Excerpts reaffirm Bush claim 'Not in loop' on Iran-contra

January 16, 1993|By Owen Ullmann and Aaron Epstein | Owen Ullmann and Aaron Epstein,Knight-Ridder News Service

WASHINGTON -- Then-Vice President George Bush fretted after the Iran-contra scandal erupted in 1986 that the affair might cost him the presidency in 1988 even though he was "not in the decision-making loop," according to excerpts from a personal diary released by the White House yesterday.

The White House also disclosed yesterday that it had found Mr. Bush's diaries in a safe last fall, more than a month before Election Day, but waited until Dec. 11 to disclose their existence to Iran-contra investigators who had been seeking them since 1987.

The transcript of Mr. Bush's dictated recollections from Nov. 4, 1986, to Jan. 2, 1987, bolsters his public statements in the years since that he had been excluded from key White House meetings on the arms-for-hostage deal with Iran.

"I am not in the decision process . . . not on personnel and not on major decision matters -- unless I am sitting in at the time the president makes a decision, then I can speak up," Mr. Bush dictated into a tape recorder on Jan. 1, 1987. ". . . The facts are that the vice president is not in the decision-making loop."

Calling the scandal "the biggestpolitical test -- or test of any kind -- that I've ever been through," Mr. Bush conceded in December 1986 that "if it continues like this -- it would make it extremely difficult to get the nomination."

The notes also reaffirm Mr. Bush's public claim that he and then-President Ronald Reagan had been unaware that profits from the weapon sales to Iran were diverted to arm Nicaraguan rebels -- or contras -- in violation of a congressional ban.

"I know that I have told the truth. I know that I am not going to desert the president and I know that he has told the truth," Mr. Bush said on Nov. 25, 1986, the day the diversion was disclosed by the White House.

The White House made public some -- but not all -- diary excerpts referring to the scandal, although it had promised full disclosure. All diary entries from 1987 and 1988 have been turned over to Iran-contra independent prosecutor Lawrence E. Walsh but were not included in the public release yesterday.

Also released was a transcript of Mr. Bush's five-hour testimony before Iran-contra investigators Jan. 11, 1988. Throughout the interview, Mr. Bush said he could not recall key details of the affair.

Mr. Walsh plans to interview Mr. Bush again, probably in February, about details learned since the first interrogation. The material was released with the hope that a careful examination of the materials would prove that Mr. Bush did not lie about his role in the scandal and allow the president to leave office next week free of a political cloud that has dogged him for more than six years.

The White House said the diaries were first discovered by Bush aides in September 1992, but the president's lawyer withheld their existence until after the election so the issue would not be thrown back into the spotlight. As it turned out, the controversy erupted four days before the election when a new Iran-contra indictment again raised questions about Mr. Bush's truthfulness.

Mr. Walsh said yesterday that he was continuing his investigation into Mr. Bush's role in the affair and why the White House failed to disclose the diaries' existence when first requested five years ago.

"We have reviewed the report generated by the president's lawyers and the selective release of his diaries. Because our investigation is ongoing, we are not free to comment on the accuracy or completeness of the report," spokeswoman Mary Belcher said.

The existence of the diaries was disclosed by the White House only last month, prompting Mr. Walsh to charge that Mr. Bush may have improperly withheld the notes.

Mr. Walsh, angered by Mr. Bush's Christmas Eve pardon of former Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger and five other Iran-contra defendants, said Mr. Bush had become the "subject" of an investigation into a possible high-level White House cover-up. But a review conducted by attorneys representing Mr. Bush in the matter concluded yesterday that the failure to turn over relevant portions of the diaries was inadvertent and that there was "no misconduct" by Mr. Bush or White House aides.

Former Attorney General Griffin Bell, who is heading Mr. Bush's legal team, also said the lawyers found no evidence of intentional gaps in the diaries.

But Mr. Bell also revealed that a "diligent search" of Bush papers turned up additional documents that would be turned over to Mr. Walsh. The documents found were not described.

Mr. Walsh earlier had said he had not been given all portions of the diaries relevant to Iran-contra, but yesterday a source close to the special counsel said Mr. Walsh was now satisfied that he had all the diary notes.

Mr. Bush dictated the notes on an almost-daily basis from Nov. 4, 1986, to chronicle his run for the presidency in 1988. The start of the diaries coincided with the 1986 congressional elections and the public disclosure of the secret Iran deal.

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