McFarlane implicates Bush in Iran-contra

September 11, 1994|By Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON -- Former Presidents Ronald Reagan and George Bush deceived the public about their knowledge of the Iran-contra arms-for-hostages deal, according to memoirs being published tomorrow by one of the central figures in the event, former national security adviser Robert C. McFarlane.

Mr. McFarlane says he briefed President Reagan and then-Vice President Bush from the start of the deal in 1985, 17 months earlier than Mr. Bush admits he knew about it.

The comments are noteworthy because the question of Mr. Bush's knowledge has focused for years on whether he was present during two White House meetings in late 1985 and early 1986 at which the Iran-contra deal was discussed.

But in an interview based on the book, scheduled to air tonight on CBS-TV's "60 Minutes," Mr. McFarlane is now saying he told Mr. Bush about the deal outside of those meetings, claiming he briefed Mr. Bush 12 times over the 17 months.

Mr. Bush's office in Texas said that the former president was traveling and unavailable for comment.

Mr. McFarlane pleaded guilty in 1988 to four misdemeanors for withholding information from Congress about the complicated secret deal, in which arms were sold to Iran in exchange for the release of hostages held in Beirut and cash from the sales was then used to resupply Nicaraguan contra forces, whose funding had been cut off by Congress.

In the book, "Special Trust," Mr. McFarlane writes that Mr. Reagan, who always insisted that he never knew the arrangement was a direct swap for hostages, "lacked the moral conviction and intellectual courage" to admit his involvement, though the author adds that he doubts first lady Nancy Reagan and others would have allowed him to do so.

Reagan aides in California said he was not available for comment.

Mr. McFarlane's account is already generating a spat with the another figure in the scandal, former Marine Lt. Col. Oliver L. North, who is now the GOP nominee for the U.S. Senate in Virginia.

In the interview, Mr. McFarlane, Mr. North's boss at the White House, describes his former protege as a liar and a con man, and he contradicts Mr. North's assertion that he never lied under oath about the secret plan.

"He lies to me, to the Congress, to the president," Mr. McFarlane said. "This is not somebody you want in public life."

Mr. North, in a response issued Friday, called Mr. McFarlane's book a "pitiful and mean-spirited attempt to glue his broken reputation back together again."

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