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Eugene Hasenfus sits among the weapons captured from his downed cargo plane. His Sandinista captors surround him. [Source: Nancy McGirr / Reuters / Corbis]A CIA C-123 transport plane (see November 19, 1985) is shot down in southern Nicaragua by a Sandinista soldier wielding a surface-to-air missile. The transport plane left an airfield in El Salvador with arms and other supplies intended for the Nicaraguan Contras. Three crew members—US pilots William Cooper and Wallace Sawyer, Jr, and an unidentified Latin American—die in the crash, but one, a “cargo kicker” named Eugene Hasenfus, ignores CIA orders and parachutes to safety—and capture by the Sandinistas. Hasenfus is a construction worker from Wisconsin who signed on to do temporary work with CIA contractors, and has no intention of “going down with the plane.” The next day, newspapers around the world run stories with Hasenfus’s face peering out from their front pages.
Reveals US's Arming of Contras - The Hasenfus shoot-down will break the news of the Reagan administration’s secret arming of the Contras in their attempt to bring down the democratically elected Socialist government of Nicaragua. [New York Times, 11/19/1987; Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters: Chapter 25: United States v. Elliott Abrams: November 1986, 8/4/1993; Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 64]
Damage Control - Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams (see Late 1985 and After) is the designated US spokesman on the Hasenfus shootdown. Abrams coordinates with his fellow Contra supporters, the NSC’s Oliver North and the CIA’s Alan Fiers, and with the US Ambassador to El Salvador, Edwin Corr, on how to handle the situation. Between the three, they coordinate a denial from the Salvadoran military about any Salvadoran or US involvement in the Hasenfus flight. As for themselves, they agree not to flatly lie about anything, because they cannot be sure of what Hasenfus will say, but they agree to remain as quiet as possible and hope the media sensation surrounding Hasenfus dies down with little long-term effect. According to notes taken by Corr during one meeting, everyone knows that a leak—“eventually someone in USG [the US government] will finally acknowledge some ‘winking.’ Salv role now more public”—is inevitable. It is eventually decided that the Contras themselves will take all responsibility for the flight. Fiers worries that the flight will be connected to previous humanitarian aid supplied to the Contras (see October 1985). They also confirm that Felix Rodriguez, North’s liaison to the Contras in Central America (see Mid-September 1985), is in Miami, hiding from the press. Hasenfus will later acknowledge making at least ten supply flights into Nicaragua (see October 9, 1986). [Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters: Chapter 25: United States v. Elliott Abrams: November 1986, 8/4/1993]
CIA cargo handler Eugene Hasenfus, in the custody of Nicaraguan officials after his transport plane filled with weapons and supplies for the Contras was shot down (see October 5, 1986), publicly states that he had made ten other trips to ferry arms and supplies to the Contras. Six of those were from the Ilopango airfield in El Salvador (see Mid-September 1985). He also states that he worked closely with two CIA agents, “Max Gomez” and “Ramon Medina.” “Gomez” is actually Felix Rodriguez, who serves as the liaison between the Contras and National Security Council officer Oliver North. “Medina” is another CIA operative, Rafael Quintero. Hasenfus says that Gomez and Medina oversaw the housing for the crews, transportation, refueling, and flight plans. The same day as Hasenfus’s public statement, Nicaraguan officials reveal that one of Hasenfus’s crew members, who died in the crash, carried cards issued by the Salvadoran Air Force identifying them as US advisers. And, the Nicaraguans claim, one of the crew members had a business card identifying him as an official with the US’s Nicaraguan Humanitarian Assistance Office (NHAO—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; Spartacus Schoolnet, 12/29/2007]
Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams is interviewed by conservative columnist Robert Novak and Novak’s partner, Rowland Evans. Novak, who is openly sympathetic to the Nicaraguan Contras, asks Abrams about his knowledge of the connections between the US government and the Contras as revealed by the downing of a CIA transport plane over Nicaragua (see October 5, 1986). Abrams, who provides false testimony to Congress today and in the following days, tells a similar story to Novak. Abrams goes further with Novak than he does with Congress, denying that any such person as “Max Gomez,” the CIA liaison to the Contras, even exists (Gomez is actually former CIA agent Felix Rodriguez—see October 10-15, 1986). “Whoever that gentleman is, he certainly isn’t named Max Gomez,” Abrams notes. Abrams also denies that “Gomez” has any connection to Vice President Bush (see October 11-14, 1986). Abrams adds that whoever this “Gomez” is, “he is not on the US government payroll in any way.” Novak asks if Rodriguez has any connection to the National Security Council or any other government agency, and Abrams says: “I am not playing games.… No government agencies, none.” In June 1987, Abrams will admit that he lied to Novak. [Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters: Chapter 25: United States v. Elliott Abrams: November 1986, 8/4/1993]
Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams (see Late 1985 and After and September 4, 1985) testifies three times to Congress that the Contra resupply operation, exposed by the downing of a CIA transport plane (see October 5, 1986 and October 9, 1986), is not a US government operation. There is no coordination whatsoever from any government official (see Summer 1985, Mid-September 1985, October 1985, Late 1985 and After, February 7-8, 1986, May 16, 1986, July 1986 and After, September 19-20, 1986, September 25, 1986, and January 9, 1986), and no one in the government knows who organized or paid for the transport flight that was shot down.
'Not Our Supply System' - Abrams tells the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that while he and other government officials are aware of the Contra resupply operation, “[i]t is not our supply system. It is one that grew up after we were forbidden from supplying the resistance, and we have been kind of careful not to get closely involved with it and to stay away from it.… We do not encourage people to do this. We don’t round up people, we don’t write letters, we don’t have conversations, we don’t tell them to do this, we don’t ask them to do it. But I think it is quite clear, from the attitude of the administration, the attitude of the administration is that these people are doing a very good thing, and if they think they are doing something that we like, then, in a general sense, they are right.” In testimony to the House Intelligence Committee, Abrams is asked by Chairman Lee Hamilton (D-IN), “Can anybody assure us that the United States government was not involved, indirectly or directly, in any way in supply of the contras?” Abrams responds: “I believe we have already done that, that is, I think, the president has done it, the secretary has done it [Secretary of State George Shultz], and I have done it.… Now again, this normal intelligence monitoring is there, but the answer to your question is yes.” Abrams and CIA officials Clair George and Alan Fiers tell the same falsehoods to a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee. “We don’t know,” Abrams asserts, “because we don’t track this kind of activity.”
No Knowledge of 'Gomez' - He also claims under questioning not to know the identity of “Max Gomez,” who he well knows is former CIA agent Felix Rodriguez (see Mid-September 1985). Senator John Kerry (D-MA) asks, “You don’t know whether or not [Gomez] reports to the vice president of the United States?” (see October 10, 1986). Both George and Abrams deny any such knowledge, though Abrams is highly aware of Rodriguez’s activities in El Salvador (he does not inform the committee of those activities). During the Congressional sessions, media reports identify Gomez as Rodriguez. [Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters: Chapter 25: United States v. Elliott Abrams: November 1986, 8/4/1993]
Entity Tags: Lee Hamilton, Elliott Abrams, Contras, Clair George, Alan Fiers, Felix Rodriguez, George Herbert Walker Bush, George Shultz, House Intelligence Committee, Ronald Reagan, Senate Foreign Relations Committee, John Kerry, House Foreign Affairs Committee
Timeline Tags: Iran-Contra Affair
The Washington Post, having gotten wind of a secret fund transfer from a third-party nation to the Nicaraguan Contras (see August 9-19, 1986), reports that Saudi Arabia may be funding the Contras. (The Post’s sources are apparently unaware of the Brunei transaction.) Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams, who originated and facilitated the Brunei deal (see After May 16, 1986), is asked by Senator John Kerry (D-MA) during his testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (see October 10-15, 1986) if he or the CIA representatives accompanying him—Clair George and Alan Fiers—are aware of any third-party funding of the Contras, whether it be Saudi Arabia or anyone else. Abrams says, “No.” George, also aware of the Brunei transaction, says, “No.” Fiers, who was involved in discussions of the transactions, says, “No, sir.” Abrams adds, “I think I can say that while I have been assistant secretary, which is about 15 months, we have not received a dime from a foreign government, not a dime, from any foreign government.” He says that if the Contras have received funding from other nations, he is not aware of it. “The thing is I think I would know about it because if they went to a foreign government, a foreign government would want credit for helping the contras and they would come to us to say you want us to do this, do you, and I would know about that.” Abrams repeats the lie to the House Intelligence Committee. [Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters: Chapter 25: United States v. Elliott Abrams: November 1986, 8/4/1993]
Gorbachev and Reagan at the Reykjavik summit. [Source: Ronald Reagan Library]President Reagan and Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev meet in Reykjavik, Iceland, for a second summit, to follow on the success of their first meeting almost a year before (see November 16-19, 1985). They base their discussion on Gorbachev’s January proposals of deep cuts in the two nations’ nuclear arsenals (see January 1986).
Elimination of All Nuclear Weapons by 1996 - Gorbachev and his negotiators begin by reiterating Gorbachev’s proposals for a 50 percent cut in all nuclear weapons, deep reductions in Soviet ICBMs, and the elimination of all European-based intermediate nuclear weapons. Reagan and his negotiators counter with a proposal for both sides to destroy half of their nuclear ballistic missiles in the next five years, and the rest to be destroyed over the next five, leaving both sides with large arsenals of cruise missiles and bomber-based weapons. Gorbachev ups the ante, proposing that all nuclear weapons be destroyed within 10 years. Reagan responds that it would be fine with him “if we eliminated all nuclear weapons,” implicitly including all tactical nuclear weapons in Europe and everywhere else. Gorbachev says, “We can do that,” and Secretary of State George Shultz says, “Let’s do it.”
