The Lessons of Iran-Contra 2.0

In “honor” of the 25th Anniversary of the press conference admitting to Iran-Contra on Friday, National Security Archive liberated memos an aide to Special Prosecutor Lawrence Walsh, Christian Mixter, wrote assessing the criminal liability of Reagan and Poppy Bush. The report found that a loophole Ed Meese suggested–basically using National Security Act to trump the Arms Control Export Control Act–would make it difficult to prosecute Reagan for hiding transfers of money.

On Reagan, Mixter reported that the President was “briefed in advance” on each of the illicit sales of missiles to Iran. The criminality of the arms sales to Iran “involves a number of close legal calls,” Mixter wrote. He found that it would be difficult to prosecute Reagan for violating the Arms Export Control Act (AECA) which mandates advising Congress about arms transfers through a third country-the U.S. missiles were transferred to Iran from Israel during the first phase of the operation in 1985-because Attorney General Meese had told the president the 1947 National Security Act could be invoked to supersede the AECA.

As the Iran operations went forward, some of Reagan’s own top officials certainly believed that the violation of the AECA as well as the failure to notify Congress of these covert operations were illegal-and prosecutable. In a dramatic meeting on December 7, 1985, Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger told the President that “washing [the] transaction thru Israel wouldn’t make it legal.” When Reagan responded that “he could answer charges of illegality but he couldn’t answer charge that ‘big strong President Reagan passed up a chance to free hostages,” Weinberger suggested they might all end up in jail. “Visiting hours are on Thursdays,” Weinberger stated. As the scandal unfolded a year later, Reagan and his top aides gathered in the White House Situation Room the day before the November 25 press conference to work out a way to protect the president from impeachment proceedings.

And you couldn’t prosecute Reagan for lying to the American people because doing that is not a crime.

Mixter also found that Reagan’s public misrepresentations of his role in Iran-Contra operations could not be prosecuted because deceiving the press and the American public was not a crime.

As to Poppy, he was intimately involved in all the same close calls decisions Reagan was, but since he was junior to Reagan, you couldn’t prosecute him either. (The memo was written before it became clear Poppy had been hiding his diaries from the investigation.)

The NSA report on the documents–particularly this detail…

The memorandum on criminal liability noted that Bush had a long involvement in the Contra war, chairing the secret “Special Situation Group” in 1983 which “recommended specific covert operations” including “the mining of Nicaragua’s rivers and harbors.” Mixter also cited no less than a dozen meetings that Bush attended between 1984 and 1986 in which illicit aid to the Contras was discussed.

… Reminded me of Sy Hersh’s description of a meeting at which the Iran-Contra dead-enders in the W Administration plotted how to improve on Iran-Contra.

They set about and talking about how to sabotage oversight. And what is the model for sabotaging oversight? The model turned out to be the Bill Casey model. Read more