‘Come Clean,’ Sen. Hollings Tells Reagan : Sees ‘Good Chance’ of Watergate-Style Morass Otherwise
Democratic Sen. Ernest F. Hollings today said President Reagan should “come clean” and admit he knew about his Administration’s Iran- contra arms deal before it becomes a Watergate-style morass and “we catch the President.”
The South Carolina senator said Reagan “probably overspoke the situation” when he insisted “flat out” Monday that he did not know about the use of proceeds from the Iran arms sale to fund the contras. “That’s outrageous nonsense,” the senator said.
Hollings said that he was “positive” about the President’s knowledge but that he had reached his conclusion on his own and not as a result of anything said during the panel’s secret hearings.
“We don’t have a Watergate, but we have a good chance of developing one if we continue on course,” Hollings told reporters.
‘Down Into Quicksand’
Referring to reports that members of the Senate Intelligence Committee have discussed the possibility of seeking immunity from prosecution for fired National Security Council aide Oliver L. North, Hollings said: “We are coming down into quicksand if Col. North takes the Fifth and we give him immunity, and before long we catch the President.”
Asked to explain what Reagan would be caught doing, Hollings said: “Catch him at having given the authority generally and having known about” the Iran- contra connection.
Reagan has said he was unaware of the diversion of money to the contras until Atty. Gen. Edwin Meese III told him of it early last week.
Hollings said he was interested only in clearing the air and restoring Reagan’s ability to do his job.
‘The Darndest Charade’
“I don’t want to follow the trail to the President” through congressional investigations that could last for months, he said. “I don’t think that’s in the good interests of the country.”
He said Vice President George Bush and Cabinet members including Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger and Secretary of State George P. Shultz knew about the deal as well.
“This thing is bogged down into the darndest charade I have ever heard of,” Hollings said.
Sen. David Durenberger (R-Minn.), chairman of the Intelligence Committee, responding to Hollings’ comments, accused Hollings of violating the committee’s secrecy rules and suggested to reporters that Hollings either keep quiet or get off the panel.
Reagan called Republican leaders to the White House on Tuesday and again today to assure them he had no knowledge of the secret deal that funneled money from Iran arms sales to the Nicaraguan rebels.
And in a campaign-style speech to a gathering of women entrepreneurs in the Executive Office Building, Reagan said today the United States cannot let recent events involving the Iran arms- contra funds scandal “distract us from the cause of those brave fighters around the world.
“Nothing that’s happened makes those causes less just” or less important for “what we stand for,” the President said.