democrats sabotage Bork’s chances at faring well in the confirmation hearings, even positioning his table to ensure the least favorable angles for Bork on television. However, the public’s opinion of Bork is unfavorable, and Dean will write: “[I]t was not the position of his chair in the hearing room that made Bork look bad, but rather his arrogance, his hubris, and his occasional cold-bloodedness, not to mention his equivocations and occasional ‘confirmation conversions,’ where he did what no one else could do. He made himself a terrible witness who did not appear to be truthful.” The confirmation conversions even surprise some of his supporters, as Bork abandons his previous stances that the First Amendment only applies to political speech, and the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal protection clause does not apply to women. The Senate Judiciary Committee passes Bork’s nomination along to the full Senate, where Bork is defeated 58-42.
The Verb 'To Bork' - In 2007, Dean will write, “Bork’s defeat made him both a martyr and a verb,” and quotes conservative pundit William Safire as writing that “to bork” someone means to viciously attack a political figure, particularly by misrepresenting that figure in the media. [Dean, 2007, pp. 137-143]
Entity Tags: Herman Schwartz, US Department of Justice, Gregory Peck, Edward M. (“Ted”) Kennedy, US Supreme Court, William Safire, Ronald Reagan, James A. Baker, Senate Judiciary Committee, Terry Eastland, Robert Bork, John Dean
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Deputy Attorney General Arnold Burns asks his subordinates at the Justice Department’s civil division to “consider initiatives for achieving a more favorable disposition of this matter [a legal dispute between the department and Inslaw over PROMIS software].” This is apparently a reference to the possible removal of Judge George Bason from the case, as the department thinks he is biased against it (see June 19, 1987). In response to the comments, the department will draft a report about removing Bason (see After July 7, 1987). [US Congress, 9/10/1992]
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.” [Boston Globe, 7/9/1987]
Impact on Public Opinion - Results will differ on North’s popularity with viewers (see July 9-31, 1987).
Entity Tags: William Casey, Warren Rudman, Ronald Reagan, Oliver North, Joint House-Senate Iran-Contra Committee, Arthur Liman, Bush administration (41), Contras, Daniel Inouye, Hezbollah, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, John Nields, Jake Bernstein, Lou Dubose
Timeline Tags: Iran-Contra Affair
Following a request from the Justice Department’s leadership (see July 7, 1987), Michael Hertz, the director of the civil division’s commercial litigation branch at the department, writes a memo entitled “Feasibility of Motion to Disqualify the Judge in Inslaw.” The department has come to believe that the judge, George Bason, is biased against it (see June 19, 1987) and hopes to challenge his findings of fact by saying they are unsupported by evidence and reflect a desire to reach a preordained conclusion. This position is mostly based on the department’s observations that some of Bason’s findings of fact are “rambling and based on deductions that are both strained and have flimsy support.” However, Hertz writes to Deputy Assistant Attorney General Stuart Schiffer that the facts simply do not support a case of bias strong enough to disqualify Bason from the remainder of the Inslaw case. Hertz adds that he is “fairly confident” that any motion to dismiss Bason would not succeed and the denial of any such motion could not be successfully challenged on appeal. He gives the following reasons:
The department has no evidence that what it views as “Bason’s incredible factual conclusions or alleged bias” actually stem from an extrajudicial source, as the case law requires;
Adverse factual findings and inferences against the government are not enough to support a claim of bias; and
Adverse credibility rulings about some of the government’s witnesses in a prior phase of the proceedings are not on their own sufficient to disqualify Bason from the rest of the proceedings.
Hertz says that attempting to demonstrate bias by Bason could adversely affect any future appeal by the department on the findings of fact. He also advises Schiffer that as much as the department may disagree with
Bason’s findings: “[T]hey are not mere conclusory statements. Instead they reflect a relatively detailed judicial analysis of the evidence, including reasons for believing certain witnesses and disbelieving others, as well as consideration of what inferences might or might not be drawn from the evidence.” [US Congress, 9/10/1992] Despite this, the department will twice attempt to get Bason recused, failing both times (see January 19, 1988 and January 25, 1988).
Public opinion is sharply divided on the testimony, believability, and popularity of Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North after his testimony before Congress’s Iran-Contra committee (see July 7-10, 1987). A Washington Post/ABC News poll shows 64 percent of those surveyed have a “favorable opinion” of North after watching his testimony. But the “scores of letters received” by the Post was almost exactly opposite, with two-thirds expressing disapproval or reservations about North’s testimony. The Post reports, “Of 130 letters that could be categorized easily as either favorable or unfavorable, 39 were favorable, 91 unfavorable.” One of the unfavorable letters reads in part: “I wish to register an emphatic voice that does not join in the general adulation of… North. He is certainly bright, articulate, sincere and dedicated—but not to the basics of democracy, the rule of law or the tenets of the Constitution.” One favorable letter characterizes North as “the guy we thought we were voting for when we voted for Reagan,” and lauds North for “his endeavor to help release our hostages, get a better relationship with Iran and most of all support the Nicaraguan contras with both military arms and humanitarian supplies.” Many of the letters in support of North chastize the media. One letter writer accuses the Post and the television news media of mocking North throughout his testimony, and concludes that after North’s performance, “the media have, at long last, been hoist on their own petard.” The Post reports that “the mix of letters” is “evidently not so very different from that received at other newspapers across the country,” with “letters editors at the Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times all reported more mail against North. USA Today said the mail is now running 50-50 after an initial flurry of mail in North’s favor.” According to Gallup Polls president Andrew Kohut, letter writers are more articulate, more involved in public affairs, and more politicized than people who don’t write. Also, “people who hold intense attitudes tend to write…” [Washington Post, 7/31/1987] Television news anchors and pundits are equally divided. NBC’s Tom Brokaw says North “performed the congressional equivalent of a grand slam, a touchdown, a hole-in-one, a knockout. You can almost hear his supporters around the country chanting ‘Ol-lie, Ol-lie, Ol-lie.’” But CBS’s Dan Rather asks why North did not do as he had sworn to do and take all the blame for the Iran-Contra machinations: “Whatever happened to the idea that he would take arrows in his chest?” [Boston Globe, 7/9/1987]
Entity Tags: Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Andrew Kohut, ABC News, Dan Rather, Joint House-Senate Iran-Contra Committee, Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Tom Brokaw, USA Today, Oliver North
Timeline Tags: Iran-Contra Affair
On the last day of Oliver North’s testimony to the Joint House-Senate Iran-Contra Committee (see July 7-10, 1987), ranking Republican Dick Cheney handles the questioning. Authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein will observe that the questioning is more of “a duet than an interrogation.”
Praise from Cheney to North - Cheney opens by praising North’s handling of the hearings, saying, “I know I speak for a great many people who have been watching the proceedings, because the Congress has been absolutely buried in the favorable public reaction to your testimony and phone calls and telegrams” (see July 9-31, 1987). North has taken to stacking piles of supportive telegrams on his witness table; what he and Cheney do not tell those watching the hearings is that Western Union is offering a half-price special on pro-North telegrams sent to the committee.
Obvious Orchestration - Dubose and Bernstein later write that Cheney and North’s session is so perfectly carried out that it seems scripted and rehearsed, “complete with programmed queries and answers not available to everyone else.” Committee co-chairman Warren Rudman (R-NH) later says, “It was apparent to me that there was coordination going on.” Bruce Fein, the Republican staff’s chief of research, later admits that there was indeed such collaboration, though he says it was nothing more than “coordinat[ing] strategy.” Cheney and North’s duet paints North as nothing more than a guy who wanted “to cut through red tape” to save Nicaragua from Communism. North takes the opportunity to portray the selfless hero: “Hang whatever you want around the neck of Ollie North… but for the love of God and the love of this nation, don’t hang around Ollie North’s neck the cutoff of funds to the Nicaraguan resistance again. This country cannot stand that, not just because of Nicaragua, but because of all the other nations in the world who look at us and measure by what we do now in Nicaragua, the measure of our whole commitment to their cause. To things like NATO, to things like our commitment to peace and democracy elsewhere in the world.”
'Turnaround from Defense to Offense [Is] Complete' - Dubose and Bernstein later write, “The two men were now in the zone, a parallel radical-right fantasyland, blissfully ignoring the damage to America’s reputation caused by the administration’s support for the Contras and its willingness to barter weapons for hostages with Iran and Hezbollah.” Cheney and North ignore the World Court’s condemnation of the US mining of Nicaraguan harbors, the Contras’ attacks on civilian targets such as medical centers while refusing to engage the Sandinista forces themselves, which had inflamed outrage in Europe, and the ridicule that Iranian hardliners had subjected US attempts to open negotiations. Cheney’s questioning strategy is so successful that he is able to offer North his remaining time to present a slideshow on why funding the Contras is so important. Dubose and Bernstein later write, “The turnaround from defense to offense was complete.” [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 75-78, 80]
Former National Security Adviser John Poindexter (see November 25, 1986) testifies before the joint House-Senate Iran-Contra investigative committee. Poindexter says that he never told President Reagan of the diversion of funds from the Iranian arms sales to the Nicaraguan Contras (see December 6, 1985 and April 4, 1986). He says he never told Reagan in order to preserve the president’s “plausible deniability.” [New York Times, 11/19/1987]
Assistant Secretary of Defense Richard Armitage, who has attended some of Oliver North’s Restricted Interagency Group (RIG) meetings (see Late 1985 and After and July 1986 and After), testifies before the Joint House-Senate Committee investigating Iran-Contra (see May 5, 1987). Armitage is asked about RIG meetings in which North recited a list of his activities in coordinating the Contras, discussed the private funding of the Contras, and demanded item-by-item approval from group members: “[D]o you recall, regardless of what dates, regardless of where it was, regardless of whether it had exactly the players he said—because he could have gotten all that wrong—do you recall any meeting at which he did anything close to what his testimony suggests?” Armitage replies, “I do not.” [Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters: Chapter 25: United States v. Elliott Abrams: November 1986, 8/4/1993] It is not until RIG member Alan Fiers, a former CIA official, testifies in 1991 about North’s behaviors that verification of North’s discussion of such specifics about Contra activities and funding will be made public (see July 17, 1991).
