Last words on Iran-contra

February 13, 1994|By Lyle Denniston

Title: "Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters"

Authors: Lawrence E. Walsh and staff

Publisher: Government Printing Office, Washington

Length, price: 2,503 pages, $60

Seven years in the making, the final accounting for the legal wrongs -- real or perceived -- that were done during the Iran-contra scandal provides far more detail than the American public has yet been offered on the affair that nearly wrecked Ronald Reagan's presidency. The bulky (three-volume) report will not make it easy for historians to treat Mr. Reagan kindly -- or George Bush, either.

The most intriguing question to linger over the scandal, since it started coming to light in November 1986, was whether the misdeeds were the doing of a band of middle-level rogues, on an adventure all of their own, or whether some higher-ups had a part.

The congressional investigation operated throughout on the "rogue" theory, and as a result got little beyond the merely superficial. That investigation did not bother with Mr. Reagan or Mr. Bush. The Reagan- appointed "Tower Commission" did not offer much beyond what Congress had found and again left the top two out.

Mr. Walsh, on the other hand, suspected from almost the beginning that this matter had to go all the way to the top, at least to some degree. He pursued that theory with a pit-bull intensity that made hordes of people uncomfortable, left a good many scarred reputations and cost many of them scads of money in legal fees. Until the Walsh final report, however, the prosecutor had given only intermittent hints as to why he held to his perception. Volume 1 of the report puts it all on display in a neatly organized, easy-to-follow format.

For those with a documentary taste, Volume 2 provides some of the basic paper file that the Walsh probe generated.

Like so much else about the Iran-contra affair, the Walsh report provoked one more round of angry controversy, even before it became public. To know what that is all about, one need only scan the 1,150-page Volume 3, the retorts of those who wanted to discredit everything Mr. Walsh had said or done.

Perhaps disappointingly, there is no retort from one of the key players -- former Marine Lt. Col. Oliver L. North. But his own book long ago got his own story out his way.

Mr. Denniston covers the Supreme Court for The Sun.

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