Reagan Should ‘Clean House,’ Moynihan Says
Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.), noting that he served in the Cabinet of Republican President Richard M. Nixon, urged President Reagan on Saturday to “clean house,” saying, “This nation does not need and does not want another failed presidency.”
Portraying the crisis over secret arms deals with Iran and clandestine payments to Nicaraguan rebels as transcending partisan politics, Moynihan told Reagan that “your presidency, sir, is tottering.” And he added, “We want you to save your presidency, our presidency.”
His remarks came in a dramatic response to Reagan’s weekly radio address, which dealt only in passing with the crisis that has shaken his Administration like no other difficulty the President has faced.
“Out with all the facts, out with all the malefactors,” Moynihan pleaded.
“Come to the Hill and talk, elected official to elected officials,” he said. “We are your friends. We share this brief but sacred authority given us by the American people.”
To Chief of Staff Donald T. Regan and other members of a skeleton White House crew basking under crystal clear skies on a Thanksgiving holiday weekend in Santa Barbara, the speech served as a reminder of what they face when the President returns to Washington on Sunday evening--to a capital Moynihan described as “awash with rumor, intrigue, treachery.”
But for those officials, and even for the President, there were few outward signs that the crisis had followed them out West. Keeping to a typical holiday schedule, they gave no formal briefings to reporters. And the President’s daily ranch routine of horseback riding and wood chopping was as unchanged as the daily White House report of sunny weather at the Reagan’s ranch in the Santa Ynez Mountains northwest of here.
If the President heard Moynihan’s speech, his staff was unaware of it, but spokesman Dan Howard said, “I’m sure he will come to hear of it.”
Delivers Weekly Address
The President used his weekly radio speech to remind the nation that “the stock market has hit all-time highs while inflation continues near all-time lows” but that the problem of the federal budget deficit remains unsolved.
“So, while we’ve been occupied with the Iranian issue over the past two weeks,” Reagan said in his sole reference to the matter, “let’s not forget that there are many other issues that concern us and this deficit problem remains a major priority.”
The “Iranian issue” to which he referred involves the disclosure last week that under a plan developed in the White House, some of the money paid by Iran for American weapons was channeled into Swiss bank accounts available to the leaders of the rebels known as contras, who are trying to overthrow the government of Nicaragua. Those funds were said to have been available at a time that Congress had cut off U.S. assistance for the anti-Sandinista military effort.
In what is billed as the Democratic Party’s response to Reagan’s weekly address, Moynihan told Reagan that he can save his Presidency.
‘Only You Can Save It’
“But only you can save it and only if you will talk with us, the Congress,” the senator said.
“Out there in the Santa Ynez Mountains you can’t know how bad it is, for you have never been through anything like it. I have. I tell you it is deeply dangerous,” said Moynihan, whose jobs in the Nixon and Ford Administrations included those of ambassador to India and to the United Nations and that of assistant to the President for urban affairs.
In making the appeal, Moynihan dealt as much with the White House handling of the issue as with the muddied facts of the case itself. Thus, the senator drew attention to the widening dilemma faced by the President and the risk that the political damage caused by the operation can grow greater if the Administration appears to be withholding information.
Howard, the White House spokesman, said in response to a request for reaction to Moynihan’s speech: “It should be obvious to everyone, we do not yet know all the facts in this case and that is why there is an investigation under way.”
Counsel Instructs Staff
On Friday, White House officials said that staff members were being instructed by White House counsel Peter Wallison to make all documents, including memoranda and telephone logs, available to two internal investigations looking into the Iran operation.
The Justice Department is conducting one probe and a presidential commission is being formed to report to Reagan on the overall operations of the National Security Council staff.
In addition, the Senate Intelligence Committee is embarking on an investigation, and Howard said that “we want to cooperate with the congressional committees,” although ground rules for appearances of former White House aides must be worked out.
One White House official, speaking on the condition that he not be identified, conceded that Vice Adm. John M. Poindexter and Marine Lt. Col. Oliver L. North, “are probably going to have to talk to various groups, and there are questions of their individual legal rights being protected.”
Poindexter resigned Tuesday as the President’s assistant for national security affairs and North was fired from his job as Poindexter’s deputy, after North’s alleged role in the diversion of funds to the contras was disclosed.
No Mention of Watergate
While the Watergate crisis that drove President Nixon from office was never mentioned, that case ran like an undercurrent throughout Moynihan’s remarks.
“Mind, we do not yet have a constitutional crisis and as yet there is not an international crisis. But either or both could come unless you act and act now,” he said, adding:
‘Laws have been broken. That must be assumed. Men have betrayed your trust. Very well. Let it all come out in the open with greater than deliberate speed, immediately, regardless.”
Referring to the creation by Congress in 1947 of the National Security Council--made up of the President, the vice president, and the secretaries of state and defense, although others, including the attorney general, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff are considered advisers--Moynihan said:
“It was unthinkable in 1947 and it is unthinkable today that the staff of the National Security Council would commence to act as a State Department and a Defense Department and a CIA, all on its own or in conjunction with secret agents in other agencies.”
“We gave you the staff to help you direct the other departments, not to evade or undermine them. Not to roam about the world setting off wars, revolutions, panic, pandemonium, and most emphatically and fundamentally, Mr. President, not to break the laws which the Congress has enacted,” Moynihan said.
“This nation does not need and does not want another destroyed presidency,” he said. “I plead, Mr. President, clean house.”