Iran-Contra Record Shows the Evidence Is Not There

The public outcry that erupted from television newsman Dan Rather's interrogation of Vice President George Bush came as no surprise. Such an incident, and the resulting public response, are almost inevitable when political opponents and the media get carried away with attacking a public official with innuendo and insinuation while every available fact speaks to the contrary.

As a member of the House committee investigating the Iran-Contra affair, I find it difficult to watch the eruptions of "findings" about Bush's "involvement" in the scandal as they mount in direct proportion to the nearness of the presidential primaries--and in complete disregard for the facts as we discovered them during almost eight months of investigation.

Reporters and political opponents of Bush have inundated the airwaves and the print media with floods of "new evidence." Not only is the word evidence completely inappropriate for the scarce bits and pieces that make up the far-fetched and ambiguous case against Bush, but all of the so-called "newly surfaced" documents were available to the House and Senate investigating committees many months ago.

During the investigation, we looked at more than 300,000 documents and interviewed or examined 500 witnesses. But let's, for the record, go over some of them again.

A White House computer memo by former national-security adviser John M. Poindexter that called Bush "solid" in his support for the Iran initiative set phones a-ringin'--even though Bush had long ago firmly stated that he had supported the Iran initiative.

Then there's the memo that U.S. News and World Report "obtained" this month. Written by Bush's national-security aide, Donald Gregg, in March, 1983, the memo does not even hint, as the magazine insinuates, that Bush--or even, for that matter, Gregg--had any knowledge of the Contra resupply efforts that took place three years later (in fact, the memo makes no reference to resupply at all).

The investigating committees' counsel did not even once refer to it in the hearings or during the deposition of its author. Nevertheless, the magazine alleges, "the memo adds to the growing perception that the vice president had to have known more than he has admitted."

Growing perception? Whose? Why?

So now what plot remains in this post-scandal drama? Well, the Washington Post investigated "his (Bush's) statements to the Tower commission, other Iran-Contra documents and interviews with former Administration officials." The Post concluded, "Vice President George Bush watched the arms sales to Iran unfold step by step and was more informed of the details than he acknowledged because of his regular attendance at President Reagan's morning national-security meetings and other meetings."

The Post touted this as front-page "news" almost two months after both the majority and the minority reports on the Iran-Contra affair were released, both of them mentioning Bush's attendance at the meetings.

The "who knew what when?" game is over. Now it is time to take action. Important measures--enforcing the security of classified information, revitalizing our paralyzed intelligence organization, defining the boundaries between executive and legislative authority, streamlining the bureaucratic process of national-security decision-making, beefing up our counter-terrorist capabilities--all of these issues and more await impatiently their turn in the spotlight. Instead, all eyes are currently focused on a lot of supposedly "newly surfaced" balderdash about the vice president's role in the Iran-Contra affair.

The Democratic majority staff of the investigating committee pored over every document and every piece of evidence in its domain, groping in vain for the smallest opening through which it could responsibly tag Bush as a major player in the affair. Bush remained untainted, however, because the majority felt restrained by the most basic parameters of objective investigation.

If others today feel less bound by such parameters, let them continue to poke around in the ashes for re-ignitable material. But make no mistake: The "evidence" that they display is not new--it has either been considered or deemed unworthy of consideration--and any link between Vice President Bush and the Iran-Contra affair, with the exception of his long-admitted support for the Iran initiative, stands in complete contradiction to the findings of the congressional committees investigating the Iran-Contra affair.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World