Forget Iran-contra, but Not Iraqgate

May 21, 1992

Independent Counsel Lawrence Walsh and his staff are said to be considering asking a grand jury to indict former Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger for covering up the decision to ship Hawk missiles to Iran in 1985. Published reports say that Mr. Weinberger has been offered a deal -- turn in Ronald Reagan and you won't be indicted.

Mr. Walsh has spent five and a half years and $30 million and come up with no trophies. Now to say he has found a memo that suggests a cabinet officer and a president were not forthright about an embarrassing and perhaps improper policy failure and that this may constitute a felony is absurd. From the standpoint of criminal law, this is a stale case. Also from the standpoint of politics and public affairs. The American people knew pretty much what went on and what went wrong, thanks to 1987 congressional hearings, and in 1988 they voted to continue the administration responsible for it in office.

Iran-contra is yesterday's news. Iraqgate is today's news. Rep. Henry Gonzalez, D-Texas, has in recent months made a pretty good case about something voters did not know about in 1988 -- namely that the Bush administration inherited and continued a policy begun under President Reagan of, in effect, underwriting Saddam Hussein's military buildup with huge agricultural credits, loans and loan guarantees. By huge we mean in the billion-dollar-a-year range. These continued almost till the day that Iraqi troops invaded Kuwait.

Mr. Gonzalez' House Committee on Banking, Finance and Urban Affairs will hold hearings on this today and again next week. He says he wants to know if laws were broken in furtherance of the policy of aiding Iraq. He says he wants to know if the Justice Department pressured U.S. attorneys to delay seeking criminal indictments against a bank involved in the financial dealings with Iraq. And he wants to know if the White House and the Justice Department are obstructing congressional efforts to exercise a legitimate oversight function regarding the financial arrangements with Iraq.

Mr. Gonzalez also says that since Attorney General William Barr is not forthcoming enough for him on his requests for information, he wants a new independent counsel appointed. The House Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing June 2 to consider the request. This is at the very least premature.

What is principally at issue here from the public's point of view is the Bush administration's policies and practices. Insofar as the dealings with Iraq are concerned, the public is more in need of knowing what the Bush policy was and why than whether there were violations of some technicalities in the laws dealing with the Commodity Credit Corporation or the Export-Import Bank. The House committee will be doing a service if it can find out and report on this country's policy toward Iraq.

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