Assistant Attorney General Richard Willard reports to Deputy Attorney General Arnold Burns about the Inslaw case. Willard says that the Justice Department has developed a good trial record, but: “[T]here is virtually no reason for optimism about the judge’s ruling. Even though our witnesses performed admirably and we believe we clearly have the better case, Judge Bason made it apparent in a number of ways that he is not favorably disposed to our position.” The department has been trying to have Bason removed from the case for some time (see June 19, 1987) and he will soon rule in favor of Inslaw (see September 28, 1987). [US Congress, 9/10/1992]
The Iran-Contra hearings come to an end after over 250 hours of testimony from 28 witnesses. [New York Times, 11/19/1987] The hearings have been unsatisfactory at best, with the committee saying in a final statement, “We may never know with precision or truth why [the Iran-Contra affair] ever happened.” [PBS, 2000] The biggest wrangle left for the committee is the status of the final report. The committee’s Democratic leaders want a unanimous report. The Republicans demand numerous concessions for such a unanimous report, including the exclusion of critical evidence of an administration cover-up and evidence implicating President Reagan in the Iran-Contra policy decision-making. The committee produces dozens of drafts of the final report, each more watered-down than the previous one, to accommodate Republican demands. The Republicans will get a report almost completely to their liking, but will then pull away and issue their own minority report anyway (see November 16-17, 1987). [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 80-81]
Senator John McCain (R-AZ) physically assaults a Nicaraguan official during a diplomatic mission by US lawmakers to Managua. According to a witness, fellow senator Thad Cochran (R-MS), McCain is the co-chair, with Senator Christopher Dodd (D-CT), of the bipartisan Central American Negotiations Observer Group; Cochran is a member of the group. They are in a meeting with Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, the leader of the ruling Sandinistas, and several Nicaraguan diplomats, discussing tensions between the two countries. A number of armed Nicaraguan soldiers are also in the room. Cochran recalls that tensions in the room are high due to the heavy pressure being brought to bear by the US against the Nicaraguans. The American lawmakers are pressing “pretty hard,” Cochran will recall. During the discussions, “McCain was down at the end of the table and we were talking to the head of the guerrilla group here at this end of the table and I don’t know what attracted my attention,” Cochran later says. “But I saw some kind of quick movement at the bottom of the table and I looked down there and John had reached over and grabbed this guy by the shirt collar and had snatched him up like he was throwing him up out of the chair to tell him what he thought about him or whatever. I don’t know what he was telling him but I thought, good grief, everybody around here has got guns and we were there on a diplomatic mission. I don’t know what had happened to provoke John but he obviously got mad at the guy and he just reached over there and snatched him.” McCain does not actually strike the Nicaraguan, and the two eventually retake their seats. Cochran will recall that the Nicaraguan appears “ruffled” after the incident. [Biloxi Sun-Herald, 6/30/2008; Biloxi Sun-Herald, 7/1/2008; Associated Press, 7/2/2008] In 2008, McCain will call Cochran’s story “simply untrue.” [Time, 7/2/2008] “I had many, many meetings with the Sandinistas,” McCain will say. “I must say, I did not admire the Sandinistas much. But there was never anything of that nature. It just didn’t happen.” [Associated Press, 7/2/2008]
Fawaz Younis, a militant for the Lebanese Amal organization who has just been captured by the US (see June 14-30, 1985 and September 18, 1987), is kept in poor conditions, according to a later account he gives. Yousef will make the following allegations of mistreatment:
Both his wrists are broken when he is captured and he is not given medical treatment or painkillers for five days. However, according to the US, the broken wrists are not discovered until Younis is transported to the US, a few days after his capture.
While being held at sea, he is placed in a “highly heated cabin” and, “An exhaust pipe inside the cabin blew sand and hot air during that period, and my only resort for fresh air was to constantly ask my abductors to go to the toilet, where I could breathe fresh air.”
Younis will also say he suffered from seasickness.
At his trial, he will say that a confession was coerced from him thanks to these factors, but will be convicted. However, FBI spokesman Frank Scafidi will dismiss the claims, saying: “This man was convicted. He is raising these allegations while sitting in prison, and I think that speaks for itself. The FBI as [a] matter of policy treats prisoners or arrestees in conformance with its policies and regulations.” [Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 1/24/1999]
A group of US agencies, comprising the CIA, FBI, DEA, and Defense Department, cooperates on the capture and rendition of Fawaz Younis, an Islamic militant linked to Lebanon’s Amal militia who was previously involved in two airplane hijackings.
Arrested, Transferred to US - Younis is captured after being lured to a boat in international waters off Cyprus. He is then arrested and transferred to an aircraft carrier, from where he is flown directly to the US. The operation, which costs US$20 million, is so complicated because of rules set by the Justice Department. [Trento and Trento, 2006, pp. 78-94] Author Stephen Grey will call the rules “very tight.” CIA manager Duane Clarridge will say, “This meant that Yunis had to be apprehended by the FBI in international waters or airspace, remain in constant custody of the feds, and remain clear of the turf of any sovereign nation—for the entire duration of his 4,000-mile journey to the United States.” [Grey, 2007, pp. 133-134]
Details of Hijackings - In the first hijacking, Younis seized a plane in Beirut and attempted to fly it to Tunis, where the Arab League was meeting. The aim was to pressure the League into urging the Palestine Liberation Organization to leave Lebanon, as relations between it and local people had deteriorated. In the second hijacking, which took place five days later, the plane was seized by a team from Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah, who beat the passengers and shot one of them, US Navy diver Robert Stethem. Posing as a crewman during a stopover in Beirut, Younis entered the plane and took control of the hijacking. The passengers were removed from the plane in groups, and dispersed through Beirut. They were later released in return for safe passage for the hijackers (see June 14-30, 1985).
Lured by Informant - The man who lured Younis to the boat is Jamal Hamdan, who had previously worked with the CIA on a false flag operation in Germany (see After Mid-April 1986). Authors Joe and Susan Trento will describe Hamdan as “a street hustler, murderer and drug dealer,” adding, “Hamdan’s Beirut police file is impressive.” Thanks to his connection to Amal, Hamdan was able to operate for a time despite his killings, but in 1985 he murdered a senior Druze official and then his sister-in-law, leading to his imprisonment. Amal leader and US intelligence asset Nabih Berri informed the US that Hamdan could help them with some drug cases, and he began providing the DEA and CIA with information about US-based drug dealers, which got him released from prison.
Deal for Asylum - In return for helping the operation to capture Younis, dubbed operation Goldenrod, Hamdan insisted on “huge cash payments” and asylum for himself and his family in the US. The Trentos will comment, “In other words, the FBI arranged to bring into our country a murderer and terrorist in return for the capture of an airplane hijacker who had never killed any Americans.” [Trento and Trento, 2006, pp. 78-94]
Judge George Bason of the Bankruptcy Court for the District of Columbia issues an oral finding that the Justice Department “took, converted, and stole” the enhanced version of Inslaw’s PROMIS software by “trickery, fraud, and deceit.” The ruling is issued at the end of a trial that lasts over two weeks and involves sworn statements from over 40 witnesses and thousands of pages of documentary evidence. Bason finds that a key departmental official, project manager C. Madison Brewer, was biased against Inslaw (see April 1982, April 14, 1982, and April 19, 1982). In addition, Brewer’s boss Lowell Jensen (see December 29, 1983 and February 1984) is said to have “a previously developed negative attitude about PROMIS and Inslaw,” because he had been associated with the development of a rival case management system while he was a district attorney in California, and this affected his judgment throughout his oversight of the contract. Further, the department violated bankruptcy protection legislation that applied to Inslaw by using and exercising control over Inslaw’s property—the enhanced PROMIS software—without negotiating a license fee. This oral finding is confirmed in a written opinion issued on January 25, 1988. In the written finding, Bason adds, “[T]his court finds and concludes that the department never intended to meet its commitment and that once the department had received enhanced PROMIS pursuant to Modification 12 (see April 11, 1983), the department thereafter refused to bargain in good faith with Inslaw and instead engaged in an outrageous, deceitful, fraudulent game of ‘cat and mouse,’ demonstrating contempt for both the law and any principle of fair dealing.” [US Congress, 9/10/1992]
Stuart Schiffer, deputy assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s civil division, writes to Richard Willard, the assistant attorney general for the civil division, about the Inslaw case. Schiffer writes: “[Judge George] Bason has scheduled the next [Inslaw] trial for February 2 . Coincidentally, it has been my understanding that February 1  is the date on which he [Bason] will either be reappointed or replaced.” Bason had ruled in favor of Inslaw (see September 28, 1987) and the department had been trying to have him removed from the case for months (see June 19, 1987). After Bason’s bid for reappointment fails (see December 15, 1987), he will say that the department used its influence against him (see December 5, 1990). [US Congress, 9/10/1992]
After Robert Bork’s nomination to the Supreme Court fails (see July 1-October 23, 1987), President Reagan nominates an equally hard-line conservative, appeals court judge Douglas Ginsberg. Ginsberg withdraws his nomination after the press learns that he had ignored a serious conflict-of-interest problem while at the Department of Justice, that he had smoked marijuana as both a student and a professor at Harvard Law School, and that, though Ginsberg professes to be stringently anti-abortion, his wife is a doctor who has herself performed abortions. Reagan will nominate a third and final selection for the Court, the somewhat more moderate Anthony Kennedy. [Washington Post, 1998; Federal Judicial Center, 9/26/2006; Dean, 2007, pp. 143-144]
The flag of the Branch Davidians. [Source: Wikimedia]Vernon Wayne Howell, a Texas musician and a member of the Branch Davidian sect of Seventh-day Adventists, forcibly installs himself as the leader of the Branch Davidian sect near Waco, Texas. Howell is a self-described loner and dyslexic who dropped out of high school, but taught himself the Bible, memorizing most of it by age 12. He was expelled from the Church of Seventh-day Adventists in 1979 for being a bad influence on the church’s young people, and in 1981 joined the Waco group of Branch Davidians in its 77-acre compound, “Mount Carmel,” on the outskirts of the city. Howell had an affair with the leader of the group, self-described prophetess Lois Roden, some 30 years older than himself.