Agreement Founders on SDI - The heady moment is lost when the two sides fail to reach an agreement on SDI—the Americans’ “Star Wars” missile defense system (see March 23, 1983). Gorbachev cannot accept any major reductions in nuclear weapons if the US has a viable missile defense system; Reagan is convinced that SDI would allow both sides to eliminate their nuclear weapons, and offers the SDI technology to the Soviets. Gorbachev finds Reagan’s offer naive, since there is no guarantee that future presidents would honor the deal. Reagan, in another example of his ignorance of the mechanics of the US nuclear program (see April 1981 and After), does not seem to realize that even a completely effective SDI program would not defend against Soviet cruise missiles and long-range bombers, and therefore would not end the threat of nuclear destruction for either side. Author J. Peter Scoblic will later write, “[SDI] would have convinced the Soviet Union that the United States sought a first-strike capability, since the Americans were so far ahead in cruise missile and stealth bomber technology.” Gorbachev does not ask that the US abandon SDI entirely, but simply observe the terms of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty (see May 26, 1972) and confine SDI research to the laboratory. Reagan refuses. Gorbachev says that if this is the US’s position, then they would have to “forget everything they discussed.” Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze breaks in, saying that the two nations are “so close” to making history that “if future generations read the minutes of these meetings, and saw how close we had come but how we did not use these opportunities, they would never forgive us.” But the agreement is not to be.
Participants' Reactions - As Shultz later says, “Reykjavik was too bold for the world.” Shultz tells reporters that he is “deeply disappointed” in the results, and no longer sees “any prospect” for a third summit. Gorbachev tells reporters that Reagan’s insistence on retaining SDI had “frustrated and scuttled” the opportunity for an agreement. Gorbachev says he told Reagan that the two countries “were missing a historic chance. Never had our positions been so close together.” Reagan says as he is leaving Iceland that “though we put on the table the most far-reaching arms control proposal in history, the general secretary [Gorbachev] rejected it.” Scoblic will later write, “In the end, ironically, it was Reagan’s utopianism, hitched as it was to a missile shield, that preserved the status quo.” [Washington Post, 10/13/1986; Scoblic, 2008, pp. 140-142]
Hardline Sabotage - One element that contributes to the failure of the negotiations is the efforts to undermine the talks by hardline advisers Richard Perle and Ken Adelman, who tell Reagan that confining SDI to research facilities would destroy the program. Perle and Adelman are lying, but Reagan, not knowing any better, believes them, and insists that SDI remain in development. [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 143-144]
Going Too Far? - Reagan’s negotiators, even the most ardent proponents of nuclear reduction, are shocked that he almost agreed to give up the US’s entire nuclear arsenal—with Shultz’s encouragement. British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and French President Francois Mitterand are horrified at the prospect, given that NATO’s nuclear arsenal in Europe is the only real counterweight to the huge Red Army so close to the borders of Western European nations. [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 140-142]
Failure of Trust - The US-Soviet talks may well have foundered on an inability of either side to trust the other one to the extent necessary to implement the agreements. During the talks, Soviet aide Gyorgy Arbatov tells US negotiator Paul Nitze that the proposals would require “an exceptional level of trust.” Therefore, Arbatov says, “we cannot accept your position.” [National Security Archives, 3/12/2008]
After the press identifies former CIA agent Felix Rodriguez as Contra liaison “Max Gomez” (see October 10-15, 1986), and learns that Rodriguez reports to Vice President Bush’s foreign policy adviser, Donald Gregg (see October 10, 1986), Bush denies any knowledge of Rodriguez’s involvement with the Contras. Bush admits to having met Rodriguez a few times, but refuses to clarify what relationship, if any, they may have. Bush tells one reporter that Rodriguez is a US counter-insurgency adviser working with the government of El Salvador, an assertion strongly denied by the Salvadoran government. Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams, who has lied repeatedly to Congress about the government’s role in supplying and supporting the Contras (see October 10-15, 1986), tells the House Intelligence Committee that he knows nothing of any link between Rodriguez and Bush that concerns the Contras. [Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters: Chapter 25: United States v. Elliott Abrams: November 1986, 8/4/1993]
The Reagan administration, reeling from the revelation that it has illegally armed the Nicaraguan Contras (see October 5, 1986), attempts to conceal its workings in Nicaragua. In a closed session of the House Intelligence Committee, Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams, joined by CIA officials, assures committee members that the US government is not involved in supplying the Contras. According to the witnesses, the CIA claims it had nothing to do with Eugene Hasenfus, the cargo handler who survived the recent downing of a CIA transport plane and in doing so revealed the existence of the illegal arms deals. Supposedly, the only involvement by US officials was to offer public encouragement. The committee Democrats do not believe anything Abrams or the CIA officials say, but at least one committee member, Dick Cheney (R-WY) offers his support. According to the summary written by the administration staffer taking notes that day, “Mr. Cheney said he found our ignorance credible.” There is far more going on than the committee Democrats know—or than Cheney will tell them. For years, Cheney has been urging Congress to authorize aid to the Contras, but the majority Democrats have been inconsistent in their support. As authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein will later characterize the situation, Abrams, a self-described former socialist turned enthusiastic neoconservative, and others in the administration, such as National Security Council staffer Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North, have now taken matters into their own hands (see October 5, 1986), in direct violation of US law. Committee Democrats are as yet unaware that Reagan officials such as North have also been negotiating arms-for-hostages deals with Iran, in a covert three-way deal involving Iran, the US, and the Contras (see November 3, 1986). [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 65]
The Reagan administration, led by CIA Director William Casey and National Security Adviser John Poindexter (Robert McFarlane’s replacement), decides to downplay and deny any arms-for-hostages deals as reported in the world press (see November 3, 1986), while maintaining the secret negotiations with Iran. President Reagan accepts their advice. In notes Reagan takes during a clandestine meeting about the situation, he writes, “Must say something because I’m being held out to dry.” [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 65-66]
Ronald Reagan speaks to the nation. [Source: Bettmann / Corbis]President Reagan addresses the nation on the Iran-Contra issue (see October 5, 1986 and November 3, 1986). “I know you’ve been reading, seeing, and hearing a lot of stories the past several days attributed to Danish sailors (see Early November, 1986), unnamed observers at Italian ports and Spanish harbors, and especially unnamed government officials of my administration,” he says. “Well, now you’re going to hear the facts from a White House source, and you know my name.” But despite his direct introduction, Reagan presents the same half-truths, denials, and outright lies that his officials have been providing to Congress and the press (see Mid-October, 1986 and November 10, 1986 and After).
'Honorable' Involvement - He admits to an 18-month “secret diplomatic initiative” with Iran, for several “honorable” reasons: to renew relations with that nation, to bring an end to the Iran-Iraq war, to eliminate Iran’s sponsorship of terrorism, and to effect the release of the US hostages being imprisoned by Hezbollah. He calls the press reports “rumors,” and says, “[L]et’s get to the facts.”
Falsehoods Presented as Facts - The US has not swapped weapons to Iran for hostages, Reagan asserts. However, evidence suggests otherwise (see January 28, 1981, 1983, 1985, May 1985, June 11, 1985, July 3, 1985, July 8, 1985, August 6, 1985, September 15, 1985, December 6, 1985, December 12, 1985, Mid-1980s, January 7, 1986, January 17, 1986, Late May, 1986, September 19, 1986, and Early October-November, 1986). Reagan also claims the US has not “trafficked with terrorists,” although Iran is listed as a sponsor of terrorism by the State Department. It “has not swapped boatloads or planeloads of American weapons for the return of American hostages. And we will not.” Reports of Danish and Spanish vessels carrying secret arms shipments, of Italian ports employed to facilitate arms transfers, and of the US sending spare parts and weapons for Iranian combat aircraft, all are “quite exciting, but… not one of them is true.” Reagan does admit to his authorization of “the transfer of small amounts of defensive weapons and spare parts for defensive systems to Iran,” merely as a gesture of goodwill. “These modest deliveries, taken together, could easily fit into a single cargo plane,” he says. (In reality, the US has already sent over 1,000 missiles to Iran over the course of a number of shipments.) He says the US made it clear to Iran that for any dialogue to continue, it must immediately cease its support of Hezbollah and other terrorist groups, and to facilitate the release of US hostages held by that group in Lebanon. Evidence exists, Reagan says, of the Iranians ramping down their support of terrorism. And some hostages have already been freed, a true statement, though he fails to mention that others have been taken.
Admission of May Meeting - Reagan admits that former National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane met with Iranian officials (see Late May, 1986). According to Reagan, McFarlane went to Iraq “to open a dialog, making stark and clear our basic objectives and disagreements.” He presents no further information about the meeting, except that the talks were “civil” and “American personnel were not mistreated.”
Exposure Risks Undermining Efforts to Facilitate Peace - The public disclosure of these “honorable” negotiations has put the entire US efforts to broker peace between Iran and Iraq in jeopardy, he says. In negotiations such as these, there is “a basic requirement for discretion and for a sensitivity to the situation in the nation we were attempting to engage.”
Reagan Says Congress Not Lied to - Reagan says that there is no truth to the stories that his officials ever lied to members of Congress about the Iranian negotiations (see Mid-October, 1986). The members of Congress who needed to know about the negotiations were informed, as were the “appropriate Cabinet officers” and others “with a strict need to know.” Since the story has now broken, “the relevant committees of Congress are being, and will be, fully informed.” [Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, 11/13/1986; Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 65-66]
Attorney General Edwin Meese. [Source: Doug Mills / Bettman / Corbis]Attorney General Edwin Meese undertakes an internal fact-finding investigation focused on President Reagan’s involvement in the November 1985 sale of Hawk missiles to Iran (see 1985). Meese is apparently not interested in finding facts, because he refuses a request to assist from the FBI, and takes no notes during his interviews of administration officials.
'Shredding Party' - Additionally, during his investigation, National Security Council documents are altered or destroyed, including a presidential finding from December 1985 that retroactively authorized US missile sales to Iran (see November 24-25, 1985 and December 5, 1985); National Security Adviser John Poindexter will later admit to destroying this document. Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North holds what is later called a “shredding party,” destroying thousands of documents that would likely implicate White House officials in a criminal conspiracy to break the law (see November 21-23, 1986). The Iran-Contra investigative committee will later fault Meese for departing from “standard investigative techniques” during his investigation.
Document Linking Iran Arms Sales, Contra Supplies Survives - Meese also finds a potentially explosive document in the desk of North, the National Security Council staffer who managed the Iran arms deals. The document, an undated memorandum apparently from April 1986, outlined “a planned diversion of $12 million in proceeds from the Iran arms sales to the Nicaraguan contras” (see April 4, 1986). Meese’s investigation now diverges onto two tracks, one a continuation of the Hawk shipments, and the second an investigation into who knew about, and who had approved, the diversion.
