Counsel Liman Disputes Bush Over Iran Arms

Times Staff Writer

The Iran-Contra investigating committees found no evidence to support Vice President George Bush’s contention that he expressed a number of reservations about U.S. arms sales to Iran, a top committee attorney said Thursday.

Arthur L. Liman, chief counsel for the Senate committee, also challenged Bush’s assertion that he was under the impression that the United States had been dealing with Iranian moderates.

In an interview on ABC-TV’s “Good Morning America,” Liman was asked about Bush’s statement on Jan. 13 that he expressed a number of objections to the Iran arms sales “in settings with others present,” including: “How will it be interpreted if the cover is blown? Will lives be lost? Will our credibility be damaged?”


“If he had reservations, he certainly did not express them at any of the meetings with the National Security Council principals,” Liman said. “The only record reflecting the vice president’s view was one in which he was described as being solidly in support of the sale of arms.”

The term “National Security Council principals” refers to President Reagan, Secretary of State George P. Shultz, then-Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger and the late CIA Director William J. Casey. Bush has made a point of noting that he was never present at an NSC meeting when the Iran arms sale was discussed, though he may have attended at least one “ad hoc” meeting involving many of the same people on Jan. 7, 1986.

In response to Liman, Bush campaign spokesman Peter Teeley questioned why the New York City attorney, a Democrat, is speaking out about the matter just two weeks before the presidential preference caucuses in Iowa. “It looks terribly partisan,” he said. He also suggested that the House-Senate investigation had failed to uncover all of the evidence of Bush’s role.

“This may be a reflection on Liman,” Teeley said. “He had every opportunity to conduct a thorough investigation.”

Teeley Quotes Regan

Teeley noted that former White House Chief of Staff Donald T. Regan recently recalled that he had heard Bush express “concerns about the initiative in terms of its nature as a covert operation.” According to Teeley, this occurred at one of the President’s regular 9:30 a.m. meetings with his staff, which was attended by Regan and Bush.

In Regan’s testimony before the House and Senate committees, according to Liman, he said Bush had expressed concern about allowing Israel to manage the initiative. But Regan at that time made no mention of the other reservations outlined by Bush on Jan. 13.


Bush has consistently refused to disclose what advice--if any--he offered directly to the President on the arms sales. “I do not discuss what I tell the President,” he has said.

Liman said he could not understand Bush’s silence on the matter of his advice to the President, given the fact that Reagan never sought to conceal his conversations with other Administration officials under the principle of executive privilege.

Executive Privilege Waived

“The President, in this case, waived the privilege for all of them, for the secretaries of state, defense and the vice president,” Liman said. “He waived executive privilege, and so I really don’t understand how the vice president can refuse to discuss what he told the President when the President has said that that privilege is now waived.”

In addition, Liman said there is evidence the vice president was told by Israeli officials during the Iran arms transactions that they were dealing with “the most radical element” in Iran, including the revolutionary guards. This contradicts Bush’s Jan. 13 statement that he was told the U.S. officials were dealing with “people in Iran more responsible than (Ayatollah Ruhollah) Khomeini.”

In fact, the final report of the Iran-Contra committees disclosed that Administration officials were well aware that their Iranian contacts represented a broad coalition of political interests in Iran, including the most radical elements loyal to the ayatollah.

Denies North Is Hero

Liman also criticized Bush for suggesting that Lt. Col. Oliver L. North, the former White House aide, is a hero for his role in the Iran-Contra affair.

“I think that it was a terrible thing for the vice president to suggest that that kind of conduct is heroic conduct,” he said. “And I think that the vice president, unfortunately for him, will regret using that language.

“Oliver North is an authentic Vietnam War hero, but he certainly does not deserve any medals for what he did in the Iran-Contra affair, such as lying to Congress, diverting funds, engaging in a ‘fall guy’ plan, selling arms to the ayatollah, promising the release of the Dawa terrorists.”

Staff writer John Balzar in Iowa contributed to this story.