Power Struggle - After Roden died, Howell began a lengthy struggle for control of the group with Roden’s son George Roden. In late 1987, Roden digs up the body of a member, Anna Hughes, and issues a challenge to Howell: the one who could raise her from the dead is the one to lead the community. Instead, Howell asks the local authorities to charge Roden with abusing a corpse. On November 3, Howell returns to the Mt. Carmel compound with seven male followers, all dressed in camouflage and bearing assault rifles, hunting rifles, shotguns, and ammunition. The two groups engage in a gunfight; during the exchange, Roden is shot in the chest and hands. Howell and his followers will be tried for attempted murder, but the others will be acquitted and Howell’s trial will end in a mistrial. In 1989, Roden will try to murder a man with an axe, and will be committed to a mental instutition for the rest of his life. By 1990, Howell will have established himself as the leader of the Waco Branch Davidians, and will legally change his name to David Koresh, explaining that he believes he is now the head of the Biblical House of David. Koresh is a Hebrew translation of “Cyrus,” the Persian king who allowed the Jews held captive in Babylon to return to Israel. [New York Times, 3/1/1993; Waco Tribune-Herald, 3/3/1993; Dean M. Kelley, 5/1995; PBS Frontline, 10/1995]
Adventists Join Koresh at Waco Compound - Seventh-day Adventists and others from around the world will journey to Waco to join the Davidians, who all told number somewhere around 75. According to a multi-part series by the Waco Tribune-Herald based on the recollections and observations of former members (see February 27 - March 3, 1993), the Davidians gather at the compound to “await the end of the world.” The members believe that Koresh alone can open the so-called “Seven Seals” of Biblical prophecy, which will trigger the Apocalypse, destroy the world as we know it, and propel Koresh and his followers into heaven. The compound is heavily armed. [Waco Tribune-Herald, 3/3/1993] Most of the Davidians live communally in an L-shaped compound of beige buildings. A few of the more elderly members live in a trailer four miles from the main compound. The trailer has more amenities than the main building, which lacks central heating and indoor plumbing. The men live separately from the women and children. Members rise early, breakfasting together in a large cafeteria and then going to work. Some of the men have jobs in the Waco area, and many stay, working on what sect member Paul Fatta will describe as a three-year renovation of the compound but what law enforcement officials say is a network of tunnels and bunkers. The children are home-schooled by the women. [New York Times, 3/6/1993]
Former Member: Koresh Brought Apocalyptic Mindset, Violence to Group - According to Davidian David Bunds, who will later leave the group, Koresh, or Howells as he is known, was something of a destabilizing factor from the time of his arrival. Bunds will later say: “We were a very reserved, very conservative group. There were no emotional displays. Then along came Vernon Howell. I remember my father said one day, ‘Well, that guy sounds like he’s going to end up saying he’s a prophet the way he’s acting.’” Bunds will later say that while he was enthralled for a time by Koresh’s personality and his apocalyptic preaching, he became increasingly disturbed at his insistence on having multiple “wives,” his stockpiling of more and more weapons, and the increasingly violent methods of “discipline” being meted out to “disobedient” children and adults alike (adults, Bunds and other “defectors” will later say, are physically beaten by Koresh’s cadre of militantly loyal “Mighty Men”). Bunds will be forced out of the group after questioning Koresh’s Biblical interpretations, and for taking a sect member as his wife against Koresh’s wishes. [Conway and Siegelman, 1995, pp. 244-246]
Federal Raid, Siege - The Waco Branch Davidians will kill four federal agents attempting to arrest Koresh on gun and sexual abuse charges (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993); most of them, including Koresh, will die in a fiery conflagration after a 51-day standoff (see April 19, 1993). After the February 1993 raid, Waco Chamber of Commerce president Jack Stewart will say: “The sad part about this group is that it has evolved from the peaceful, pastoral group that it started as in the 1930s. Only since this most recent leader have they begun to acquire some of the weaponry and attitudes that they have.” [New York Times, 3/1/1993]
The congressional Iran-Contra committee has finally produced a final report, which committee Democrats thought would be unanimous. But committee Republicans fought successfully to water down the report, including the exclusion of evidence proving President Reagan’s involvement in the policy decisions (see August 3, 1987 and After), and then at the last minute broke away and announced their intention to issue a minority report—which was their intention all along. “From the get-go they wanted a minority report,” Republican staffer Bruce Fein will later recall. The official majority report is due to come out on November 17, but a printing error forces it to be delayed a day (see November 18, 1987). The committee Republicans, headed by Representative Dick Cheney (R-WY) and Senator Henry Hyde (R-IL) leak their minority report to the New York Times on November 16, thus stealing a march on the majority. On November 17, all of the committee Republicans save three—Senators Warren Rudman (R-NH), Paul Trible (R-VA), and William Cohen (R-ME)—hold a press conference in which they accuse the majority of staging a “witch hunt” against the president and the administration. The minority report asserts: “There was no constitutional crisis, no systematic disrespect for the ‘rule of law,’ no grand conspiracy, and no administration-wide dishonesty or cover-up.… In our view the administration did proceed legally in pursuing both its Contra policy and the Iran arms initiative.” Rudman calls the minority report “pathetic,” and says his Republican colleagues have “separated the wheat from the chaff and sowed the chaff.” The press focuses on the conflict between the two reports. The Democrats largely ignore the minority report: “This was ‘87,” one Democratic staff member will recall. “We had a substantial majority and the Republicans were trained to be what we thought was a permanent minority party. When they would yap and yell, we would let them yap. It just didn’t matter.” [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 80-81]
Congress’s joint Iran-Contra investigative committee issues its final majority report. [New York Times, 11/19/1987] The Republican minority has largely refused to join the majority report, which was watered down time and again to entice the Republicans to join in the issuance of a unanimous report (see November 16-17, 1987). Still, the watered-down report finds that the “clandestine financing operation undermined the powers of Congress as a coequal branch and subverted the Constitution.” The Reagan administration had violated a key belief of the Constitution’s framers: “the purse and the sword should never be in the same hands.” Regardless of the majority report’s findings, no significant reforms will come from the Iran-Contra investigation. [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 81-82]
An official written report is drafted for the panel considering the appointment of a judge to the Bankruptcy Court to the District of Columbia. The two-page report briefly assesses the final four candidates, including the incumbent George Bason, who is, however, at loggerheads with the Justice Department over his handling of the Inslaw case (see June 19, 1987 and September 28, 1987). However, another—longer but unofficial—report will be drafted two weeks later and will be critical of Bason (see December 8, 1987). [US Congress, 9/10/1992]
An apparently unofficial, confidential memo marked “read and destroy” is drafted about the four final candidates for the position of judge at the Bankruptcy Court for the District of Columbia. The memo is clearly critical of the incumbent, George Bason, who is up for reappointment. Bason recently displeased the Justice Department by ruling against it in the Inslaw affair over the alleged theft of enhanced PROMIS software (see September 28, 1987). The memo states that “its purpose is to ‘help’ elucidate in particular our reasoning in ranking the candidates as we did,” and describes each of the four. The House Judiciary Committee will comment: “What is striking about the memorandum is that the description of each candidate except Judge Bason begins with positive commentary about the individual. The section describing Judge Bason begins, ‘I could not conclude that Judge Bason was incompetent.’ Other phrases used to describe Judge Bason include ‘he is inclined to make mountains out of molehills,’ ‘Judge Bason seems to have developed a pronounced and unrelenting reputation for favoring debtors,’ and finally, ‘Judge Bason evidenced no inclination to come to grips personally with the management challenge posed by the terrible shortcomings of the Office of the Clerk of our Bankruptcy Court.’” The memo is addressed to Judge Norma Johnson, who Bason will allege may have been an instrument of a campaign waged against him by the Justice Department (see May 1988). The panel appointing the bankruptcy court judge will meet a week later and decide not to give the position to Bason, but to a Justice Department lawyer who represented the government in the Inslaw case (see December 15, 1987). After Bason asks appeals court judges to reconsider his non-reappointment (see January 12, 1988), the memo will be circulated to them. The memo is unsigned, but an appeals court judge who later provides the memo to the House Judiciary Committee investigating the Inslaw affair will say another judge on the appointment panel drafted it. However, this judge will deny having done so. When, some years later, several members of the panel are asked by the committee whether they saw this memo, they will say they do not recognize it. [US Congress, 9/10/1992]
George Bason, a bankruptcy judge who recently found in favor of Inslaw in a dispute over the Justice Department’s alleged theft of enhanced PROMIS software (see September 28, 1987), is not reappointed to the bench. Bason had been appointed in February 1984 instead of another judge who had resigned mid-term, but a decision is now taken to replace him with a Justice Department attorney named Martin Teel, who had appeared before him in the Inslaw case. Although the official report for the appointments panel about the candidates did not criticize Bason (see November 24, 1987), a subsequent unofficial report addressed to Norma Johnson, the head of the panel, did (see December 8, 1987). The unofficial report claimed that there were shortcomings in Bason’s administration of the clerk’s office, although the office appears to be running smoothly by this time (see Second Half of 1987). Several judges on the selection council will later say they did not know much about the candidates, and therefore relied on Johnson and her interpretation of reports prepared about them. The House Judiciary Committee will find that Johnson’s oral presentation “played a large role in the selection,” that Johnson ran the panel “firmly,” and that the other members “relied on her judgment.” Overall, it will call the selection process “largely informal, undocumented, and highly subjective.” Bason learns he will not be reappointed from Chief Judge Patricia Wald, of the US Court of Appeals, on December 28. Bason will later say that Teel was not qualified for the position (see January 12, 1988) and that the department had influenced the selection process in order to have him removed from the bench (see December 5, 1990). In this context, Bason will point out to the House committee that Johnson had previously worked with a departmental official named Stuart Schiffer, so he could have influenced her against Bason (see May 1988). Bason will also note that Johnson worked with Judge Tim Murphy for 10 years from 1970, and that Murphy had later worked as the assistant director on the implementation of PROMIS at the Justice Department. [US Congress, 9/10/1992]
Richard Butler, the head of the white separatist and neo-Nazi organization Aryan Nations (see Early 1970s), is indicted, along with 12 of his followers and fellow racists, by a federal grand jury for seditious conspiracy to overthrow the government by violence, conspiring to kill federal officials, and transporting stolen money across state lines. The sedition was allegedly developed at a 1983 Aryan Nations Congress meeting (see 1981 and After). The case is tried in Fort Smith, Arkansas, before an all-white jury. The goverment is unable to prove the case, and Butler and his fellow defendants are all acquitted. The judge refuses to accept the jury’s statement that it is deadlocked on two counts, a ruling that leads to the blanket acquittals. Other white supremacists acquitted in the trial are Louis Beam (see February 1992), Richard Wayne Snell (see 9:00 p.m. April 19, 1995), and Robert Miles. US Attorney J. Michael Fitzhugh says he believes the prosecution proved its case, but “we accept the verdict of the jury.” Six of the defendants are serving prison terms for other crimes. The prosecution says Butler, Beam, Miles, and the other 10 defendants had robbed banks and armored trucks of $4.1 million, including about $1 million that still is missing. The defense countered that the prosecution’s case was based on conspiracy theories given by the prosecution’s chief witness, James Ellison, an Arkansas white supremacist serving 20 years for racketeering. During the proceedings, Butler undergoes quadruple bypass surgery and a second surgery to unblock his carotid artery, all at government expense. [Associated Press, 4/8/1998; Southern Poverty Law Center, 2010; Southern Poverty Law Center, 2010] Some time after the trial, one of the jurors marries one of the defendants, David McGuire. [Kaplan, 2000, pp. 19]
Congress attempts to bring back the Fairness Doctrine (see 1987), a provision that mandates the broadcasting of differing viewpoints on controversial political and social issues (see 1949 and 1959). Though the legislation passes both houses of Congress by wide margins, President Reagan vetoes the legislation, and Congress is unable to muster enough votes to override the veto. In 2008, authors Kathleen Hall Jamieson and Joseph N. Cappella will write: “The end of the Fairness Doctrine paved the way for talk radio as we know it today (see 1990-1993). Neither hosts nor stations currently have an obligation to provide balance or to open their programs to those of competing views.” [Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, 2/12/2005; Jamieson and Cappella, 2008, pp. 45]
Anti-abortion protesters gather to voice their opposition to abortion. [Source: CNN]Operation Rescue California, a subgroup of the national anti-abortion organization (see 1986), under the leadership of Kevin White, stages “rescue campaigns” against a number of women’s clinics in California. The organization dubs the campaign “No Place to Hide.” Some of the most blatant harassment of doctors, nurses, and patients recorded by anti-abortion activists results from this campaign. [Kushner, 2003, pp. 38-39]
The cover of ‘Hunter.’ [Source: ce399 (.com)]William Pierce, the founder of the neo-Nazi National Alliance (see 1970-1974) and the author of the inflammatory and highly influential white supremacist novel The Turner Diaries (see 1978), oversees the creation of a publishing firm for the Alliance, National Vanguard Books. It will publish a number of works, most prominently a reprint of The Turner Diaries and Pierce’s second novel, Hunter, which tells the story of a white assassin who kills minorities, particularly interracial couples. He dedicates Hunter to Joseph Paul Franklin, convicted of the sniper murders of two African-American men (see 1980). Pierce will later tell his biographer that he wrote Hunter as a deliberate motivational tool for assassins, saying, “From the beginning with Hunter, I had this idea of how fiction can work as a teaching tool in mind.” In 2002, the Center for New Community will write, “Like The Turner Diaries, the book has inspired several real-life acts of racist terror” (see January 4, 2002 and After). In 1991, National Vanguard will expand into releasing audiotapes, which by December 1992 will spawn a radio show, American Dissident Voices. In 1993, it will begin publishing comic books targeted at children and teenagers. [Center for New Community, 8/2002 ]
Republicans in the US Senate successfully filibuster efforts to pass legislation that would significantly limit campaign spending by federal candidates. [Connecticut Network, 2006 ]
A federal appeals court rules 2-1 in favor of Theodore Olson, the former head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, who has refused to comply with a subpoena issued as part of an independent counsel’s investigation into political interference at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Olson’s position is that the independent counsel is illegal under the Constitution, as interpreted by the so-called “unitary executive theory” (see April 30, 1986). One of the appellate court judges, Carter appointee Ruth Bader Ginsberg, argues that the independent counsel law is perfectly constitutional, and fits with the Founding Fathers’ vision of a system of “checks and balances” among the three governmental branches. But Reagan appointees Laurence Silberman and Stephen Williams outvote Ginsberg. Silberman, who writes the majority opinion, is a longtime advocate of increased executive power, and calls the independent counsel law “inconsistent with the doctrine of a unitary executive.” The Supreme Court will strike down Silberman’s ruling (see June 1988), but the independent counsel will not bring charges against Olson. [Savage, 2007, pp. 46-49]
George Bason, a bankruptcy judge who ruled in favor of Inslaw in a dispute with the Justice Department over the alleged theft of PROMIS software (see September 28, 1987) and was subsequently not reappointed to the bench (see December 15, 1987), requests a hearing on his non-reappointment before the Judicial Council of the District of Columbia. Bason criticizes the other candidate, Justice Department official Martin Teel, who was given the position, saying he has “a considerably shorter total period of legal experience,” as he has mostly worked on taxation matters, not bankruptcy, and for the last few years has worked as a reviewer and then manager, without doing his own independent work. Teel will dispute this characterization in a letter to the House Judiciary Committee, saying he was qualified and, when appointed, had “six years of fairly extensive bankruptcy experience.” The request for a hearing will not change the decision to not reappoint Bason. [US Congress, 9/10/1992]
The Justice Department files a motion that bankruptcy court judge George Bason recuse himself from further participation in a case over the bankruptcy of Inslaw and the department’s alleged theft of the enhanced PROMIS application, saying that he is biased against the department. Bason had ruled in favor of Inslaw (see September 28, 1987) and the department has been trying to have him removed from the case for months (see June 19, 1987). The motion is filed despite a report from Michael Hertz, the director of the civil division’s commercial litigation branch at the department, saying that such a move would not succeed (see After July 7, 1987). The bankruptcy court denies the motion three days later. [US Congress, 9/10/1992] The department will make a similar request later in the month (see January 25, 1988).