Reagan Courting Impeachment? - Meese confirms from North that the $12 million had indeed been given to the Contras, and informs Reagan, Chief of Staff Donald Regan, and Vice President Bush. Reagan is reportedly shocked by the revelation, in part because he knows he could face impeachment for violating the Boland Amendment (see October 10, 1984). Meese informs the cabinet the next day. Apparently Meese does not want to know if any senior White House officials knew of the diversion, because he does not ask them about it. When Poindexter informs Meese that before December 1985, his predecessor Robert McFarlane handled the Iran arms sales “all alone” with “no documentation,” Meese accepts his word. Several White House officials present at the meeting—Reagan, Regan, Bush, Poindexter, Secretary of State George Shultz, and Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger—all know that Poindexter is lying, but none correct him. After the meeting, Shultz tells his aide, Charles Hill: “They may lay all this off on Bud [McFarlane].… They [are] rearranging the record.” Investigative counsel Lawrence Walsh will later write: “The Select Committees viewed this as an isolated error. It was not.”
'Case for Deniability' for Reagan - In Walsh’s opinion, Meese is not conducting an investigation at all, but instead is “building a case of deniability for his client-in-fact, President Reagan.” Walsh will characterize Meese’s actions as “an effort to obstruct a congressional inquiry.” In 2006, authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein will write, “The two strands of an illegal policy came together in that memo.” The authors refer to the US arms sales to Iran and the diversion of the profits from those sales to the Contras. [New York Times, 11/19/1987; United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, 8/4/1993; PBS, 2000; Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 66]
Entity Tags: Charles Hill, Edwin Meese, Caspar Weinberger, Ronald Reagan, Robert C. McFarlane, Oliver North, Federal Bureau of Investigation, George Herbert Walker Bush, George Shultz, Jake Bernstein, Contras, Donald Regan, Lou Dubose, Lawrence E. Walsh, John Poindexter
Timeline Tags: Iran-Contra Affair
Fawn Hall and her attorney, Plato Cacheris, during her June 1987 testimony before the House-Senate Iran-Contra investigative committee. [Source: Mark Leightman / Bettman / Corbis]National Security Council (NSC) officer Oliver North, the prime coordinator of the illegal funding of the Nicaraguan Contras in the Reagan administration, leads a coordinated effort to alter, remove, and destroy critical documents that could prove criminal intent in the burgeoning Iran-Contra investigation (see November 21-25, 1986). The enormity of the destruction of government records earns the incident the sobriquet “Ollie’s shredding party.” A key figure in the document shredding is North’s secretary, Fawn Hall. Hall, whose mother Wilma was the secretary for North’s former NSC boss, Robert McFarlane, will reluctantly become one of the first, and most damning, witnesses for Lawrence Walsh’s independent investigation of the Iran-Contra affair (see December 19, 1986). Hall has been, in the words of Walsh’s prosecutors, “generally aware” of North’s involvement in both providing illegal funds to the Contras and in illegally selling arms to Iran, maintaining his records and typing his memoranda and letters. Though she knows of the illegal activities, because she did not participate in meetings or telephone conversations with other key figures in the affair, she will later be able to testify, “I did not know many of the details relevant to the Iran and Contra initiatives.” Hall’s participation in North’s “shredding party” is her first direct participation in any criminal activities surrounding the Iran-Contra affair. After North learns that the Department of Justice is opening an inquiry into the sale of arms to Iran, North secures a number of documents from NSC files showing that he had violated the Boland Amendment (see October 10, 1984) by aiding the Contras. North marks the documents with handwritten revisions, changing the text to make it seem as if North had not violated the law. He then gives the documents to Hall, asking her to retype them to include his corrections and then replace them in the files. Hall does so, but does not finish the alterations before North calls her in to help him shred documents, including notes and phone records. Hall later estimates that she and North shredded documents in piles of 12-18 pages for close to an hour, shredding in all a stack of documents almost two feet high. The shredding and alterations continue through November 23. She will later testify that she had never shredded such a large quantity of documents. [Reeves, 2005, pp. 367; United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, 12/13/2007]
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]
Pakistan successfully builds a nuclear weapon around this year. The bomb is built largely thanks to the illegal network run by A. Q. Khan. Pakistan will not actually publicly announce this or test the bomb until 1998 (see May 28, 1998), partly because of a 1985 US law imposing sanctions on Pakistan if it were to develop nuclear weapons (see August 1985-October 1990). [Hersh, 2004, pp. 291] However, Khan will tell a reporter the program has been successful around this time (see March 1987).
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 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
Iran-Contra investigative committee member Dick Cheney (R-WY) tells a reporter that former CIA Director William Casey, who recently resigned due to terminal brain cancer (see February 2, 1987), was “one of the best CIA directors the agency had ever had.” Referring to Casey’s inability to testify in the Iran-Contra hearings, Cheney says, “I don’t think it’s fair to criticize the man based on speculation and innuendo (see May 5, 1987), and to do so at a time when he is incapable of defending himself strikes me as in extremely poor taste.” As for Iran-Contra itself, Cheney says, “I think there’s a very real possibility that it’s going to be at best a footnote in the history books.” [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 70]
Slobodan Milosevic, leader of the Serbian branch of the League of Communists of Yugoslavia, visits Kosovo to consult with local party officials. While there, Kosovar Serbs ask him to focus on their issues in a subsequent visit, which will happen on April 24. Between the two visits, Milosevic’s staff organizes large demonstrations by Kosovar Serbs. [Vickers, 1998, pp. 228]
Serbian communist leader Slobodan Milosevic returns to Kosovo, ostensibly for further consultation with local Yugoslav communist officals, but Kosovar Serbs see his visit as showing the Serbian government’s concern for their grievances, while Kosovar Albanian leaders think he will calm the situation. Milosevic, looking surprised, is exuberantly welcomed by Serbs, yelling “Slobo! Slobo!” The Serbs blame Albanian communist party leaders for allowing violence against Slavs in the province. Milosevic tells the Serbs that they should stand their ground in Kosovo and get more involved in federal issues. In Kosovo Polje, Milosevic addresses Kosovar Serbs who want Belgrade to provide more security, and who had fought with Albanian police, using stones piled up in advance. Milosevic says that it does not matter which groups are in the majority or minority, and that Yugoslavia’s existence depends on Serbia keeping Kosovo. This town is historically significant to Serbs, because it is close to the site of a storied and inconclusive battle on June 28, 1389 between the Ottoman Turks (counting among their allies some Serbs and Bulgarians) and Serb rulers, allied with Hungarians, Bulgarians, Bosnians, and Albanians. [Vickers, 1998, pp. 12-14, 227-228; Kola, 2003, pp. 174]
Richard Secord receives whispered advice from his attorney, Thomas Green, during his testimony. [Source: Bettmann / Corbis]Public testimony begins in the joint House and Senate investigations of the Iran-Contra affair. General Richard Secord (see November 19, 1985) is the first witness (see May 5, 1987). [New York Times, 11/19/1987]
'Hero's Angle' - The televised hearing area in Room 325 of the Senate Office Building, built to accommodate over two dozen committee members, their staff, witnesses, lawyers, and television reporters and camera operators, features a series of two-tiered stages. Film director Steven Spielberg will later tell Senate counsel Arthur Liman that from a visual viewpoint, the staging is a terrible mistake; the witnesses appear on television “at the hero’s angle, looking up as though from a pit at the committees, who resembled two rows of judges at the Spanish Inquisition.” Authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein will note with some sardonicism that the committee’s two lawyers could not have been better choices to play television villains. Liman is “a nasal-voiced New York ethnic with ‘spaghetti hair,’” and House counsel John Nields is “a balding lawyer with long locks down to his collar who couldn’t keep his distaste for the witnesses from creeping into his voice.”
Opening Statements; Cheney Blames Congress, Not the White House - The hearings open with the usual long-winded opening statements from the various committee members. Representative Dick Cheney (R-WY), the leader of the Republican hardline contingent, makes it clear from the outset where he intends to go in the investigation. “Some will argue that these events justify the imposition of additional restrictions on presidents to prohibit the possibility of similar occurrences in the future,” he says. “In my opinion, this would be a mistake. In completing our task, we should seek above all to find ways to strengthen the capacity of future presidents and future Congresses to meet the often dangerous and difficult challenges that are bound to rise in the years ahead.” He then introduces his counter-argument: Congress’s dithering, not the Reagan administration’s clear violation of the law, is the crux of the problem with the Iran-Contra affair. “One important question to be asked is to what extent did the lack of a clear-cut policy by the Congress contribute to the events we will be exploring in the weeks ahead?” Cheney and his colleagues will argue that because Congress had supported the Contras in the past, its decision not to continue that support was an unforgivable breach, “a form of actionable negligence,” in Dubose and Bernstein’s words, that made it necessary for the Reagan administration to establish “a parallel support network as a ‘bridging’ mechanism until Congress could be brought around to a sensible policy.” Oliver North will echo this concept in his own testimony (see July 7-10, 1987), driving committee Vice Chairman Warren Rudman (R-NH) to retort: “The American people have the Constitutional right to be wrong. And what Ronald Reagan thinks, or what Oliver North thinks or what I think or what anybody else thinks makes not a whit if the American people say, ‘Enough.’” [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 72-75]
Entity Tags: Richard Secord, John Nields, Jake Bernstein, Contras, Arthur Liman, Joint House-Senate Iran-Contra Committee, Reagan administration, Lou Dubose, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Steven Spielberg, Oliver North
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]
USS ‘Stark’ after being struck by Iraqi missile. [Source: US Department of Defense]Two missiles from an Iraqi F-1 Mirage warplane strike the USS Stark, killing 37 of the sailors aboard. The frigate is a member of a US naval task force sent to the Persian Gulf to keep the Gulf open for shipping during the Iran-Iraq War. The Iraqi fighter locks weapons on the Stark three minutes before firing; the commander of the ship refuses to issue the standard “back off” warning to the Iraqi pilot. The first missile bores deep into the ship but fails to explode; the second missile explodes, incinerating the crew’s quarters, the radar room, and the combat information center. The ship burns for two days. [PBS, 2000; Peniston, 2006, pp. 61-63]
Diverting Blame onto Iran - The Pentagon later claims that the Stark indeed warned the fighter pilot not to approach. Iraq quickly apologizes for the attack. The US continues to patrol the Gulf, and continues its program of re-registering Kuwaiti oil tankers under the American flag in order to protect them from Iranian attacks. A diplomat says that given the scale of casualties in the incident, the American public is going to start asking “what the hell is the US doing in the Gulf?” Iran calls the attack on the Stark a “divine blessing.” US officials quickly divert blame for the attack on Iran, accepting an Iraqi explanation that the fighter pilot must have mistaken the US warship for an Iranian vessel. [Guardian, 5/19/1987]
Excusing Iraq, Punishing 'Stark' Commander - “We’ve never considered them hostile at all,” says President Reagan in regards to Iraq’s military. “They’ve never been in any way hostile.… And the villain in the piece is Iran.” Senator John Warner (R-VA), a former secretary of the Navy, denounces Iran as “a belligerent that knows no rules, no morals.” Fellow senator John Glenn (D-OH) calls Iran “the sponsor of terrorism and the hijacker of airliners.” Iraq later determines that the Stark was in its so-called “forbidden zone,” and refuses to produce the pilot for any disciplinary action. The only punishment for the attack is suffered by the captain of the Stark, Glenn Brindel, who is relieved of his command, and his executive officer, who is punished for “dereliction of duty.” [TomDispatch (.com), 5/3/2007]
Lawsuits Dismissed - Two wrongful death lawsuits arising from the attacks will later be dismissed due to the “state secrets” privilege (see June 13, 1991 and September 16, 1992).
