Capitol Hill hearings about pardons likely

December 26, 1992|By New York Times News Service

WASHINGTON -- Congress will probably hold hearings to investigate the pardons granted by President Bush to Caspar W. Weinberger and five other men involved in the arms-for-hostages scandal, congressional aides and lawmakers said yesterday.

Democratic congressional leaders, including Rep. Richard A. Gephardt and Sen. George J. Mitchell, condemned the pardons, which were granted Thursday.

Mr. Gephardt of Missouri, the House majority leader, said the pardons suggested "presidential approval of violations of the law." Mr. Mitchell of Maine, the Senate majority leader, said Mr. Bush's action implied that lying to Congress was not a serious offense.

But Sen. Robert Dole of Kansas, the Republican minority leader, called the pardon of Mr. Weinberger an act of courage and compassion.

"It's clear that [independent prosecutor] Lawrence Walsh and his desperate henchmen would have stopped at nothing to validate their reckless . . . inquisition, even if it meant twisting justice to fit their partisan schemes," Mr. Dole said Thursday.

Rep. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., chairman of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Criminal Justice, said he understood the holiday spirit that had prompted Mr. Bush to grant pardons to Mr. Weinberger, a former defense secretary, and the others.

But Mr. Schumer expressed concern that "a high proportion of the pardons went to the president's political allies," and he said the pardons suggested a presidential feeling of contempt for Congress.

Mr. Schumer said he would consider holding hearings because "these pardons were issued by a lame-duck president before a major trial that might have disclosed evidence affecting the president himself."

The pardons aborted two pending trials and erased the effects of four convictions obtained by Mr. Walsh.

No one in Congress doubts that Mr. Bush had the constitutional power to issue the pardons. But many are eager to ensure disclosure of information that would have come out at Mr. Weinberger's trial.

Lawmakers and congressional aides said Mr. Bush's action was likely to be examined in one of three forums: a hearing on the pardons, a special hearing to receive a report from Mr. Walsh or a regular hearing on renewing the independent prosecutor law, which expired Dec. 15.

Mr. Walsh said Thursday that he would send Congress a report describing the extent and details of "the Iran-contra cover-up."

Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., the chief sponsor of legislation to renew the independent prosecutor law, said yesterday, "We may have a hearing to see how the statute functioned in practice, using Weinberger as a case study."

At such a hearing, he said, Mr. Walsh, Mr. Weinberger and supporters and critics of the law would be invited to testify.

Mr. Levin said he thought Mr. Bush was motivated by a desire to prevent political embarrassment to himself and to former President Ronald Reagan, as well as by respect for Mr. Weinberger.

Mr. Weinberger's notes probably show that Mr. Reagan and Mr. Bush realized that the weapons sold to Iran in 1986 were part of an arms-for-hostages deal, Mr. Levin said.

"The testimony of Weinberger under oath on that subject could be embarrassing to President Reagan, who looked the American public in the eye and said there was no swap, and to President Bush, too," Mr. Levin said. "There was probably some self-interest in the pardon, a desire to help both President Reagan and himself, as well as a friend and ally who faced trial."

Thus, he said, one purpose of a congressional hearing would be to bring out information that would have been disclosed at Mr. Weinberger's trial, which was scheduled to begin Jan. 5.

In 1974, President Gerald R. Ford testified before a House subcommittee on his pardon of Richard M. Nixon for all offenses that Mr. Nixon "committed or may have committed" in 5 1/2 years as president.

But that situation was different for many reasons. For example, Mr. Ford was not associated with the conduct that led Mr. Nixon to resign.

Spokesmen for figures in the Iran affair who were not pardoned by Mr. Bush expressed outrage yesterday.

Thomas C. Green, a lawyer for Richard V. Secord, a retired Air Force major general, said his client had been abandoned by the men who enlisted him in the scheme to aid Nicaraguan rebels with money generated by selling weapons to Iran.

"The people who conceived the operation, who recruited and authorized Secord, are given a blessing, a pardon, but the guy who succumbed to their entreaties is left out in the cold with his conviction," Mr. Green said.

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