The Justice Department again tries to get Judge George Bason removed from the Inslaw case over the company’s bankruptcy and the department’s alleged theft of an enhanced version of the PROMIS software. Bason had ruled in favor of Inslaw (see September 28, 1987) and the department has been trying to have him removed from the case for months (see June 19, 1987). Following the failure of a recusal motion to Bason (see January 19, 1988), the department argues a motion before Chief Judge of the District Court for Columbia Aubrey Robinson for a writ of mandamus directing Judge Bason to recuse himself over allegations of bias. Robinson denies the department’s writ, ruling: “I can’t see anything in this record that measures up to the standards that would be applicable to force another judge to take over this case. There isn’t any doubt in my mind, for example, that the declaration filed by the Justice Department in support of the original motion is inadequate.” When the department appeals Bason’s ruling (see Between February 2, 1988 and November 22, 1989), it will again raise the issue of recusal, but District Court Judge William Bryant will say, “This court like the courts before it can find no basis in fact to support a motion for recusal.” [US Congress, 9/10/1992]
The software company Inslaw submits allegations about the Justice Department’s conduct in the dispute over the enhanced PROMIS application to the Public Integrity Section (PIS), a departmental oversight component. The allegations follow on from the findings of a bankruptcy court favourable to Inslaw (see September 28, 1987 and January 25, 1988). In the complaint, Inslaw charges the department with:
Procurement fraud. Inslaw claims that Attorney General Edwin Meese and former Deputy Attorney General Lowell Jensen schemed to ensure that enhancements made to the PROMIS software by Inslaw would be obtained for free by the department, which would then make them available to a businessman named Earl Brian;
Violation of automatic stay debtor protection provisions invoked by the bankruptcy court. Inslaw says that by using the enhancements it made to the software after the bankruptcy case was filed, the department violated federal bankruptcy law. The bankruptcy court found that the department committed such violation, an act that could constitute an obstruction of the bankruptcy proceedings; and
Attempts to change Inslaw’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy, for the company’s reorganization, into a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, for the company’s liquidation. Inslaw says that the department unsuccessfully attempted to have an official named Harry Jones detailed from the US Trustee’s office in New York to Washington to take over the Inslaw bankruptcy to get Inslaw liquidated. Inslaw also says unsuccessful pressure was exerted by departmental official Thomas Stanton on US Trustee William White to convert the bankruptcy case into a Chapter 7 liquidation.
The PIS says it will examine some of the allegations, but in the end it will not open a formal preliminary investigation (see February 29, 1988). [US Congress, 9/10/1992]
The Bankruptcy Court for the District of Columbia awards $8 million in damages to Inslaw in the dispute over the Justice Department’s use of the enhanced PROMIS software. The decision follows on from a ruling by the court that the department had violated Inslaw’s automatic stay bankruptcy protection rights by using and copying an enhanced version of Inslaw’s PROMIS software (see September 28, 1987). The award consists of $6.8 million in actual and punitive damages, as well as $1.2 million in attorneys’ fees. [US Congress, 9/10/1992]
The Public Integrity Section (PIS), a Justice Department oversight component, decides not to open a preliminary investigation of the Inslaw affair over the department’s alleged misappropriation of PROMIS software (see February 1988). The decision is communicated in a memo drafted by William F. Weld, the assistant attorney general for the department’s criminal division, of which the PIS is a part. The PIS finds that at least some of the people Inslaw complains about, including Attorney General Edwin Meese, former Deputy Attorney General Lowell Jensen, and Deputy Attorney General Arnold Burns, are appropriate targets of an investigation and that Inslaw is generally a credible source for allegations. However, according to Weld, the information Inslaw provides is not specific enough to constitute grounds to begin a preliminary investigation of the need for an independent counsel. This is because the PIS regards the facts Inslaw presented as unsupported speculation that the officials were involved in a scheme to get the enhanced PROMIS software. Therefore, the review should be closed “due to lack of evidence of criminality.” The House Judiciary Committee will be critical of the PIS’s finding, calling its investigation “shallow and incomplete,” and saying the department appeared to be “more interested in constructing legal defenses for its managerial actions rather than investigating claims of wrongdoing which, if proved, could undermine or weaken its litigating posture.” [US Congress, 9/10/1992]
Former National Security Adviser John Poindexter is indicted on seven felony counts relating to his participation in the Iran-Contra affair. Poindexter is named with fellow Iran-Contra conspirators Oliver North, Richard Secord, and Albert Hakim as part of a 23-count, multi-defendant indictment. The charges are based on evidence that shows all four defendants conspired to defraud the United States and violate federal law by secretly providing funds and supplies to the Nicaraguan Contras. The cases will soon be severed and each defendant will be tried separately (see May-June, 1989). [FINAL REPORT OF THE INDEPENDENT COUNSEL FOR IRAN/CONTRA MATTERS: Chapter 3: United States v. John M. Poindexter, 8/4/1993; PBS, 2000]
Entrance to Fort Riley, Kansas. [Source: US Military (.com)]Terry Nichols, a 33-year-old Michigan farmer and house husband described as “aimless” by his wife Lana, joins the US Army in Detroit. He is the oldest recruit in his platoon and his fellow recruits call him “Grandpa.” During basic training at Fort Benning, Georgia, Nichols meets fellow recruits Timothy McVeigh (see 1987-1988), who joined the Army in Buffalo, New York, and Arizona native Michael Fortier. All three share an interest in survivalism, guns, and hating the government, particularly Nichols and McVeigh; unit member Robin Littleton later recalls, “Terry and Tim in boot camp went together like magnets.” For McVeigh, Nichols is like the older brother he never had; for Nichols, he enjoys taking McVeigh under his wing. Nichols also tells McVeigh about using ammonium nitrate to make explosives he and his family used to blow up tree stumps on the farm. The three are members of what the Army calls a “Cohort,” or Cohesion Operation Readiness and Training unit, which generally keeps soldiers together in the same unit from boot camp all the way through final deployment. It is in the Army that McVeigh and Nichols become enamored of the novel The Turner Diaries (see 1978), which depicts a United States racially “cleansed” of minorities and other “undesirables” (McVeigh is already familiar with the novel—see 1987-1988). All three are sent to the 11 Bravo Infantry division in Fort Riley, Kansas, where they are finally separated into different companies; McVeigh goes to tank school, where he learns to operate a Bradley fighting vehicle as well as becoming an outstanding marksman. [New York Times, 5/4/1995; New York Times, 5/28/1995; Stickney, 1996, pp. 91-95; PBS Frontline, 1/22/1996; Serrano, 1998, pp. 30; Nicole Nichols, 2003] McVeigh later says he joined the Army because he was disillusioned with the “I am better than you because I have more money” mindset some people have, and because he was taken with the Army’s advertisement that claimed, “We do more before 9 a.m. than most people do all day.” [PBS Frontline, 1/22/1996] Fellow unit member Specialist Ted Thorne will later recall: “Tim and I both considered ourselves career soldiers. We were going to stay in for the 20-plus years, hopefully make sergeant major. It was the big picture of retirement.” [Serrano, 1998, pp. 31]
Nichols Leaves Army, Tells of Plans to Form 'Own Military Organization' - In the spring of 1989, Nichols, who planned on making a career of military service, leaves the Army due to issues with an impending divorce and child care, but his friendship with McVeigh persists. Fellow soldier Glen Edwards will later say that he found Nichols’s choice to serve in the Army unusual, considering his virulent hatred of the US government: “He said the government made it impossible for him to make a living as a farmer. I thought it strange that a 32-year-old man would be complaining about the government, yet was now employed by the government. Nichols told me he signed up to pull his 20 years and get a retirement pension.” Before Nichols leaves, he tells Edwards that he has plans for the future, and Edwards is welcome to join in. Edwards will later recall, “He told me he would be coming back to Fort Riley to start his own military organization” with McVeigh and Fortier. “He said he could get any kind of weapon and any equipment he wanted. I can’t remember the name of his organization, but he seemed pretty serious about it.” [New York Times, 5/28/1995; Stickney, 1996, pp. 96, 101]
McVeigh Continues Army Career, Described as 'Strange,' 'Racist,' but 'Perfect Soldier' - McVeigh does not leave the Army so quickly. He achieves the rank of sergeant and becomes something of a “model soldier.” He plans on becoming an Army Ranger. However, few get to know him well; only his closest friends, such as Nichols, know of his passion for firearms, his deep-seated racism, or his hatred for the government. McVeigh does not see Nichols during the rest of his Army stint, but keeps in touch through letters and phone calls. Friends and fellow soldiers will describe McVeigh as a man who attempts to be the “perfect soldier,” but who becomes increasingly isolated during his Army career; the New York Times will describe him as “retreating into a spit-and-polish persona that did not admit nights away from the barracks or close friendships, even though he was in a ‘Cohort’ unit that kept nearly all the personnel together from basic training through discharge.” His friends and colleagues will recall him as being “strange and uncommunicative” and “coldly robotic,” and someone who often gives the least desirable assignments to African-American subordinates, calling them “inferior” and using racial slurs. An infantryman in McVeigh’s unit, Marion “Fritz” Curnutte, will later recall: “He played the military 24 hours a day, seven days a week. All of us thought it was silly. When they’d call for down time, we’d rest, and he’d throw on a ruck sack and walk around the post with it.” A fellow soldier, Todd Regier, will call McVeigh an exemplary soldier, saying: “As far as soldiering, he never did anything wrong. He was always on time. He never got into trouble. He was perfect. I thought he would stay in the Army all his life. He was always volunteering for stuff that the rest of