President Reagan speaking before the Brandenberg Gate. [Source: Public domain]In one of the most iconic moments in modern history, President Reagan, in a speech before the Brandenberg Gate in the Berlin Wall, challenges Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev to raze the wall and allow East and West Berlin to become one city again. Reagan says: “General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization: Come here to this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” Reagan’s speech is widely, if perhaps simplistically, credited for bringing about the end of the Soviet Union. [PBS, 2000]
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
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]
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).
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]
Gorbachev and Reagan sign the INF treaty. [Source: Ronald Reagan Library]US President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev sign a fundamental disarmament agreement. The two sign the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, which has been stalled for years (see September 1981 through November 1983). The INF Treaty eliminates an entire class of intermediate-range nuclear ballistic missiles. It also provides for on-site verifications for each side (which agrees with Reagan’s signature quote, “Trust but verify”). And it marks the first real multi-lateral reduction of nuclear weapons, even if it is only a 5 percent reduction.
Strong Approval from American Public - Reagan’s approval ratings, weakened by public outrage over the Iran-Contra affair, rebound, and Gorbachev becomes a celebrity to many Americans (he causes a near-riot in Washington when, the day before signing the treaty, he spontaneously leaps out of his limousine and wades into the gathered crowd of well-wishers). Altogether, some 80 percent of Americans support the treaty.
Unable to Continue Longer-Range Negotiations - Reagan wants to build on the INF agreement to reopen the similarly moribund START negotiations (see May 1982 and After), but recognizes that there is not enough time left in his administration to accomplish such a long-term goal. Instead, he celebrates his status as the first American president to begin reducing nuclear arms by scheduling a visit to the Soviet Union.
Conservative Opposition - Hardline conservatives protest Gorbachev’s visit to Washington, and the signing of the treaty, in the strongest possible terms. When Reagan suggests that Gorbachev address a joint session of Congress, Congressional Republicans, led by House member Dick Cheney (R-WY—see 1983), rebel. Cheney says: “Addressing a joint meeting of Congress is a high honor, one of the highest honors we can accord anyone. Given the fact of continuing Soviet aggression in Afghanistan, Soviet repression in Eastern Europe, and Soviet actions in Africa and Central America, it is totally inappropriate to confer this honor upon Gorbachev. He is an adversary, not an ally.” Conservative Paul Weyrich of the Free Congress Committee is more blunt in his assessment of the treaty agreement: “Reagan is a weakened president, weakened in spirit as well as in clout, and not in a position to make judgments about Gorbachev at this time.” Conservative pundit William F. Buckley calls the treaty a “suicide pact.” Fellow conservative pundit George Will calls Reagan “wildly wrong” in his dealings with the Soviets. Conservatives gather to bemoan what they call “summit fever,” accusing Reagan of “appeasement” both of communists and of Congressional liberals, and protesting Reagan’s “cutting deals with the evil empire” (see March 8, 1983). They mount a letter-writing campaign, generating some 300,000 letters, and launch a newspaper ad campaign that compares Reagan to former British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain. Senators Jesse Helms (R-NC) and Steven Symms (R-ID) try to undercut the treaty by attempting to add amendments that would make the treaty untenable; Helms will lead a filibuster against the treaty as well.
Senate Ratification and a Presidential Rebuke - All the protests from hardline opponents of the treaty come to naught. When the Senate votes to ratify the treaty, Reagan says of his conservative opposition, “I think that some of the people who are objecting the most and just refusing even to accede to the idea of ever getting an understanding, whether they realize it or not, those people, basically, down in their deepest thoughts, have accepted that war is inevitable and that there must come to be a war between the superpowers.” [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 142-145]
Bush during his Harken days. [Source: Lions Gate Films]Prior to this year, President George W. Bush is a failed oilman. Three times, friends and investors have bailed him out to keep his business from going bankrupt. However, in 1988, the same year his father becomes president, some Saudis buy a portion of his small company, Harken, which has never performed work outside of Texas. Later in the year, Harken wins a contract in the Persian Gulf and starts doing well financially. These transactions seem so suspicious that the Wall Street Journal in 1991 states it “raises the question of… an effort to cozy up to a presidential son.” Two major investors in Bush’s company during this time are Salem bin Laden and Khalid bin Mahfouz. Salem bin Laden dies in a plane crash in Texas in 1988. [Intelligence Newsletter, 3/2/2000; Salon, 11/19/2001] Salem bin Laden is Osama’s oldest brother; Khalid bin Mahfouz is a Saudi banker with a 20 percent stake in BCCI. The bank will be shut down a few years later and bin Mahfouz will have to pay a $225 million fine (while admitting no wrongdoing) (see October 10, 2001)). [Forbes, 3/18/2002]
As the end of President Reagan’s final term approaches, conservatives and hardliners have radically changed their view of him. They originally saw him as one of their own—a crusader for good against evil, obstinately opposed to communism in general and to any sort of arms reduction agreement with the Soviet Union in specific. But recent events—Reagan’s recent moderation in rhetoric towards the Soviets (see December 1983 and After), the summits with Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev (see November 16-19, 1985 and October 11-12, 1986), and the recent arms treaties with the Soviets (see Early 1985 and December 7-8, 1987) have soured them on Reagan. Hardliners had once held considerable power in the Reagan administration (see January 1981 and After and Early 1981 and After), but their influence has steadily waned, and their attempts to sabotage and undermine arms control negotiations (see April 1981 and After, September 1981 through November 1983, May 1982 and After, and April 1983-December 1983), initially quite successful, have grown less effective and more desperate (see Before November 16, 1985). Attempts by administration hardliners to get “soft” officials such as Secretary of State George Shultz fired do not succeed. Conservative pundits such as George Will and William Safire lambast Reagan, with Will accusing him of “moral disarmament” and Safire mocking Reagan’s rapport with Gorbachev: “He professed to see in Mr. Gorbachev’s eyes an end to the Soviet goal of world domination.” It will not be until after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the tearing down of the Berlin Wall (see November 9, 1989 and After) that conservatives will revise their opinion of Reagan, in the process revising much of history in the process. [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 143-145]
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 ]
An unusual relationship forms between the virulently anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) of Topeka, Kansas (see November 27, 1955 and After), and the political organization of Senator Al Gore (D-TN). In 1988, WBC head Fred Phelps provides rooms in his compound for Gore’s presidential campaign workers. In 1993, Phelps’s oldest son Fred Phelps Jr. is invited to the first Clinton-Gore inauguration. But by 1998, Gore is seen as such an enemy by the WBC that its members picket the funeral of his father. [Southern Poverty Law Center, 4/2001] In 2000, Phelps Senior will say that the relationship between himself and Gore is “not what it used to be,” but he will say that he still receives Christmas cards from Gore. Phelps will attempt to explain the relationship between Gore and the WBC, saying: “He was strong pro-life, and he said he wasn’t going to accept any money from homosexual groups, and things of that nature. But there’s no question in my mind that approximately in the late 1980s or the early 1990s he made a conscious decision that he wanted to be a successful national candidate, and he sold out on some of those critical social issues, because that’s what he had to do to succeed nationally in the Democratic Party.” [Topeka Capital-Journal, 11/4/2000]
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]
Dan Rather interviews Vice President Bush, watching him on a monitor. Neither Rather nor the CBS viewers can see Bush’s consultant Roger Ailes off-camera. [Source: Media Research Center]Roger Ailes, a former media consultant to the Nixon administration (see Summer 1970), comes up with a bold plan to help his new client, Vice President George H.W. Bush, who is running for president. Bush is neck-deep in the Iran-Contra scandal (see Before July 28, 1986, August 6, 1987, and December 25, 1992) and, as reporter Tim Dickinson will later write, comes across as “effete” in comparison to his predecessor Ronald Reagan. Ailes decides to use an interview with combative CBS News reporter Dan Rather to bolster his client’s image. Ailes insists that the interview be done live, instead of in the usual format of being recorded and then edited for broadcast. Dickinson will later write, “That not only gave the confrontation the air of a prizefight—it enabled Ailes himself to sit just off-camera in Bush’s office, prompting his candidate with cue cards.” Rather is in the CBS studio in New York and has no idea Ailes is coaching Bush. As planned, Bush begins the interview aggressively, falsely accusing Rather of misleading him by focusing the interview on Iran-Contra. (It is true that CBS had not informed the Bush team that it would air a report on the Iran-Contra investigation as a lead-in to the Bush interview, a scheduling that some in the Bush team see as a “bait-and-switch.”) When Rather begins to press Bush, Ailes flashes a cue card: “walked off the air.” This is a set piece that Bush and Ailes have worked out beforehand, based on an embarrassing incident in Rather’s recent past, when Rather angrily walked off the CBS set after learning that his newscast had been pre-empted by a women’s tennis match. Clenching his fist, Ailes mouths at Bush: “Go! Go! Just kick his ass!” Bush fires his rejoinder: “It’s not fair to judge my whole career by a rehash on Iran. How would you like it if I judged your career by those seven minutes when you walked off the set?” In their 1989 book The Acting President: Ronald Reagan and the Supporting Players Who Helped Him Create the Illusion That Held America Spellbound, CBS host Bob Schieffer and co-author Gary Paul Gates will write: “What people in the bureau and viewers at home could not see was that the response had not been entirely spontaneous. As the interview progressed, the crafty Ailes had stationed himself beside the camera. If Bush seemed to be struggling for a response, Ailes would write out a key word in huge letters on his yellow legal pad and hold it just beneath the camera in Bush’s line of vision. Just before Bush had shouted that it was not fair to judge his career on Iran, Ailes had written out on his legal pad the words.