By Robert Parry
- Lost History: Dole Nearly Cited in Iran-Contra Report
Special prosecutor Lawrence Walsh was so outraged by Sen. Bob Dole's disruption of the Iran-contra criminal cases against senior Reagan-Bush officials that Walsh "briefly considered" adding a chapter to his final report criticizing Dole's tactics.
Walsh detailed Dole's strategy for hindering the prosecutions in Firewall, a book scheduled for publication next year. Walsh, a lifelong Republican, released two chapters now to show voters how Dole lobbied President Bush to pardon former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger in 1992. Because of that position, Walsh deemed Dole's recent demands that Clinton eschew pardons for Whitewater defendants a clear case of "Dole's hypocrisy."
The two chapters offer other insights as well into how Bush and Dole engineered the Iran-contra end game to minimize political damage to the Republican Party. Their strategy succeeded, in part, because some leading Democrats and influential members of the Washington news media signaled acceptance of the Weinberger pardon.
Bush pardoned Weinberger and five other Iran-contra figures on Christmas Eve 1992, less than a month before Bush was to leave office. The Weinberger pardon spared Republican superstars, such as Colin Powell and possibly Bush himself, from the embarrassment of testifying and opening themselves to the risk of perjury charges.
After Bush left office, the ex-president soon reneged on an understanding that he would submit to a full-scale interview with Walsh about Bush's real involvement in the scandal. Walsh had postponed the questioning until after the presidential election to spare Bush from the distraction.
In ducking the interview, Bush was aided again by Democratic timidity and an apathetic Washington press corps. Bush's avoidance of the testimony was barely mentioned deep inside the major national newspapers in early 1993. Yet outside the media's gaze, there was a big story missed. Privately, Walsh was considering possible indictment of the ex-president, especially given Bush's failure to produce his notes from 1986-87 until Dec. 11, 1992.
"We continued investigating how Bush's notes came to be withheld and what role he had played in the 1986 cover-up," Walsh wrote. "Griffin Bell, a former attorney general [under President Carter] who was now counsel to President Bush, asked me to announce that Bush was no longer a subject of our investigation. I, of course, refused."
When Bush balked at a full-scale interview, "my immediate instinct was to use the grand jury and subpoena Bush," Walsh wrote. "In this I was alone. The staff unanimously opposed the use of the grand jury, arguing that to do so would exaggerate public expectations and would appear retaliatory. ...I gave up. We then turned our full attention to our final report."
Walsh "briefly considered adding a chapter on Senator Dole's intrusion into our [perjury-obstruction] case against Weinberger, but I did not want to divert attention from the importance of the case itself and Bush's pardons," Walsh wrote. The final chapter explained both the historical events of the Iran-contra scandal and the criminal matters investigated.
Dole's repeated disruptions of that investigation had surprised Walsh, who claimed to have long respected Dole as a Republican leader. "I had once felt a certain kinship with Dole as a fellow mainstream Republican," Walsh wrote. "Perhaps because of my previous favorable impression of Dole , I was doubly shocked that he would so openly intrude in a federal prosecution. ...
"This type of influence-peddling is generally left to party fixers, who are important within a political organization itself but not usually the public party leaders. ...It was surprising to me that a Senate leader -- especially one who seriously aspired to the presidency -- would use the power of his office directly or indirectly to influence the outcome of a criminal case being prosecuted by the federal government. Never during my service at the Justice Department, the district attorney's office, or the governor's office had I encountered one instance of a U.S. senator's trying to influence the disposition of a pending case."
But Dole put on a full-court press to harass the Iran-contra investigators, especially after a re-filed Weinberger indictment on the Friday before the 1992 election hurt Bush's drive to overtake Bill Clinton in the polls.
In a Nov. 9, 1992, letter, Dole demanded that Walsh fire James Brosnahan, a San Francisco lawyer who had been brought in to try the Weinberger case. Dole attacked Brosnahan's past involvement in Democratic politics. When Walsh refused, Dole's spokesman Walt Riker said Walsh's response did "not address the active, liberal agenda of Mr. Brosnahan and, obviously, it is politics at its worst."
On Nov. 11, four GOP senators followed Dole's urging and demanded a special prosecutor to investigate Walsh, the special prosecutor, particularly over whether the new Weinberger indictment had been timed for political reasons, though there was no evidence that was the case.
Walsh believed that the Republicans feared the Weinberger trial would prove a high-level GOP cover-up of the illegal actions that had permeated the secret sale of arms to Iran and diversion of profits to the Nicaraguan contras. In turn, that could have damaged the Reagan legacy and future Republican presidential campaigns, such as Dole's.
So Dole continued to play the hatchet man. "It is time for Mr. Walsh and his staff to plead guilty to playing politics for their taxpayer-funded inquisitions," Dole declared. "As of August , Walsh had billed taxpayers for more than $5.6 million for office space, $881,000 for incidental expenses, $401,000 for maintenance, $698,000 for contractual services, and a whopping $665,000 for per diem and subsistence, including $300,000 for personal living expenses and an estimated $65,000 in room-service meals."
By late November 1992, Dole was openly advocating Weinberger's pardon. By December, he was demanding a list of all Walsh's employees so the Republicans could mount personal investigations and judge each "employee's objectivity and impartiality." The senator also obtained information about the staff's pay levels. "With the election over, maybe the Walsh political operatives will decide to pack it in," Dole wished. "The only mischief left for them is more humiliating courtroom defeats."
On Christmas Eve, Dole got his final Iran-contra wish. Bush pardoned Weinberger and five others, effectively ending Walsh's investigation and blocking a full public view of the Iran-contra cover-up.
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