us wouldn’t want to do, guard duties, classes on the weekend.” Sergeant Charles Johnson will later recall, “He was what we call high-speed and highly motivated.” McVeigh also subscribes to survivalist magazines and other right-wing publications, such as Guns & Ammo and his favorite, Soldier of Fortune (SoF), and keeps an arsenal of weapons in his home (see November 1991 - Summer 1992). Regier will later tell a reporter: “He was real different. Kind of cold. He wasn’t enemies with anyone. He was kind of almost like a robot. He never had a date when I knew him in the Army. I never saw him at a club. I never saw him drinking. He never had good friends. He was a robot. Everything was for a purpose.” [New York Times, 5/4/1995; Stickney, 1996, pp. 86; Serrano, 1998, pp. 30; Nicole Nichols, 2003] McVeigh is taken with the increasing number of anti-government articles and advertisements in SoF, particularly the ones warning about what it calls the impending government imposition of martial law and tyranny, and those telling readers how to build bombs and other items to use in “defending” themselves from government aggression. [Serrano, 1998, pp. 27-28] McVeigh is not entirely “by the book”; he knows his friend Michael Fortier is doing drugs, but does not report him to their superior officers. [PBS Frontline, 1/22/1996] McVeigh is promoted to sergeant faster than his colleagues; this is when he begins assigning the undesirable tasks to the four or five black specialists in the group, tasks that would normally be performed by privates. “It was well known, pretty much throughout the platoon, that he was making the black specialists do that work,” Regier will recall. “He was a racist. When he talked he’d mention those words, like n_gger. You pretty much knew he was a racist.” The black soldiers complain to a company commander, earning McVeigh a reprimand. Sergeant Anthony Thigpen will later confirm Regier’s account, adding that McVeigh generally refuses to socialize with African-Americans, and only reluctantly takes part in company functions that include non-whites. Captain Terry Guild will later say McVeigh’s entire company has problems with racial polarization, “[a]nd his platoon had some of the most serious race problems. It was pretty bad.” In April 1989, McVeigh is sent to Germany for two weeks for a military “change-up program.” While there, he is awarded the German equivalent of the expert infantryman’s badge. In November 1989, he goes home for Thanksgiving with Fortier, and meets Fortier’s mother Irene. In late 1990, McVeigh signs a four-year reenlistment agreement with the Army. [New York Times, 5/4/1995]
McVeigh Goes on to Serve in Persian Gulf War - McVeigh will serve two tours of duty in the Persian Gulf War, serving honorably and winning medals for his service (see January - March 1991 and After). Nichols and McVeigh will later be convicted of planning and executing the Oklahoma City bombing (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995).
Entity Tags: Ted Thorne, Terry Guild, Todd Regier, Terry Lynn Nichols, Robin Littleton, Michael Joseph Fortier, Charles Johnson, Glen Edwards, Marion (“Fritz”) Curnutte, Anthony Thigpen, Timothy James McVeigh, US Department of the Army
Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism
President Reagan declares that he believes the four defendants in the Iran-Contra trial (see March 16, 1988) are not guilty of any crimes. Two former National Security Council officials, John Poindexter and Oliver North, and two arms dealers, Richard Secord and Albert Hakim, face multiple charges in the indictments. Reagan says he thinks of North as a hero and has difficulty believing the Iran-Contra affair was a scandal. “I just have to believe that they’re going to be found innocent because I don’t think they were guilty of any lawbreaking or any crime,” he says. “I still think Ollie North is a hero. On the other hand, any talk about what I might do about pardons and so forth, I think, with the case before the courts, that’s something I can’t discuss now.” Law professor Burt Neuborne says that Reagan’s comments are “inappropriate.” Neuborne says: “When you have people charged with a serious violation of the law it is inappropriate for the president to applaud them and call them heroes.… If you have a president who is not willing to enforce the law, you would never be able to enforce it without the special prosecutor.” An administration official says that in the aftermath of Reagan’s remarks, some White House aides are probably “all cringing.” A senior White House official says, “The rest of us have been told not to comment on the indictments.” Reagan’s domestic policy adviser Gary Bauer says that Reagan’s remarks reflect “what a good number of Americans still believe.… Clearly, it was something from the heart.” Vice President Bush has joined Reagan in expressing his admiration for North, saying, “I think anybody who sheds blood for his country and wins a Purple Heart, three of them, and a Silver Star, deserves whatever accolades one gets for that kind of stellar, heroic performance.” According to recent polls, only 21 percent of Americans believe North is a hero. [New York Times, 3/26/1988]
A news reporter tells George Bason, a bankruptcy judge who found in favor of Inslaw in a dispute over the alleged theft of enhanced PROMIS software (see September 28, 1987), that his failure to be reappointed to the bench was because of pressure from the Justice Department. According to the House Judiciary Committee, Bason says that the reporter has “excellent contacts and sources in the department.” Bason will say the reporter suggests his removal from the bench could have been procured as follows: “The district judge chairperson of the Merit Selection Panel [Judge Norma Johnson, who was crucial to his non-reappointment (see December 15, 1987)] could have been approached privately and informally by one of her old and trusted friends from her days in the Justice Department. He could have told her that I was mentally unbalanced, as evidenced by my unusually forceful ‘anti-government’ opinions. Her persuasive powers coupled with the fact that other members of the panel or their law firms might appear before her as litigating attorneys could cause them to vote with her.” The reporter also tells Bason that a high-level department official has boasted to him that Bason’s removal was because of his rulings on the Inslaw affair. [US Congress, 9/10/1992]
Dr. Stephen Bryen, a neoconservative serving in the Defense Department who dodged espionage charges a decade before (see March 1978 and April 1979), helps Israel obtain secret US weapons information. Israel is in the final stages of building its “Arrow” anti-ballistic missile. It does not have “klystrons,” small microwave amplifiers needed for the missile’s target acquisition system to function. Klystrons are among the most secret of American weapons research products. Bryen is the director of the Pentagon’s Defense Technology Security Administration (DTSA), which itself is contained within the Pentagon’s Office of International Security Policy, headed by fellow neoconservative Richard Perle. Bryen attempts to secure the authority to allow four klystrons to be exported to Israel via Varian Associates, a private defense manufacturing firm, without consulting with tech transfer officials from the Army, the Air Force, or other agencies. Navy tech transfer official Richard Levine refuses the request, and holds a meeting with officials from the above agencies. All the officials agree that the transfer should not be approved. Bryen responds by suggesting that he go back to the Israelis to ask why they needed the klystrons. After the Israelis provide what one Defense Department official later calls “a little bullsh_t answer,” Bryen tells the participants that he had received an acceptable response. Varien is granted a license, he says, and the klystrons will be sent to Israel. The license is withdrawn after Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs, Richard Armitage, objects to Bryen’s maneuvering. Two senior Defense Department officials later say that the attempt to provide Israel with classified weapons materials is “standard operating procedure” for Bryen, who has often ignored Defense and State Department refusals to provide sensitive information and materials to Israel. Later in the year, Bryen will leave the government and work as a consultant for a number of defense technology firms. [CounterPunch, 2/28/2004]
Members of the House Armed Services Committee investigate a smear campaign against veteran US Army intelligence officer and whistleblower Tom Golden, who was assigned to a watchdog post within the highly secretive Continuity of Government (COG) program in 1984 (see January 1984) and informed the Army Inspector General’s Office of several instances of waste, fraud, and abuse within his unit at Fort Huachuca, Arizona, in July 1987 (see July 1987). Golden was removed from his position shortly after speaking to Army investigators and has since been targeted by members of the COG program for further retaliation (see After July 1987). Attempts by the committee to investigate claims of retaliation against Golden are thwarted by the secrecy of the program. Most of the congressmen lack the necessary security clearances to hear testimony on the COG project. Still, in a classified 1989 report, the House Armed Services Committee will conclude that Golden is the target of a lengthy and deliberate smear campaign. The Army Inspector General’s Office has reached a similar conclusion (see Summer 1987), as will the Justice Department (see January-November 1990). Despite the findings, the effort to discredit Golden will continue for years (see August 1990). During the investigation, the Congressional committee learns enough to fear for Golden’s safety and urges the Army to transfer him to Huntsville, Alabama, which it does. [Philadelphia Inquirer, 12/16/1990; Knight Ridder, 12/18/1990; CNN Special Assignment, 11/17/1991]
The Justice Department issues a memo formally authorizing the use of rendition as a technique by the CIA and FBI to transport terrorist suspects from foreign countries. The terrorists are to be brought to the US, where they will face trial. This is the first known official use of the term rendition, although it is already in informal use. According to CIA Director William Webster, the technique is to be used in countries like Lebanon, due to the poor state of the judicial system there, and the other country’s government does not have to be informed or approve the operation. Webster will comment, “It seems to me that you have a different set of circumstances in a country like Lebanon which has no capacity to provide law enforcement or assistance than going to another neighbor such as Sweden or someplace and lifting somebody out of there.” Webster will point out that US courts will not consider seizing a terrorist in another country a bar to trying him in the US, as courts “do not much care how the defendant happened to come into America.” [Washington Post, 11/4/1989; Grey, 2007, pp. 133-134] At least one such rendition operation was carried out before the memo was issued (see September 18, 1987).