… Three times during the interview, Bush’s answer had come after Ailes had prompted him with key words or phrases scribbled on the legal pad.” Dickinson will later write: “It was the mother of all false equivalencies: the fleeting petulance of a news anchor pitted against the high crimes of a sitting vice president. But it worked as TV.” Ailes’s colleague Roger Stone, who worked with Ailes on the 1968 Nixon campaign, will later say of the interview: “That bite of Bush telling Rather off played over and over and over again. It was a perfect example of [Ailes] understanding the news cycle, the dynamics of the situation, and the power of television.” [Associated Press, 7/6/1989; NewsBusters, 1/25/2008; Rolling Stone, 5/25/2011] After the interview is concluded, Bush leaps to his feet and, with the microphone still live, says: “The b_stard didn’t lay a glove on me.… Tell your g_ddamned network that if they want to talk to me to raise their hands at a press conference. No more Mr. Inside stuff after that.” The unexpected aggression from Bush helps solidify his standing with hardline Republicans. The interview gives more “proof” to those same hardliners that the media is hopelessly liberal, “their” candidates cannot expect to be treated fairly, and that the only way for them to “survive” encounters with mainstream media figures is through aggression and intimidation. [Salon, 1/26/2011] Conservative commentator Rich Noyes will write in 2008 that Bush’s jab at Rather exposed the reporter’s “liberal bias,” though he will fail to inform his readers of Ailes’s off-camera coaching. [NewsBusters, 1/25/2008]
Entity Tags: Rich Noyes, CBS News, Bob Schieffer, Dan Rather, George Herbert Walker Bush, Tim Dickinson, Gary Paul Gates, Roger Stone, Roger Ailes, Ronald Reagan
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Elections Before 2000
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]
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]
The Bush presidential re-election campaign, trailing Democratic challenger Michael Dukakis, the governor of Massachusetts, in the polls, decides on a “two-track” campaign strategy. The strategy is crafted by campaign manager Lee Atwater. The “high road” track will be taken by President Bush and the campaign directly, attacking Dukakis’s record on law enforcement and challenging his reputation as having led Massachusetts into a period of economic growth (the so-called “Massachusetts Miracle”). The “low road,” designed by Atwater to appeal to the most crude racial stereotypes (see 1981), is to be taken by ostensibly “independent” voter outreach organizations. Because of a loophole in campaign finance rules, the Bush campaign could work closely with “outside groups” and funnel money from “independent” organizations to the outside groups, while denying any connections with those groups were they to run objectionable or negative political ads. Atwater wants to avoid a potential backlash among voters, who may turn against the campaign because of their antipathy towards “attack politics.” Atwater and his colleagues determine that the outside groups will use “brass knuckle” tactics to attack Dukakis, and because the ads come from these “independent” organizations, the Bush campaign can distance itself from the groups and even criticize them for being too negative. In 1999, InsidePolitics.org will write: “In so doing, Bush’s presidential effort would train a generation of campaign operatives how to run a negative campaign. Its ‘two-track’ approach would become a model of how to exploit campaign finance laws and use outside groups to deliver hard-hitting messages on behalf of the candidate. Over the course of the following decade, this strategy would become commonplace in American elections.” The idea of “outsourcing” attack ads had been popularized by the 1980 Reagan presidential campaign, which used what it called “independent expenditures” to finance “outside” attacks on its Democratic opponent, President Jimmy Carter. In 1988, “independent” conservative groups spend $13.7 million on the Bush campaign, most of which goes towards attacks on Dukakis. In comparison, progressive and liberal groups spend $2.8 million on behalf of Dukakis—an almost five-to-one discrepancy. Most of the outside money is spent on television advertising. InsidePolitics will write, “Increasingly, candidates were discovering, electoral agendas and voter impressions could be dominated through a clever combination of attack ads and favorable news coverage.” [Inside Politics (.org), 1999] The result of Atwater’s “two-track” strategy is the “Willie Horton” ad, which will become infamous both for its bluntly racist appeal and its effectiveness (see September 21 - October 4, 1988). An earlier “independent” ad attacking Dukakis’s environmental record provides something of a template for the Horton ad campaign. The so-called “Boston Harbor” ad, which depicted garbage floating in the body of water, challenged Dukakis’s positive reputation as a pro-environmental candndate. The ad helped bring Dukakis’s “positives” down, a strong plus for Bush, whose record as an oil-company executive and reputation as a powerful political friend to the oil companies hurts him in comparison with Dukakis. In July 1988, Readers Digest, a magazine known for its quietly conservative slant, publishes a profile of Horton titled “Getting Away With Murder.” The Bush campaign reprints the article and distributes it by the tens of thousands around the country. [Regardie's Magazine, 10/1/1990; Inside Politics (.org), 1999]
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]
Crew members monitor radar screens in the combat information center aboard the Vincennes. This photo was taken by a crew member in January 1988. [Source: Public domain]The USS Vincennes, a state-of-the-art Aegis guided missile cruiser patrolling the Strait of Hormuz in an effort to keep oil tankers safe from Iranian and Iraqi depredations, detects an Iranian aircraft apparently closing in on its position. The captain and crew of the Vincennes are aware of previous attacks on US ships and Kuwaiti oil tankers by Iranian gunboats, and know of the attack a year before on the USS Stark by an Iraqi fighter (see May 17, 1987 and After). Just a half-hour before, the Vincennes itself had fired on Iranian gunboats. Captain Will Rogers III has seven minutes to decide what to do about the aircraft, which he and his radar operators believe is most likely an Iranian F-14. Although the first transmission from the Iranian aircraft identifies itself as “commair”—commercial aircraft—the radio operator forgets to reset his receiver, and subsequently receives transmissions from Iranian military aircraft which he mistakenly attributes to the incoming aircraft. When the aircraft is nine miles away, Rogers fires two SM-2 surface-to-air missiles at the aircraft. At least one missile hits the plane, which is not a military fighter, but Iran Air Flight 655, a civilian Boeing 747 carrying 290 passengers. The missile slices the airliner in half; all 290 passengers, including 66 children, die. Though the international community is outraged, the White House and the Pentagon defend the Vincennes’s action. The UN Security Council will not condemn the attack, and President Reagan volunteers to pay compensation to the families. The Navy is embarrassed that in the first real military action from one of its new Aegis cruisers, it had shot down an unarmed civilian aircraft. An investigation proves that the aircraft had been well within a commercially designated flight path, and was not descending in a threatening manner, as was initially claimed by both Vincennes personnel and Pentagon officials. No disciplinary actions against Rogers or any of his crew are ever taken. During the 1988 presidential campaign, Vice President George H. W. Bush will frequently say of the incident: “I will never apologize for the United States of America. I don’t care what the facts are.” [New York Times, 11/9/1988; TomDispatch (.com), 5/3/2007; History (.com), 2008]
Arnold Raphel. [Source: Robert Nickelsberg / Time Life Pictures / Getty Images]Pakistan’s president Muhammad Zia ul-Haq is killed in an airplane crash. The plane went into a steep dive, then recovered regaining altitude. Then it dove a second time and crashed. [Yousaf and Adkin, 1992, pp. 91-92] ISI Director Akhtar Abdur Rahman, US ambassador to Pakistan Arnold Raphel, and other Pakistani and US officials are also killed. A joint US-Pakistani investigation fails to definitively explain what caused the crash. [Coll, 2004, pp. 178-179] According to Mohammad Yousaf, the ISI’s Afghan Bureau chief, the crash was due to sabotage. Yousaf does not know who was responsible, but later says that the US State Department was instrumental in the cover-up. Yousaf points out several reasons why the State Department might want to cover up the crime even if the US were not involved in the assassination itself. [Yousaf and Adkin, 1992, pp. 91-92] Richard Clarke, a State Department analyst who later will become counterterrorism “tsar” for Presidents Clinton and Bush Jr., believes that Zia’s death and the destruction of a major weapons stockpile used by the CIA and ISI around the same time (see April 10, 1988) were both ordered by the Soviets as revenge for being defeated in Afgnanistan. Clarke says, “I could never find the evidence to prove that the Soviet KGB had ordered these two acts as payback for their bitter defeat, but in my bones I knew they had.” [Clarke, 2004, pp. 50]
Veteran diplomat Joseph Wilson arrives in Baghdad to assume the post of Deputy Chief of Mission (DCM) under US Ambassador April Glaspie. Wilson has extensive experience throughout sub-Saharan and Central Africa, as well as brief stints on the staffs of Senator Al Gore (D-TN) and Representative Tom Foley (D-WA). Wilson will later write that he and his colleagues share the belief that Iraq is ruled by “a shockingly brutal regime… an ugly totalitarian dictatorship” and its leader, Saddam Hussein, a “sociopath.” For the next three years, Wilson and his colleagues will send harsh reports of Hussein’s systematic violations of the human rights of his subjects to Washington.
Walking a Fine Line between Isolation and Appeasement - Still, most of the embassy staff, including Wilson and Glaspie, are not advocates of totally isolating Hussein with extreme economic and diplomatic sanctions. Wilson will write, “Isolating a regime often results in isolating ourselves, and we then lose any leverage we might have to influence outcomes. On the other hand, when dictators are treated like any other leaders, it’s often interpreted by them as a free pass to continue in their autocratic ways, while critics label it as appeasement.… The merits of ideologically driven diplomacy versus a more pragmatic approach have been a recurring theme of foreign policy debates throughout the history of international relations and America’s own domestic policies.”
