Bush pardon bars evidence of high-level cover-up in Iran-contra, Walsh says

February 09, 1993|By Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON -- Accusing former President George Bush of "an absolute disdain for the rule of law," Independent Counsel Lawrence E. Walsh said yesterday that Mr. Bush's pardon of former Secretary of Defense Caspar W. Weinberger blocked public airing of "new and disturbing facts" about the Iran-contra scandal.

Mr. Walsh, in an interim report to Congress prompted by the Christmas Eve pardon, said that former Secretary of State George P. Shultz would have testified reluctantly at Mr. Weinberger's trial that the White House was trying to "rearrange the record" to hide former President Ronald Reagan's knowledge of a 1985 missile shipment to Iran that officials feared was illegal.

"Although the evidence at Weinberger's trial would have focused on Weinberger and his motives, the trial would have exposed new evidence of the [Reagan] administration's efforts to conceal the facts of the Iran arms sales from the public and from Congress," Mr. Walsh said.

Witnesses called by the defense, including former Attorney General Edwin W. Meese III and "perhaps" Mr. Bush, "would on public cross-examination have been subject to searching questions about the administration's conduct and their own in November 1986," when the Iran-contra scandal began to unravel, Mr. Walsh said.

Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole of Kansas, a sharp critic of Mr. Walsh and his six-year investigation, said Mr. Walsh was "using his report to Congress for a last-ditch effort to justify his extravagant $35 million partisan crusade."

Robert S. Bennett, Mr. Weinberger's lawyer, contended that the report to Congress "is a work of fiction. Mr. Walsh obviously is obsessed with this case and is simply trying to rehabilitate his reputation."

In Houston, Andy Maynor, a Bush spokesman, said, "President Bush acted with compassion and good conscience in his pardons, but we will not comment on Judge Walsh's report."

Mr. Bush has repeatedly denied any role in the arms-for-hostages deal or the diversion of proceeds from the arms sales to secretly fund the contra rebels in Nicaragua.

Much of Mr. Walsh's report focused on the Nov. 24, 1986, White House meeting of top Reagan administration officials as the Iran-contra scandal was about to become public knowledge.

Those attending included Mr. Reagan, Mr. Bush, Mr. Weinberger, Mr. Shultz, Donald T. Regan, the White House chief of staff, CIA Director William J. Casey and National Security Adviser John M. Poindexter.

According to Mr. Weinberger's notes, which were to have been key evidence at his trial, Mr. Meese told the group that the 1985 shipment of Hawk missiles to Iran was not legal because there was no national security "finding" by Mr. Reagan justifying it but that Mr. Reagan did not know about the deal.

Mr. Walsh said that Mr. Weinberger's own notes "suggest that Meese was warning the president's advisers that to disclose the president's knowledge of the Hawk shipment would expose him to a charge of illegal activity."

Mr. Walsh's report said that Mr. Regan "would have testified that he was concerned about the possibility of impeachment" of Mr. Reagan if his knowledge of the 1985 missile shipment to Iran had been disclosed.

Reagan administration officials feared that the missile shipment -- from Israel to Iran, with the United States replenishing Israel's stock of Hawks -- was in violation of the Arms Export Control Act without a specific presidential finding.

Mr. Regan had been present with Mr. Reagan in Geneva in November 1985, when then-National Security Adviser Robert C. McFarlane told the president about the shipment and the president indicated his approval, Mr. Walsh's report said.

Thus, Mr. Regan knew that Mr. Meese's statement at the White House meeting "was untrue" when the then-attorney general declared that Mr. Reagan "did not have contemporaneous knowledge" of the missile shipment.

"Shultz knew Meese's statement was false because the president told him only four days earlier that he knew about the November 1985 shipment," Mr. Walsh added.

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