In a 7-1 ruling, the Supreme Court rules that the independent counsel law is Constitutional and valid. The ruling overturns a recent appeals court ruling striking down the law because it conflicts with the “unitary executive” theory of government (see January 1988). The ruling stuns the Reagan administration, who had fiercely argued against the independent counsel law, in part because conservative justice William Rehnquist authors the majority opinion. Only Reagan appointee Antonin Scalia votes in favor of the unitary executive. [Savage, 2007, pp. 46-49]
A number of anti-abortion protesters, including many members of Operation Rescue (see 1986), are arrested outside the Democratic National Convention in Atlanta, Georgia. They spend several weeks together in jail, and it is believed that while there, many of them join the “Army of God,” an anti-abortion organization devoted to using violence to prevent abortions (see 1982 and August 1982). One of the jailed protesters is James Kopp, who in 1998 will murder an abortion doctor (see October 23, 1998). Others include Lambs of Christ leader Norman Weslin; Rachelle “Shelley” Shannon, who will later shoot another abortion doctor (see August 19, 1993); and John Arena, who will later be charged with using butyric acid to attack abortion clinics and providers. According to government documents, Kopp is already a leader of the Army of God, and may recruit new members during his stay in jail. [Extremist Groups: Information for Students, 1/1/2006; National Abortion Federation, 2010]
The National Organization for Women (NOW) expands its NOW v. Scheidler lawsuit against anti-abortion activists to include Randall Terry and Operation Rescue, a “spin-off” organization (see 1986) of another defendant in the lawsuit, the Pro-Life Action Network (PLAN—see 1980 and 1986). Terry and Operation Rescue routinely blockade abortion clinics, sometimes using physical force. [National Organization for Women, 9/2002]
Jim Wright. [Source: Wally McNamee / Corbis]A group of Nicaraguan Contra leaders walks unexpectedly into the office of Speaker of the House Jim Wright (D-TX) and demands a meeting. They want to discuss prisoners being held by the Sandinista government. Wright is perplexed, but agrees to see them.
'Reagan-Wright' Peace Plan - Wright has engineered a peace program between the US and Nicaragua known as “Reagan-Wright,” a program very unpopular with right-wing Republicans both in the White House and in Congress. White House officials such as President Reagan’s national security affairs assistant Colin Powell and Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams have attempted to derail the program by trying to persuade other Central American leaders to come out against Nicaragua and thereby undermine the peace talks. But the program has progressed, largely because of Wright’s tireless efforts and the cooperation of Costa Rican President Oscar Arias Sanchez (who won the 1987 Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts). Wright had informed the leaders of the different factions in Nicaragua, Contras and Sandinistas alike, that his door was always open to them.
Enemy in House - Wright does not realize that he has an implacable enemy in powerful House member Dick Cheney (R-WY). Cheney is offended by what he sees as Wright’s encroachment on powers that should be reserved for the executive branch alone, and has devised a campaign to further undermine Wright.
Meeting between Wright and Contras - When the Contra leaders meet with Wright, the speaker has already informed the CIA that its agents who were fomenting civil unrest and provoking the Sandinistas were violating the law. He tells the Contras that they can no longer expect CIA agitators to work on their behalf. When news of the meeting gets back to Cheney and Abrams, they are, in Wright’s recollection, “furious.”
Washington Times Claims Wright Leaked Classified Information - The State Department steers the angry Contra delegation to the offices of the right-wing Washington Times, where they tell the editorial staff what Wright had told them—that the CIA is illegally provoking unrest in Nicaragua. A week later, Wright is floored when a Times reporter confronts him with accusations that he has leaked classified CIA information to foreign nationals.
Security Breach Allegation - Wright’s defense—he had told the Contras nothing they didn’t already know—does not placate Cheney, who immediately calls for a thorough investigation of Wright’s “security breach.” Speaking as a member of the House Intelligence Committee, Cheney says Wright has raised serious “institutional questions that go to the integrity of the House, to the integrity of the oversight process in the area of intelligence, and to the operation of the Intelligence Committee.”
Set-Up - An investigative reporter from Newsday, Roy Gutman, learns from State Department sources that Wright had been set up by Cheney and Abrams. State Department officials sent the Contras to the Washington Times with specific instructions to leak the CIA content of their discussion with Wright to the editors. But Gutman’s discovery has little impact on the situation.
Ethics Complaint - Cheney, with House Minority Leader Robert Michel (R-IL), files a complaint with the House Ethics Committee and demands an investigation by the Intelligence Committee, claiming Wright has compromised US intelligence operations in Central America. Throughout the process, neither Michel nor Cheney give Wright any warning of the complaints before they are filed.
Pressure from Cheney - Looking back, Wright will be more disturbed by Michel’s actions than by Cheney’s. He considered Michel a friend, and was amazed that Michel went along with Cheney in blindsiding him. Michel will later apologize to Wright, and say that Cheney had pressured him so much that he went along with Cheney in filing the ethics complaint without telling Wright. One aspect that Michel does not explain is why, as House minority leader, he would put the stamp of approval of the House leadership on the complaint, raising it to a much higher level than a complaint from a rank-and-file representative like Cheney. [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 60-62]
Entity Tags: Washington Times, Roy Gutman, US Department of State, Robert Michel, Elliott Abrams, House Ethics Committee, House Intelligence Committee, Contras, Colin Powell, Oscar Arias Sanchez, Ronald Reagan, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Central Intelligence Agency, James C. (‘Jim’) Wright, Jr.
Timeline Tags: Iran-Contra Affair
The image of Willie Horton as shown in the ‘Weekend Pass’ campaign ad. [Source: University of Virginia]A political advertisement on behalf of the George H. W. Bush presidential campaign appears, running on televisions around the country between September 21 and October 4, 1988. Called “Weekend Pass,” it depicts convicted murderer William “Willie” Horton, who was granted 10 separate furloughs from prison, and used the time from his last furlough to kidnap and rape a young woman. The advertisement and subsequent media barrage falsely accuses Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis, the governor of Massachusetts, of creating the “furlough program” that led to Horton’s release, and paints Dukakis as “soft on crime.” It will come to be known as one of the most overly racist political advertisements in the history of modern US presidential politics.
Ad Content - The ad begins by comparing the positions of the two candidates on crime. It notes that Bush supports the death penalty for convicted murderers, whereas Dukakis does not. The ad’s voiceover narrator then states, “Dukakis not only opposes the death penalty, he allowed first-degree murderers to have weekend passes from prison,” with the accompanying text “Opposes Death Penalty, Allowed Murderers to Have Weekend Passes” superimposed on a photograph of Dukakis. The narrator then says, “One was Willie Horton, who murdered a boy in a robbery, stabbing him 19 times,” accompanied by a mug shot of Horton. The voiceover continues: “Despite a life sentence, Horton received 10 weekend passes from prison. Horton fled, kidnapped a young couple, stabbing the man and repeatedly raping his girlfriend.” At this point, the ad shows another picture of Horton being arrested while the accompanying text reads, “Kidnapping, Stabbing, Raping.” The ad’s narration concludes: “Weekend prison passes. Dukakis on crime.” The ad is credited to the “National Security Political Action Committee.” [Inside Politics (.org), 1999; Museum of the Moving Image, 2008; University of Virginia, Introduction to American Politics, 11/18/2009]
'Soft on Crime' - The ad is a reflection of the measures the Bush campaign is willing to undertake to defeat the apparently strong Dukakis candidacy. Dukakis is a popular Democratic governor and widely credited with what pundits call the “Massachusetts Miracle,” reversing the downward economic spiral in his state without resorting to hefty tax increases. At the time of the ad, Dukakis enjoys a 17-point lead over Bush in the polls. Bush campaign strategists, led by campaign manager Lee Atwater, have learned from focus groups that conservative Democratic voters, which some call “Reagan Democrats,” are not solid in their support of Dukakis, and are swayed by reports that he vetoed legislation requiring teachers to say the Pledge of Allegiance at the beginning of the school day. They also react negatively when they learn that during Dukakis’s tenure as governor, Horton had been furloughed and subsequently raped a white woman. Atwater and the Bush campaign decide that Dukakis can successfully be attacked as a “liberal” who is “not patriotic” and is “soft on crime.” Atwater, who has a strong record of appealing to racism in key voting groups (see 1981), tells Republican Party officials, “By the time this election is over, Willie Horton will be a household name.” Although Dukakis had vetoed a bill mandating the death penalty for first-degree murder in Massachusetts, he did not institute the furlough program; that was signed into law by Republican governor Francis Sargent in 1972. The ads and the accompanying media blitz successfully avoid telling voters that Sargent, not Dukakis, instituted the furlough program. [Regardie's Magazine, 10/1/1990; Inside Politics (.org), 1999]
Running the Horton Ad - The ad is sponsored by an ostensibly “independent” political organization, the conservative National Security Political Action Committee (NSPAC), headed by former Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff Thomas Moorer. NSPAC’s daughter organization “Americans for Bush” actually put together the ad, created by marketer Larry McCarthy in close conjunction with Atwater and other Bush campaign aides; Atwater determined months before that the Horton ad should not come directly from the Bush campaign, but from an “independent” group supporting Bush, thus giving the Bush campaign the opportunity to distance itself from the ad, and even criticize it, should voters react negatively towards its message (see June-September 1988). The first version of the ad does not use the menacing mug shot of Horton, which McCarthy later says depicts “every suburban mother’s greatest fear.” McCarthy and Atwater feared that the networks would refuse to run the ad if it appeared controversial. However, the network censors do not object, so McCarthy quickly substitutes a second version of the ad featuring the mug shot. When Democrats and progressive critics of the Bush campaign complain that Bush is running a racist ad, Bush media adviser Roger Ailes says that neither he nor the campaign have any control over what outside groups like “Americans for Bush” put on the airwaves. InsidePolitics will later write, “This gave the Bush camp plausible deniability that helped its candidate avoid public condemnation for racist campaigning.”
Accompanying Newspaper Reports, Bush Campaign Ads - The ad airs for the first time on September 21. On September 22, newspapers around the nation begin publishing articles telling the story of Angie and Clifford Barnes, victimized by Horton while on furlouogh. On October 5, the Bush campaign releases a “sister” television ad, called “Revolving Door.” Scripted by Ailes, the commercial does not mention Horton nor does it show the now-infamous mug shot, but emphasizes the contention that Dukakis is “soft on crime” and has what it calls a “lenient” furlough policy for violent convicts. The central image of the ad is a stream of African-American inmates moving slowly in and out of a revolving gate. The voiceover says that Dukakis had vetoed the death penalty and given furloughs to “first-degree murderers not eligible for parole. While out, many committed other crimes like kidnapping and rape.” At the same time, Clifford Barnes and the sister of the youth murdered by Horton embark on a nationwide speaking tour funded by a pro-Bush independent group known as the Committee for the Presidency. Barnes also appears on a number of television talk shows, including those hosted by Oprah Winfrey and Geraldo Rivera. Barnes and the victim’s sister also appear in two “victim” ads, where Barnes says: “Mike Dukakis and Willie Horton changed our lives forever.… We are worried people don’t know enough about Mike Dukakis.” In 1999, InsidePolitics will write that the media gives the “Revolving Door” ad a “courteous reception,” and focuses more on the two ads’ impact on the election, and the Dukakis campaign’s lack of response, instead of discussing the issues of race and crime as portrayed by the ads. It is not until October 24, less than two weeks before the election, that anyone in the mainstream media airs footage of critics questioning whether the ads are racially inflammatory, but these appearances are few and far between, and are always balanced with appearances by Bush supporters praising the campaign’s media strategy. [Inside Politics (.org), 1999; Inside Politics (.org), 1999; University of Virginia, Introduction to American Politics, 11/18/2009]
Denials - Bush and his vice presidential candidate Dan Quayle will deny that the ads are racist, and will accuse Democrats of trying to use racism to stir up controversy (see October 1988).
