Reagan Takes Full Blame, Extends Hand to Congress : Excerpts of 5 P.M. Talk Released
President Reagan accepted full responsibility for the Iran- contra scandal today, saying he is “ultimately accountable to the American people” and should not have been shielded by aides from what was happening.
Trying to turn the page on the whole affair, Reagan said, “There are 17 months left in this Administration, and I want them to be productive, prosperous ones for the American people.”
Excerpts of Reagan’s address were released in advance by the White House. The President was to deliver his speech at 5 p.m. PDT from the Oval Office.
“I am the one who is ultimately accountable to the American people. . . . No President should ever be protected from the truth,” Reagan said.
John M. Poindexter, who resigned as Reagan’s national security adviser because of the Iran-contra scandal, told congressional investigators that he assumed that Reagan would have approved the diversion of Iran arms-sales profits but intentionally did not inform the President in order to protect him.
Extending an olive branch to Congress, whose members were upset about being kept in the dark about the whole episode, Reagan said, “The executive and legislative branches of government need to regain trust in each other.”
Reagan also used his speech to sketch out his agenda for the balance of his term and to hail peacemaking efforts in Central America.
“We welcome this development and pledge our support consistent with the interests of democracy and those fighting for freedom,” he said in an apparent reference to a plan approved at a summit of five Central American nations.
Trying to dispel fears that the United States was turning its back on the contra rebels in Nicaragua, Reagan said: “We have always been willing to talk. We have never been willing to abandon those who are fighting for democracy and freedom.”
The speech was Reagan’s third major address on the Iran-contra affair since the scandal broke last November, revealing a strange saga of secret weapons sales to Iran and the diversion of profits to contra rebels in Nicaragua.
Story of Deceit and Discord
The episode has undermined Reagan’s political clout and overshadowed his agenda. Polls show that a majority of Americans believe he has not told the truth about the affair--a situation aides say has troubled Reagan deeply.
The congressional hearings, broadcast live throughout the summer, documented a story of deceit, discord and possible criminal wrongdoing by top White House officials.
When the story about the Iran arms deal first emerged nine months ago, Reagan originally dismissed it as having “no foundation.” However, as evidence accumulated, Reagan was forced to acknowledge it was true.
Subsequently, the President has changed his story several times, rejecting and later accepting the notion that he traded arms for American hostages held in Lebanon.
Reagan adamantly has denied any knowledge of the diversion of arms sale profits to the contras, and there was no testimony in the 11 weeks of congressional hearings that contradicted that claim.