'Tread Lightly' - Wilson will note that “Iraq’s Arab neighbors unanimously urged us to tread lightly. They argued that after almost a decade of a grinding war with Iran, Saddam had learned his lesson and that his natural radicalism would now be tempered by the harsh experience.… [I]t was better to tie him to relationships that would be hard for him to jettison than to leave him free to make trouble with no encumbrances. Engaging with him at least kept him in our sights.” Iraq had behaved monstrously during its war with Iran, and had offended the world with its chemical attacks on its own citizens (see August 25, 1988) and its Iranian enemies (see October 1988). But it had emerged from the war as a powerful regional player both militarily and economically. The Bush administration is torn between trying to moderate Hussein’s behavior and treating him as an incorrigible, irredeemable enemy of civilization. And Washington wants Iraq as a balancing force against Iran, which is awash in virulently anti-American sentiment (a sentiment returned in full by many American lawmakers and government officials). No other country in the Gulf region will tolerate the presence of US forces as a counterbalance to Iran. So, as Wilson will write, “All of Iraq’s neighbors continued to argue for a softer approach; and since they clearly had at least as much at stake as we did, the Bush administration was willing to follow their lead.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 78-79, 451]
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
The “Willie Horton” ad campaign, a pair of ads launched by an “independent” organization on behalf of the Bush re-election campaign and by the Bush campaign itself (see June-September 1988 and September 21 - October 4, 1988), is considered an immediate success by veteran political observers, in spite of what many call its overtly racist appeal. Because the first ad, “Weekend Pass,” was the product of an ostensibly independent organization, the Bush campaign is able to keep a distance between itself and the ad. In the last weeks of the campaign, some polls show that voters blame President Bush and Democrat Michael Dukakis almost equally for the negative tone of the campaign. While the ads only ran a relatively small number of times, news networks run the ads repeatedly, often adding their own analysis while the images of the ads run in the background. According to InsidePolitics, only once does any journalist challenge the “deceptive information from Bush’s crime ads.… By amplifying Bush’s claims, news reporters gave the ads even greater legitimacy than otherwise would have appeared. News accounts quoted election experts who noted that Bush’s tactics were effective and that Dukakis’ failure to respond was disastrous. Because these assessments appeared in the high credibility framework of news broadcasts, they came across as more believable than had they been aired only as paid advertisements.” The “Weekend Pass” and “Revolving Door” ads have a palpable effect on the electorate, energizing voters who cite “law and order” as one of their major concerns for the nation, and driving many of them towards voting for Bush. Less discussed but equally powerful is the racial effect of the ads. Polls show that many white voters feel fearful because of the ads, and feel that Bush, not Dukakis, will make them safer from crime. InsidePolitics notes that the Bush campaign “had picked the perfect racial crime, that of a black felon raping a white woman.” Later research will show that many viewers saw the Horton case as more about race than crime; many subjects exposed to news broadcasts about the Horton case responded in racial terms, with studies finding that the ads “mobilized whites’ racial prejudice, not their worries about crime.” InsidePolitics will write: “Viewers became much more likely to feel negatively about blacks in general after having heard the details of the case. It was an attack strategy that worked well on several different levels for Republicans.” [Inside Politics (.org), 1999; University of Virginia, Introduction to American Politics, 11/18/2009] After the election, a New York Times voter poll will rate the “Revolving Door” ad as the single most influential ad of the campaign. The ad was particularly effective among white women, many of whom said that after watching it during the campaign, they began to view Bush as “stronger on crime” and as the candidate who would keep them “safer.” In 1999, InsidePolitics will write that voters often conflated the two ads, and it is unclear from poll responses whether they differentiated between the independently produced ad and the Bush campaign ad. InsidePolitics also notes the powerful impact of the Horton ad’s clear reference to rape. Dukakis’s campaign manager Susan Estrich will say: “The symbolism was very powerful… you can’t find a stronger metaphor, intended or not, for racial hatred in this country than a black man raping a white woman.… I talked to people afterward.… Women said they couldn’t help it, but it scared the living daylights out of them.” [Inside Politics (.org), 1999]
Milton Bearden. [Source: Publicity photo]State Department Special Envoy Ed McWilliams, stationed in Islamabad, sends a widely distributed cable to Washington warning that continued support for the Islamist militants will have disastrous consequences. This leads to a long and bitter debate between those who agree with McWilliams, and those, including CIA Station Chief Milton Bearden, who believe that the manipulation of the Islamists has been a huge success that can and should be continued and replicated elsewhere. In response to the warning, the embassy investigates McWilliams, searching for weaknesses such as alcoholism and homosexuality. [Coll, 2004, pp. 184] Additionally, the CIA “raises serious questions about his handling of classified materials.” [Coll, 2004, pp. 176-204]
The “Willie Horton” (a.k.a. “Weekend Pass”) campaign ad, produced by an “independent” political organization on behalf of the Bush re-election campaign (see June-September 1988 and September 21 - October 4, 1988), and the Bush campaign’s accompanying ad, “Revolving Door,” draw accusations from the Democratic challenger, Michael Dukakis, that they are racist in their appeals. President Bush denies the accusations that race has anything to do with the ads, or even that racism exists. He calls the Dukakis accusations “some desperation kind of move,” and says: “There isn’t any racism. It’s absolutely ridiculous.” Dukakis is leveling these accusations, Bush says, because he “is weak on crime and defense and that’s the inescapable truth.” Bush accuses Dukakis of lying about his record, and accuses the Democrat of both racist and sexist behavior, though he gives no details or evidence. Bush’s vice-presidential candidate, Dan Quayle, agrees, and accuses the Dukakis campaign of behaving in a racist manner, saying: “It’s totally absurd and ridiculous. I think it shows just how desperate they really are, to start fanning the flames of racism in this country.” Civil rights leader Jesse Jackson has accused the Bush campaign of trying to incite racial fears through the Horton ad, and Dukakis’s vice-presidential candidate, Lloyd Bentsen, says there seems to be “a racial element” in the Bush campaign’s strategy. In contrast to Bush’s denials, Bush media adviser Roger Ailes jokes with reporters about the ads, saying that the campaign’s only question about the Horton ad was whether to portray Horton “with a knife in his hand or without it,” and accuses Dukakis’s campaign of spreading racism about Hispanics in its own ads. Bush states that he is “fully behind” both the “Weekend Pass” and “Revolving Door” ads. [New York Times, 10/25/1988]
The Dartmouth Review, a conservative weekly student newspaper funded by off-campus right-wing sources (see 1980), marks the 50th anniversary of Kristallnacht, a Nazi rampage through the Jewish communities of Germany in 1938, by depicting Dartmouth College president James Freedman as Adolf Hitler on its front cover. Freedman is Jewish. The article accuses him of searching for a “final solution” to the problem of conservatives at Dartmouth, a specific reference to the Holocaust. Many Dartmouth students and faculty members accuse the Review of overt anti-Semitism (see October 1982 and October 4, 1990). The Review will later apologize, not to Freedman, but to those who might have been offended. [Boston Globe, 10/5/1990; Dartmouth Free Press, 9/20/2006]
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]
President George H. W. Bush places Vice President Dan Quayle in charge of the “Council on Competitiveness,” whose job is to review proposed agency regulations that arrive at the White House (see January 1985). Quayle’s council bottles up rules that industry opposes, and sometimes blocks them entirely by claiming that they post an excessive burden on businesses. [Savage, 2007, pp. 305]
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]
Robert Morgenthau. [Source: Robert Maass / Corbis]In the late 1980s, Osama bin Laden and his mentor Abdullah Azzam are running a charity front called Maktab al-Khidamat (MAK)/Al-Kifah in Peshawar, Pakistan, and it has an important branch in Brooklyn, New York, called the Al-Kifah Refugee Center that is sending money and recruits to fight in Afghanistan. The CIA apparently helps the Al-Kifah Brooklyn office send up to 200 people from the US to fight in Afghanistan (see 1986-1993). Many of them are US citizens. Zalmay Khalilzad, a State Department Afghan specialist who will go on to become a prominent neoconservative, will later deny knowing of any Arab-Americans fighting with the mujaheddin. But one anonymous Congressional aide will recall occasional mentions of Al-Kifah Refugee Center or its head Mustafa Shalabi by some of the most radical mujaheddin. He will say: “Among that cabal, the extreme militant fringes, Shalabi was known.… [T]hey were asking to talk to him so he could organize some particular assistance.” The Neutrality Act prevents US citizens from fighting against countries not at war with the US, but the New York Times will note, “Yet there is no sign that a criminal investigation ever took place even though federal agents had come across broad hints about the center’s activities when they investigated the [Meir] Kahane assassination [in 1990] (see November 5, 1990) and the slaying of Mr. Shalabi [in 1991]” (see (February 28, 1991)). Kahane’s assassin, El Sayyid Nosair, was one of Shalabi’s assistants. [New York Times, 4/11/1993] Apparently the CIA’s ties to the Al-Kifah Refugee Center prevent other US agencies from investigating it, even after the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, when all of the bombers are found to have been tied to the center. While Al-Kifah closes itself down shortly after the WTC bombing, it immediately reopens in Boston under a different name and continues to publish the same newsletter and post from the same website (see April 1993-Mid-2003). Robert I. Friedman, writing for New York magazine, will comment, “[W]hen the fanatical fervor [the CIA] whipped up leads to unintended consequences—the assassination of a Jewish militant leader in Manhattan, the bombing of the World Trade Center, a terror conspiracy to blow up the Holland and Lincoln Tunnels and other Manhattan landmarks—[the CIA tried] to discourage local law enforcement agencies and the FBI from looking into the matter too deeply.” After Nosair assassinates Kahane, the FBI tells District Attorney Robert Morgenthau that Nosair was a lone gunman, not part of a broader conspiracy. However, the FBI had truckloads of evidence connecting to Al-Kifah strongly suggesting otherwise that it does not closely investigate. The FBI also blocks him from tying Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman to the WTC bombing (see After February 26, 1993). Morgenthau will later speculate the CIA may have encouraged the FBI not to pursue any other leads. “The FBI lied to me,” he will say. “They’re supposed to untangle terrorist connections, but they can’t be trusted to do the job.” [New York Magazine, 3/17/1995] Counterterrorism expert Steven Emerson will call Al-Kifah “al-Qaeda’s operational headquarters in the United States.” [Emerson, 2006, pp. 436] In 1994, a secret internal CIA report will conclude that the agency is “partially culpable” for the WTC bombing because of its support for radicals connected to Al-Kifah. One CIA source will say, “By giving these people the funding that we did, a situation was created in which it could be safely argued that we bombed the World Trade Center” (see January 24, 1994). But even after 1994 there is little evidence that the links from Al-Kifah were carefully explored by any US government agency. For instance, the government will not freeze Al-Kifah’s funds until shortly after 9/11, long after it ceased to exist (see September 24, 2001).