Failure to Respond - The Dukakis campaign will make what many political observers later characterize as a major political blunder: it refuses to answer the ads or dispute their content until almost the last days of the campaign, hoping that viewers would instead conclude that the ads are unfair without the Dukakis campaign’s involvement. The ads will be hugely successful in securing the election for Bush (see September-November 1988). [Museum of the Moving Image, 2008]
Entity Tags: Angie Barnes, Clifford Barnes, Committee for the Presidency, Dan Quayle, George Herbert Walker Bush, Americans for Bush, InsidePolitics (.org), Francis Sargent, Michael Dukakis, William (“Willie”) Horton, Lee Atwater, National Security Political Action Committee, Thomas Moorer, Roger Ailes, Larry McCarthy
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Elections Before 2000
Retired 20-year Army intelligence veteran Fred Westerman, who now heads the security firm Systems Evaluations Incorporated (see 1985) and whose government contract was canceled after he reported abuses inside the highly secretive Continuity of Government program (see December 1987 and 1986-1987), is alerted that his recently filed lawsuit against the government (see November 1988) is being frozen because the Justice Department has opened a criminal investigation into his company for allegedly trying to defraud the government. The suit, now frozen, will later be sealed (see August 8, 1989). Westerman will eventually lose another contract, along with his security clearances (see 1990). He will end up living in debt and unable to gain any restitution from the government (see November 1991). [Emerson, 8/7/1989; San Francisco Chronicle, 8/8/1989; Associated Press, 9/11/1989; CNN Special Assignment, 11/17/1991]
Retired 20-year Army intelligence veteran Fred Westerman, who now heads the security firm Systems Evaluations Incorporated (see 1985) and last year reported abuses inside the highly secretive Continuity of Government (COG) program (see 1986-1987), files a lawsuit in the US Court of Claims against the Army, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), two other unidentified federal agencies, and a private company believed to be Brogan Associates Incorporated. A government contract maintained by Systems Associates was canceled last year after Westerman reported irregularities inside the clandestine COG program (see December 1987 and November 1987). The suit states that government officials targeted Westerman for surveillance and wiretaps shortly after he reported abuses inside the COG program. The lawsuit also alleges that FEMA burglarized his corporate offices (see Late 1987) and officials from the Army, FEMA, and Brogan Associates came to Systems Evaluations demanding corporate files shortly prior to the break-in (see November 1987). The lawsuit also alleges Westerman’s company is still owed half a million dollars in expenses. The suit will be frozen due to an investigation of Westerman’s business (see November 1988) and sealed by a US district judge shortly after an in-depth story on the COG program referring to Westerman’s case is published in a major magazine (see August 8, 1989). In 1990, Westerman will lose another contract, along with his security clearances (see 1990). By November 1991, he will be unemployable, several hundred thousand dollars in debt, and unable to gain any restitution from the government (see November 1991). [Emerson, 8/7/1989; San Francisco Chronicle, 8/8/1989; Associated Press, 9/11/1989; CNN Special Assignment, 11/17/1991]
Courtroom sketch of Lana Padilla. [Source: Lawrence Journal-World]Michigan realtor Lana Padilla files for divorce from her husband Terry Nichols. Padillla, frustrated with her husband’s tendency to drift from job to job, was disappointed in his failure to commit to an Army career (see March 24, 1988 - Late 1990) and tired of trying to motivate him to begin a career. Padilla decides to move from their home in Michigan to Las Vegas, where the real estate market is booming. The divorce will be finalized in July 1989. [PBS Frontline, 1/22/1996; Serrano, 1998, pp. 72-74]
President Ronald Reagan signs Executive Order 12656, assigning a wide range of emergency responsibilities to a number of executive departments. The order calls for establishing emergency procedures that go far beyond the nation’s standard disaster relief plans. It offers a rare glimpse of the government’s plans for maintaining “continuity of government” in times of extreme national emergency. The order declares the national security of the country to be “dependent upon our ability to assure continuity of government, at every level, in any national security emergency situation,” which is defined as “any occurrence, including natural disaster, military attack, technological emergency, or other emergency, that seriously degrades or seriously threatens the national security of the United States.” The order instructs department leaders to establish various protocols for crisis situations, including rules for delegating authorities to emergency officials, establishing emergency operating facilities, protecting and allocating the nation’s essential resources, and managing terrorist attacks and civil disturbances. The plans are to be coordinated and managed by the National Security Council and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The presidential order suggests certain laws may have to be altered or expanded to carry out the plans. Although it encourages federal agencies to base the emergency protocols on “existing authorities, organizations, resources, and systems,” it also calls on government leaders to identify “areas where additional legal authorities may be needed to assist management and, consistent with applicable executive orders, take appropriate measures toward acquiring those authorities.” According to the executive order, the plans “will be designed and developed to provide maximum flexibility to the president.” Executive Order 12656 gives specific instructions to numerous federal departments:
The Department of Justice is ordered to coordinate emergency “domestic law enforcement activities” and plan for situations “beyond the capabilities of state and local agencies.” The Justice Department is to establish plans for responding to “civil disturbances” and “terrorism incidents” within the US that “may result in a national security emergency or that occur during such an emergency.” The attorney general is to establish emergency “plans and procedures for the custody and protection of prisoners and the use of Federal penal and correctional institutions and resources.” The Department of Justice is also instructed to develop “national security emergency plans for regulation of immigration, regulation of nationals of enemy countries, and plans to implement laws for the control of persons entering or leaving the United States.” The attorney general is additionally instructed to assist the “heads of federal departments and agencies, state and local governments, and the private sector in the development of plans to physically protect essential resources and facilities.”
The Department of Defense, acting through the Army, is to develop “overall plans for the management, control, and allocation of all usable waters from all sources within the jurisdiction of the United States.” The secretary of defense is to arrange, “through agreements with the heads of other federal departments and agencies, for the transfer of certain federal resources to the jurisdiction and/or operational control of the Department of Defense in national security emergencies.” The secretary of defense is also instructed to work with industry, government, and the private sector, to ensure “reliable capabilities for the rapid increase of defense production.”
The Department of Commerce is ordered to develop “control systems for priorities, allocation, production, and distribution of materials and other resources that will be available to support both national defense and essential civilian programs.” The secretary of commerce is instructed to cooperate with the secretary of defense to “perform industry analyses to assess capabilities of the commercial industrial base to support the national defense, and develop policy alternatives to improve the international competitiveness of specific domestic industries and their abilities to meet defense program needs.” The Commerce Department is also instructed to develop plans to “regulate and control exports and imports in national security emergencies.”
The Department of Agriculture is ordered to create plans to “provide for the continuation of agricultural production, food processing, storage, and distribution through the wholesale level in national security emergencies, and to provide for the domestic distribution of seed, feed, fertilizer, and farm equipment to agricultural producers.” The secretary of agriculture is also instructed to “assist the secretary of defense in formulating and carrying out plans for stockpiling strategic and critical agricultural materials.”
The Department of Labor is ordered to develop plans to “ensure effective use of civilian workforce resources during national security emergencies.” The Labor Department is to support “planning by the secretary of defense and the private sector for the provision of human resources to critical defense industries.” The Selective Service System is ordered to develop plans to “provide by induction, as authorized by law, personnel that would be required by the armed forces during national security emergencies.” The agency is also vaguely instructed to establish plans for “implementing an alternative service program.”
The Transportation Department is to create emergency plans to manage and control “civil transportation resources and systems, including privately owned automobiles, urban mass transit, intermodal transportation systems, the National Railroad Passenger Corporation, and the St. Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation.” The Transportation Department is also to establish plans for a “smooth transition” of the Coast Guard to the Navy during a national security emergency. The Transportation Department is additionally instructed to establish plans for “emergency management and control of the National Airspace System, including provision of war risk insurance and for transfer of the Federal Aviation Administration, in the event of war, to the Department of Defense.”
The Department of the Treasury is ordered to develop plans to “maintain stable economic conditions and a market economy during national security emergencies.” The Treasury Department is to provide for the “preservation of, and facilitate emergency operations of, public and private financial institution systems, and provide for their restoration during or after national security emergencies.”
The Department of Energy is to identify “energy facilities essential to the mobilization, deployment, and sustainment of resources to support the national security and national welfare, and develop energy supply and demand strategies to ensure continued provision of minimum essential services in national security emergencies.”
The Department of Health and Human Services is instructed to develop programs to “reduce or eliminate adverse health and mental health effects produced by hazardous agents (biological, chemical, or radiological), and, in coordination with appropriate federal agencies, develop programs to minimize property and environmental damage associated with national security emergencies.” The health secretary is also to assist state and local governments in the “provision of emergency human services, including lodging, feeding, clothing, registration and inquiry, social services, family reunification, and mortuary services and interment.” [US President, 11/18/1988]
Entity Tags: US Department of Agriculture, Selective Service System, US Department of Labor, US Department of Defense, US Department of Commerce, Ronald Reagan, National Security Council, US Department of Health and Human Services, US Department of Transportation, US Department of the Treasury, Federal Emergency Management Agency, US Department of Justice, US Department of Energy
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
The Central Committee of the Federal LCY (League of Communists of Yugoslavia) endorses Serbia’s demands for constitutional changes. On November 19, Serbian LCY leader Slobodan Milosevic speaks at a rally of 100,000 people in Belgrade, reportedly the largest gathering since the end of World War II. Milosevic says he will “establish peace and order” in Kosovo and that “Kosovo is the very center of [Serbia’s] history, its culture, and its memory. All people have a love which burns in their hearts for ever. For a Serb that love is Kosovo. That is why Kosovo will remain in Serbia.” [Kola, 2003, pp. 177]
Yugoslavia’s National Assembly passes amendments allowing Serbia to change its constitution. The changes are based on an endorsement by Serbia’s Assembly of a working group report that found the 1974 Yugoslav Constitution was unconstitutional in allowing the socialist autonomous provinces of Kosovo and Vojvodina to block amendments to the Serb constitution and that the 1974 constitution was a violation of the Anti-Fascist Council of the National Liberation of Yugoslavia’s plan to form a Yugoslavia with six equal republics after World War II. Under the new constitution, Serbian laws have precedence over provincial laws; Serbia controls judicial appointments and firings; provincial economic and educational policies are coordinated with Serbia; and the provinces lose their diplomatic role, their military power, and much of their police power. The amendments to Serbia’s constitution violate the 1974 constitution, which will remain the law of the land until 1992. [Kola, 2003, pp. 178, 183]
James Nichols, a Michigan farmer, anti-government white separatist, and the brother of Terry Nichols (see March 24, 1988 - Late 1990), formulates a plan to use a “megabomb” to destroy an Oklahoma City federal building; an unnamed FBI informant will later tell the FBI that James Nichols specifically indicates the Murrah Federal Building. Nichols, who says he is upset over the US’s “role” in the terrorist bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, shares the plan with the informant, who will swear to the information in 1995, after James’s brother Terry Nichols is arrested for helping destroy the Murrah Building (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995). “[James] Nichols… made a specific reference to a federal building in Oklahoma City and began looking through the toolshed and workbench for a newspaper clipping depicting the Oklahoma City building,” the informant will say, according to an FBI affidavit. Nichols is unable to find the newspaper clipping, the informant will say, and instead draws a diagram remarkably similar to the Murrah Building. Nichols “later located a newspaper article containing a reference to the Federal Building in Oklahoma City and showed it” to the informer, the affidavit says. The informer is a regular visitor to the Nichols farm. [New York Times, 6/13/1995; Nicole Nichols, 2003] James Nichols routinely stamps US currency with red ink in a protest against the government, and calls his neighbors “sheeple” for obeying authority “like livestock.” A neighbor, Dan Stomber, will recall Nichols criticizing him and others for using drivers’ licences and Social Security cards, and for voting and paying taxes. “He said we were all puppets and sheeple,” Stomber will tell a reporter. “That was the first time I ever heard that word.” Stomber will not recall Nichols discussing any plans to bomb any federal buildings. [New York Times, 4/24/1995] After the Oklahoma City bombing, a friend of Nichols, an Indiana seed dealer named Dave Shafer, will tell authorities that Nichols showed him a diagram of a building remarkably similar to the Murrah Building, still under construction at the time, and said that building would be an excellent target. Shafer will say that he thought Nichols was joking. [Serrano, 1998, pp. 110] It is possible that Shafer and the unnamed FBI informant are the same person. Five years ago, a group of white supremacists had conceived of a plan to destroy the Murrah Building (see 1983).