Two days of Kosovar Serb demonstrations about the economy, after earlier demonstrations had been dispersed by police, persuade the leadership of the Montenegrin communist party, the LCY, and the government to resign. Momir Bulatovic, a supporter of Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic, becomes the new leader of the Montenegrin LCY. This follows Kosovar Serb protests in October 1988 that toppled the provincial government in Vojvodina, another part of Serbia. [Kola, 2003, pp. 175]
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]
Iraq continues to meddle in the affairs of Lebanon as a method of seeking revenge against Syria for refusing to support Iraq in its war with Iran. Syria is in the process of seizing control of Lebanon and imposing military force to quell the fighting between the warring Lebanese factions, and Iraq has tried numerous times to interfere with Syria’s activities in Lebanon. Iraq earns the ire of the US when it tries to ship surface-to-surface missiles into Beirut through the Jordanian port of Aqaba. Such missiles deployed in an urban environment such as Beirut would drastically increase the level of violence throughout Lebanon. The US ambassador to Iraq, April Glaspie, meets with Iraqi officials daily in the US’s attempt to dissuade the Iraqis from arming Lebanese Prime Minister Michel Aoun and his Maronite Christian faction, in Aoun’s losing struggle against Syria. Glaspie points out that Aoun is a friend of Israel, and by arming Aoun, Iraq is placing itself in a tacit alliance with Israel. Joseph Wilson, Glaspie’s deputy, will later write, “For the Iraqis, of course, it had nothing to do with Israel, or Aoun’s position in Lebanon; it had everything to do with giving Syrian President Hafiz al-Assad a bloody nose and using Beirut as the cudgel with which to bash him. For the Iraqis, the road from Baghdad to Damascus went through Beirut.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 88-89]
Deputy Secretary of State Designate Lawrence Eagleburger is called to testify in a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the Yugoslav situation. He tells the senators that Serbian communist leader Slobodan Milosevic’s actions are “very harmful,” creating “the worst [conditions] with regard to the national question since the end of the war,” and says that ethnic Albanians are the victims and the US should speak out. He also says Yugoslavia is “used to reacting adversely to any outside intereference.” [Kola, 2003, pp. 184]
Dick Cheney’s official photo as Secretary of Defense. [Source: US Department of Defense]Former Representative Dick Cheney (R-WY) becomes secretary of defense under President George H. W. Bush. [US Department of Defense, 11/24/2005] Cheney is the second choice; Bush’s first consideration, former Texas senator John Tower, lost key Senate support when details of his licentious lifestyle and possible alcoholism became known. Cheney was the choice of, among others, Vice President Dan Quayle and National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft, who both feel that Bush needs someone in the position fast, and the best way to have someone move through the confirmation process is to have someone from Congress. Although Cheney never served in the military, and managed to dodge service during the Vietnam War with five student deferments, he has no skeletons in his closet like Tower’s, and he has the support of Congressional hawks. His confirmation hearings are little more than a formality.
Cheney Leaves the House, Gingrich Steps In - Cheney’s House colleague, Republican Mickey Edwards, later reflects, “The whole world we live in would be totally different if Dick Cheney had not been plucked from the House to take the place of John Tower.” Cheney was “in line to become the [GOP’s] leader in the House and ultimately the majority leader and speaker,” Edwards will say. “If that [had] happened, the whole Gingrich era wouldn’t have happened.” Edwards is referring to Newt Gingrich (R-GA), the future speaker of the House who, in authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein’s own reflections, “ushered in fifteen years of rancorous, polarized politics.” While Cheney is as partisan as Gingrich, he is not the kind of confrontational, scorched-earth politician Gingrich is. According to Edwards, no one can envision Cheney moving down the same road as Gingrich will.
Successful Tenure - As the Pentagon’s civilian chief, many will reflect on Cheney’s tenure as perhaps his finest hour as a public servant. “I saw him for four years as [defense secretary]. He was one of the best executives the Department of Defense had ever seen,” later says Larry Wilkerson, who will serve in the Bush-Cheney administration as chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell. “He made decisions. Contrast that with the other one I saw [Clinton Secretary of Defense Lester Aspin], who couldn’t make a decision if it slapped him in the face.” Cheney will preside over a gradual reduction in forces stationed abroad—a reduction skillfully managed by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Colin Powell.
Bringing Aboard the Neoconservatives - Cheney asks one of Tower’s putative hires, Paul Wolfowitz, to stay; Wolfowitz, with fellow Pentagon neoconservatives Lewis “Scooter” Libby and Zalmay Khalilzad, will draft the Pentagon’s 1992 Defense Planning Guide (DPG) (see February 18, 1992), a harshly neoconservative proposal that envisions the US as the world’s strongman, dominating every other country and locking down the Middle East oil reserves for its own use. Though the DPG is denounced by President Bush, Cheney supports it wholeheartedly, even issuing it under his own name. “He took ownership in it,” Khalilzad recalls. Cheney also brings in his aide from the Iran-Contra hearings, David Addington (see Mid-March through Early April, 1987), another neoconservative who shares Cheney’s view of almost unlimited executive power at the expense of the judicial and legislative branches. [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 87-95]
Entity Tags: Lester Aspin, George Herbert Walker Bush, David S. Addington, Dan Quayle, Colin Powell, Brent Scowcroft, Jake Bernstein, Lawrence Wilkerson, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, John Tower, Newt Gingrich, Zalmay M. Khalilzad, Mickey Edwards, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Lou Dubose, Paul Wolfowitz
Timeline Tags: US Military
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
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).
Congress reauthorizes the 1965 Voting Rights Act (VRA—see August 6, 1965, 1970, and 1975) for 25 years, until 2014. It also overturns via legislation the Supreme Court’s decision to force voters to prove discriminatory intent before receiving redress (see April 22, 1980). President Reagan signs the bill into law. The reauthorization also adds protections for blind, disabled, and illiterate voters. Reagan calls the right to vote a “crown jewel” of American liberties. [American Civil Liberties Union, 2012]
The US Supreme Court, ruling in the case of Webster v. Reproductive Health Services, gives states significant rights to regulate or constrain the availability of abortions. The ruling splits the Court in a 5-4 vote. The case allows states to restrict the use of public money, medical personnel, or facilities in performing abortions. It upholds a Missouri law that restricts the use of state funds, facilities, and employees in performing, counseling, or assisting with abortions. It adds restrictions to rights previously thought upheld and granted by the Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision (see January 22, 1973). The Missouri law holds that “the life of each human being begins at conception” and “unborn children have protectable interests in life, health, and well-being,” assumptions specifically not granted under federal laws and court decisions. The opinion is written by Chief Justice William Rehnquist, and joined by Justices Byron “Whizzer” White and Anthony Kennedy. Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and Antonin Scalia form the majority vote with concurrent opinions; in his opinion, Scalia lambasts the other justices for not overturning Roe in its entirety. Justice Harry Blackmun joins Justices William Brennan, Thurgood Marshall, and John Paul Stevens in dissenting from the majority verdict. Blackmun writes that the decision can be interpreted to overturn Roe entirely, and writes, “I fear for the future… a chill wind blows.” [Oyez, 1989; Webster v. Reproductive Health Services (No. 88-605), 7/3/1989; FindLaw, 7/3/1989; CBS News, 4/19/2007]
The newly appointed general counsels of each executive branch receive a memo from William Barr, the new head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC). The memo, entitled “Common Legislative Encroachments on Executive Branch Authority,” details the top 10 ways in which, in Barr’s view, Congress tries to interfere with executive branch powers. The list includes:
“4. Micromanagement of the Executive Branch”;
“5. Attempts to Gain Access to Sensitive Executive Branch Information”;
“9. Attempts to Restrict the President’s Foreign Affairs Powers.”
The memo unequivocally endorses the “unitary executive theory” of the presidency (see April 30, 1986), despite that theory’s complete rejection by the Supreme Court (see June 1988). Barr also reiterates the belief that the Constitution requires the executive branch to “speak with one voice”—the president’s—and tells the general counsels to watch for any legislation that would protect executive branch officials from being fired at will by the president, one of the powers that Barr and other unitary executive proponents believe has been illegally taken by Congress. “Only by consistently and forcefully resisting such congressional incursions can executive branch prerogatives be preserved,” Barr writes. Reflecting on Barr’s arguments, law professor Neil Kinkopf, who will later serve in the OLC under President Clinton, will later write: “Never before had the Office of Legal Counsel… publicly articulated a policy of resisting Congress. The Barr memo did so with belligerence, staking out an expansive view of presidential power while asserting positions that contradicted recent Supreme Court precedent. Rather than fade away as ill-conceived and legally dubious, however, the memo’s ideas persisted and evolved within the Republican Party and conservative legal circles like the Federalist Society.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 57-59]
Ahmed Chalabi, the charismatic, MIT-educated head of Jordan’s Petra Bank, flees to London before charges can be filed against him in regards to the collapse of his bank (see August 2, 1989 and April 9, 1992). Unworried about the Jordanian charges, Chalabi, whose formerly wealthy family fled Iraq in 1958, establishes a loose grouping of Iraqi exiles called the Iraqi National Congress, with the aim of overthrowing Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. Chalabi has already forged ties with some US neoconservatives like Albert Wohlstetter and Richard Perle. Now he begins cultivating ties with other influential neoconservatives such as Paul Wolfowitz, James Woolsey, Douglas Feith, and Perle’s protege, David Wurmser. Chalabi makes the rounds of the symposia and conferences, and wins new allies in pro-Israeli think tanks such as the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA) and the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP). Chalabi’s appeal to the neoconservatives is directly linked to his support for Israel as a regional power. The new Iraq he will build, he promises, will have strong relations with Israel. He even declares his intention to rebuild the oil pipeline from Kirkuk to Haifa, which has been inoperative since the 1940s. The neoconservatives ignore his close ties with the Iranian Shi’ite theocracy, as well as the Petra Bank’s funding of the Lebanese Shi’ite militia Amal. Instead, the neoconservatives view Chalabi as a potential savior of the Middle East. Patrick Clawson of WINEP says, “He could be Iraq’s national leader.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 123-125]
Entity Tags: Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, Albert Wohlstetter, Ahmed Chalabi, David Wurmser, Douglas Feith, Iraqi National Congress, Paul Wolfowitz, James Woolsey, Saddam Hussein, Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Patrick Clawson
Timeline Tags: Neoconservative Influence
African-American writer Anthony Walton writes for the New York Times Magazine his thoughts on the overtly racist “Willie Horton” ad campaign launched the year before by the Bush re-election campaign (see June-September 1988 and September 21 - October 4, 1988). Walton writes: “George Bush and his henchmen could not have invented Willie Horton. Horton, with his coal-black skin; huge, unkempt Afro, and a glare that would have given Bull Connor or Lester Maddox [infamous white supremacists who abused African-Americans in the 1950s and ‘60s] serious pause, had committed a brutal murder in 1974 and been sentenced to life in prison. Then, granted a weekend furlough from prison, had viciously raped a white woman in front of her fiance, who was also attacked. Willie Horton was the perfect symbol of what happened to innocent whites when liberals (read Democrats) were on the watch, at least in the gospel according to post-Goldwater Republicans. Horton himself, in just a fuzzy mug shot, gave even the stoutest, most open, liberal heart a shiver. Even me. I thought of all the late nights I had ridden in terror on the F and A trains, while living in New York City. I thought Willie Horton must be what the wolf packs I had often heard about, but never seen, must look like. I said to myself, ‘Something has got to be done about these n_ggers.’” Walton recounts several instances where he himself has been the victim of racism, and notes that in many eyes, he and Horton are interchangeable: “If Willie Horton would become just a little middle-class, he would look like me.… [I]n retrospect, I can see that racism has always been with me, even when I was shielded by love or money, or when I chose not to see it. But I saw it in the face of Willie Horton, and I can’t ignore it, because it is my face.” [New York Times Magazine, 8/20/1989]
Several members of the League of Communists of Yugoslavia (LCY)‘s Political Bureau, including Kosovar representative Kole Shiroka, resign to protest Slobodan Milosevic’s push for the removal of Kosovar Albanian leaders. The resignations precede the Eighteenth Plenum of the Central Committee, which will meet on October 17. [Kola, 2003, pp. 175]
President George H. W. Bush nominates his former foreign policy adviser, Donald Gregg, to become the US Ambassador to South Korea. Gregg is one of the architects of the Contra funding and supply program (see March 17, 1983). Gregg faces some difficulty in his Senate confirmation hearings stemming from his linchpin role in Iran-Contra, with Senator Alan Cranston (R-WY) telling him: “You told the Iran-Contra committee that you and Bush never discussed the Contras, had no expertise on the issue, no responsibility for it, and the details of Watergate-sized scandal involving NSC staff and the Edwin Wilson gang [a group of ‘rogue’ CIA agents operating in apparent conjunction with Bush] was not vice presidential. Your testimony on that point is demonstrably false. There are at least six memos from Don Gregg to George Bush regarding detailed Contra issues.” But Cranston is the only member of the committee to vote against Gregg’s confirmation. [Spartacus Schoolnet, 12/28/2007]
The League of Communists of Yugoslavia (LCY)‘s Eighteenth Plenum does not approve Slobodan Milosevic’s proposal that the Central Committee be purged; Milosevic, the leader of the LCY’s Serbian branch, retains his post. National LCY leader Stipe Suvar, a Croat, and Milan Kucan, leader of the Slovenian LCY, criticize Milosevic. Suvar proposes a confidence vote in the Politcal Bureau, but Milosevic rejects the idea, because he is a regional leader and the Plenum represents the entire Yugoslav party. Milosevic also ignores the Plenum’s vote to fire his aide, Dusan Ckrebic. The Slovenian leadership is willing to consider Serbia’s demand for constitutional amendment in exchange for more capitalistic economic policies. Milosevic says the recent Serb demonstrations show the high level of civil liberties in Yugoslavia, while Kosovar LCY leader Azem Vllasi, an ethnic Albanian and target of Serb demonstrations, says they are one aspect of “a well-disguised attempt to change the policy of national equality in Yugoslavia and the country’s foundations.” [Kola, 2003, pp. 175-176]
CIA Director William Webster meets with Kuwait’s head of security, Brigadier Fahd Ahmed al-Fahd. Iraq will claim after its invasion and occupation of Kuwait (see August 2, 1990) that it had located a Kuwaiti memorandum summarizing their conversation, a memo both the CIA and Kuwaiti government officials will claim is a forgery, though both sides will admit the meeting actually took place. Iraq will accuse the CIA and Kuwait of collaborating to destabilize Iraq’s economy and government (see Late August, 1990). The memo reads in part: “We agreed with the American side that it was important to take advantage of the deteriorating economic situation in Iraq in order to put pressure on that country’s government to delineate our common border. The Central Intelligence Agency gave us its view of appropriate means of pressure, saying that broad cooperation should be initiated between us on condition that such activities be coordinated at a high level.” [NationMaster, 12/23/2007]
American conservatives, recently contemptuous of former President Ronald Reagan (see 1988), use the fall of the Berlin Wall (see November 9, 1989 and After) to resurrect the image of Reagan as the victorious Cold Warrior who triumphed over world communism.
Historical Revisionism - In doing so, they drastically revise history. In the revised version of events, Reagan was a staunch, never-wavering, ideologically hardline conservative who saw the Cold War as an ultimate battle between good (Western democracy) and evil (Soviet communism). As author J. Peter Scoblic will describe the revision, it was Reagan’s implacable resolve and conservative principles—and the policies that emanated from those principles—that “forced the Soviet Union to implode.” Conservatives point to the so-called “Reagan Doctrine” of backing anti-Soviet insurgencies (see May 5, 1985) and to National Security Decision Directive 75, accepting nuclear war as a viable policy option (see January 17, 1983), as evidence of their assertions. But to achieve this revision, they must leave out, among other elements, Reagan’s long-stated goal of nuclear disarmament (see April 1981 and After, March-April 1982, November 20, 1983, and Late November 1983), and his five-year history of working with the Soviet Union to reduce nuclear arms between the two nations (see December 1983 and After, November 16-19, 1985, January 1986, October 11-12, 1986, and December 7-8, 1987).
USSR Caused Its Own Demise - And, Scoblic will note, such revisionism does not account for the fact that it was the USSR which collapsed of its own weight, and not the US which overwhelmed the Soviets with an onslaught of democracy. The Soviet economy had been in dire straits since the late 1960s, and there had been huge shortages of food staples such as grain by the 1980s. Soviet military spending remained, in Scoblic’s words, “enormous, devouring 15 percent to 20 percent of [the USSR’s gross national product] throughout the Cold War (meaning that it imposed three times the economic burden of the US defense budget, on an economy that was one-sixth the size).” Reagan did dramatically increase US military spending during his eight years in office (see Early 1981 and After), and ushered new and potentially devastating military programs into existence (see 1981 and March 23, 1983). Conservatives will assert that Reagan’s military spending drove the USSR into implicit surrender, sending them back to the arms negotiation table with a newfound willingness to negotiate the drawdown of the two nations’ nuclear arsenals (see Early 1985). Scoblic will characterize the conservatives’ arguments: “Whereas [former President] Carter was left playing defense, the Gipper [Reagan] took the ball the final 10 yards against the Reds, spending them into the ground and leading the United States into the end zone.” Scoblic calls this a “superficially… plausible argument,” but notes that Carter, not Reagan, began the tremendous military spending increase (see Late 1979-1980), and more importantly, the USSR made no effort to match Reagan’s defense spending. “Its defense budget remained essentially static during the 1980s,” he will write. “In short, the Soviet Union suffered no economic distress as a result of the Reagan buildup.” Scoblic will also note that conservatives had long insisted that the USSR could actually outspend the US militarily (see November 1976), and never predicted that increasing US military spending could drive the Soviet Union into bankruptcy. [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 145-149]
Conservative defense analyst Frank Gaffney calls for a second round of “Team B” competitive intelligence exercises (see November 1976), writing, “[N]ow is the time for a new Team B and a clear-eyed assessment of the abiding Soviet (and other) challenges that dictate a continued, robust US defense posture.” [Quarterly Journal of Speech, 5/2006 ]
The cover of ‘Saddam Hussein and the Crisis in the Gulf.’ [Source: Laurie Mylroie (.com)]Neoconservative academic Laurie Mylroie and New York Times reporter Judith Miller—“a dear friend” of neoconservative Richard Perle, as Perle later says—collaborate on a so-called “instant” book, Saddam Hussein and the Crisis in the Gulf. The book is designed to hit bookstores concurrent with the escalating tensions in the Persian Gulf (see April 1990 and August 2, 1990). It also reflects Mylroie’s beliefs that Hussein is responsible for virtually all Islamist terrorism (see October 2000 and July 9, 2003), and advocates the US overthrow of Hussein. [Unger, 2007, pp. 252]
Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh admits to a Newsday reporter that he made two racially inflammatory remarks during his earlier radio days. He admits to telling a black caller, while doing a music radio show in Philadelphia in the early 1970s, to “take that bone out of your nose and call me back.” He also admits to making a much more recent statement on his current broadcast, telling his listeners, “Have you ever noticed that all composite pictures of wanted criminals resemble [black civil rights leader] Jesse Jackson?” Limbaugh tells the reporter that it would be wrong to conclude that he is racist because of those remarks, says he is “the least racist host you’ll ever find,” and says he feels guilty about the “bone in the nose” comment. [Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, 10/7/2009; Snopes (.com), 10/13/2009]
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