Two Democratic organizations in Ohio file a complaint with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) in the matter of the now-infamous “Willie Horton” ads used to great effect by the Bush re-election campaign (see June-September 1988 and September 21 - October 4, 1988). The complaint alleges that the ostensibly independent political organization that created and financed the first ad, the National Security Political Action Committee (NSPAC), violated the law on independent expenditures (see May 1990 and After). The complaint uncovers numerous connections between NSPAC and the Bush campaign. However, the FEC refuses to charge the Bush campaign with campaign finance violations. [Inside Politics (.org), 1999]
The National Organization for Women (NOW) expands its lawsuit against anti-abortion advocates (see June 1986), adding charges of extortion and violation of federal racketeering laws. NOW brings charges under the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act, a law originally designed to address organized crime. [National Organization for Women, 9/2002]
An Appeal to the Assembly of Serbia and the Yugoslav People is issued by 215 members of the ethnic Albanian intelligentsia in Yugoslavia. They call for the “protection of the institutions and the affirmation of the position of Kosova based on the fundamental principles of the [Yugoslav] Constitution.” [Kola, 2003, pp. 181]
Erwin Griswold. [Source: US Department of Justice]Former Solicitor General Erwin Griswold, who represented the United States before the Supreme Court in the landmark Pentagon Papers case in 1971 (see March 1971 and June 30, 1971), now writes that he saw nothing in those documents that threatened national security. In 1971, without ever actually reading the documents, Griswold argued that their publication constituted a “grave and immediate danger to the security of the United States.” Griswold writes in a Washington Post op-ed that he relied on the judgment of “three high officials, one each from the Defense Department, the State Department and the National Security Agency” to explain to him why the documents posed such a threat. (In 2006, then-White House counsel John Dean will write that Griswold “did not insist on knowing what was actually contained in the Pentagon Papers, and he never found out, even as he insisted on the importance of their continued secrecy.”) In 1971, Griswold told the Court: “I haven’t the slightest doubt myself that the material which has already been published and the publication of the other materials affects American lives and is a thoroughly serious matter. I think to say that it can only be enjoined if there will be a war tomorrow morning, when there is a war now going on, is much too narrow.” Griswold now writes: “I have never seen any trace of a threat to the national security from the publication [of the documents]. Indeed, I have never seen it even suggested that there was such an actual threat.… It quickly becomes apparent to any person who has considerable experience with classified material that there is massive overclassification and that the principal concern of the classifiers is not with national security, but rather with governmental embarrassment of one sort or another.” [Washington Post, 2/15/1989; FindLaw, 6/16/2006; Siegel, 2008, pp. 200]
Kosovo’s Assembly, in a highly irregular vote on March 23, approves the new Serbian constitution, already approved by the Assembly of the Republic of Serbia on February 3. The Kosovo vote does not meet the three-fourths majority necessary for amendments and is not held with a quorum, people from Belgrade and security personnel vote, and the votes are not actually counted. Assembly members are threatened if they vote no. The vote occurs under “a state of exception,” with disorder in the province and mobilization of the military.
Kosovo's Position under the New Serbian Constitution - Under the new Serbian constitution, the province is again called Kosovo and Metohija, and the autonomous provinces are defined as “a form of territorial autonomy,” regulated by the Serbian constitution. The 1968, 1971, and 1974 constitutional changes opposed by Serbs are nullified and Kosovo is in about the same position as it was under the 1945 and 1963 Yugoslav constitutions. The province loses its Executive Council and Assembly, and autonomy in police, courts, finance, and planning. Kosovo can pass statutes with the approval of Serbia’s Assembly.
Kosovar Demonstrations - Following the vote, hundreds of thousands protest, saying, “Long live the 1974 Constitution!” and “Tito-Party!” resulting in the declaration of martial law. Twenty-four civilians and two police are killed, but Paulin Kola will later put the number at over 100 killed and hundreds injured, while Miranda Vickers will say 28 are killed. Kola will refer to The Times’s March 31 issue, saying 12 police are critically injured and 112 less seriously injured on March 23; Radio Ljubljana says 140 Albanians are killed and 370 wounded through April; Albanian academic Rexhep Qosja will say in 1995 that 37 are killed, hundreds injured, and 245 intellectuals and 13 leaders arrested; The Times of June 2 says 900 are arrested, and on April 22 the Union of Kossovars writes to UN Secretary General Javier Peres de Cuellar, saying over 1,000 were killed and thousands hurt. More than 1,000 are tried in Ferizaj, according to a 1998 book by Noel Malcolm. Kosovo is again placed under a state of emergency. Workers who do not work are fired or arrested.
Slovenian Reaction - About 450,000 Slovenians sign a petition supporting their government’s views and opposing the crackdown in Kosovo.
Serbian Reaction - Hearing of the Slovenian petition, over 100,000 demonstrate the following day around Serbia, Vojvodina, Skopje, and Titograd.
Albania's Reaction - Albania’s relations with Yugoslavia had been deepening in the late 1980s, but Albania reacts more strongly to the March events. Foto Cami condemns Yugoslavia’s “erroneous policies” on the ethnic Albanians and says it will damage regional cooperation. Protests follow throughout Albania. Yugoslavia blames Albania for the violence in Kosovo. Ramiz Alia, now general secretary of the PLA, will say at a Political Bureau session in August 1990 that Western governments told Kosovar Albanians that to solve the problems in Kosovo, Albania had to change its government.
Soviet Reaction - Soviet media support the Serbs and refer to violence by Albanian nationalists, while saying that the majority in Kosovo and Vojvodina support the new Serbian constitution.
Western European Reactions - The UK says nothing. Although Yugoslavia’s Foreign Minister, Budimir Loncar, meets with British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in April, the contents of their talks are unknown to the public. Three years in the future a high-ranking official in Germany will regret this inaction.
American Reaction to the Turmoil in Kosovo - On March 9, three US senators proposed Senate Concurrent Resolution 20—Relating to the Conditions of Ethnic Albanians in Yugoslavia, which was passed prior to March 23. US policy supports Kosova’s position under the 1974 Constitution and the resolution asked President George H. W. Bush to reiterate this to the Yugoslav leadership. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee conducted a hearing on March 15. [Vickers, 1998, pp. 234-238; Kola, 2003, pp. 180-184, 190]
Entity Tags: Yugoslavia, United States of America, Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, Foto Cami, Germany, Javier Peres de Cuellar, Budimir Loncar, Josip Broz Tito, Assembly of the Republic of Serbia, Albania, 1945 Yugoslav Constitution, 1963 Yugoslav Constitution, 1974 Yugoslav Constitution, Assembly of the Province of Kosovo, United Kingdom, London Times, Miranda Vickers, Senate Foreign Relations Committee, US Senate, Union of Kossovars, Margaret Thatcher, Rexhep Qosja, Radio Ljubljana, Ramiz Alia, Noel Malcolm, Paulin Kola, Party of Labor of Albania
Timeline Tags: Kosovar Albanian Struggle
Richard Butler, the head of the white separatist and neo-Nazi organization Aryan Nations (see Early 1970s), commemorates the 100th birthday of Adolf Hitler by inviting white racists and separatists to the Hayden Falls, Idaho, compound of the organization for a celebration. The gathering, which features music by white power skinhead rock bands, is designed to reach out to younger whites. [Southern Poverty Law Center, 2010]
Norma McCorvey, better known as “Jane Roe” in the landmark Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade that made abortions legal throughout the US (see January 22, 1973), has her house and car damaged by shotgun fire early in the morning. McCorvey, a pro-choice activist, goes into hiding. Neither pro-choice nor anti-abortion groups take credit for the shooting, but spokespersons from both sides of the debate say the shooting is symbolic of a dangerously intensifying battle over abortion rights. McCorvey publicly acknowledged her identity as the Roe plaintiff last year. [Associated Press, 4/6/1989]
Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North, a key figure in the Iran-Contra scandal (see February 1989), is convicted of three counts of falsifying and destroying documents (see November 21-25, 1986 and March 16, 1988), of obstructing a Congressional investigation, and of illegally receiving a gift of a security fence around his home. He is acquitted of nine other counts. Though facing up to ten years in prison and a $750,000 fine, North receives an extremely lenient sentence: three years’ suspended, two years’ probation, community service, and a $150,000 fine. He also has his Marine service pension suspended. During the trial, North admits he lied repeatedly to Congress during his testimony (see July 7-10, 1987), but says that his superiors, including National Security Adviser John Poindexter, ordered him to lie under oath. North contends that he was made a scapegoat for the Reagan administration. “I knew it wasn’t right not to tell the truth about these things,” he says, “but I didn’t think it was unlawful.” US District Court Judge Gerhard Gesell calls North a “low-ranking subordinate who was carrying out the instructions of a few cynical superiors,” and says to North: “I believe you still lack understanding of how the public service has been tarnished. Jail would only harden your misconceptions.” North, who had been staunch in justifying his actions in the Iran-Contra hearings, now expresses remorse over his crimes, saying, “I recognize that I made many mistakes that resulted in my conviction of serious crimes… and I grieve every day.” North, who is a popular speaker with conservative organizations, can pay off his fine with six speaking engagements. Nevertheless, he says he will appeal his conviction. [BBC, 7/5/1989; New York Times, 9/17/1991] North’s conviction will indeed be overturned by an appeals court (see September 17, 1991).
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