Former national security adviser Robert C. McFarlane was given a suspended sentence and fined $20,000 for misleading Congress with assurances that Oliver L. North was obeying its ban on helping the Nicaraguan rebels.
The former Marine lieutenant colonel became the first figure in the Iran-Contra scandal to be punished for his role in the affair when he was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Aubrey E. Robinson Jr.
Robinson placed McFarlane on two-year’s probation and ordered him to perform 200 hours of community service. He could have received up to four years in prison and $400,000 in fines.
McFarlane, who served as a national security adviser to then-President Ronald Reagan and is expected to be a key prosecution witness against North, asked to be sentenced on his guilty plea before testifying in the Iran-Contra trial under way in U.S. District Court.
On March 11, 1988, McFarlane pleaded guilty to four misdemeanor counts of withholding information from Congress and agreed to cooperate with independent counsel Lawrence E. Walsh’s investigation of the Iran-Contra affair.
McFarlane admitted writing three letters in 1985 assuring two House committees that North was not helping raise money for the Nicaraguan Contras or providing military assistance in defiance of a ban on such aid that was imposed by Congress.
McFarlane admitted to a fourth count that on Dec. 8, 1986, he falsely denied to the House Foreign Affairs Committee knowledge of efforts to solicit money from foreign countries to help the Contras after Congress cut off U.S. military aid.
Among the 12 felony charges against North are allegations that he drafted the three 1985 letters for McFarlane’s signature that were sent to the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Western Hemisphere affairs.
The two letters that McFarlane wrote to the House intelligence committee on Sept. 5, 1985 and Oct. 7, 1985, were in response to the panel’s inquiries about news reports that North was helping raise money for the Contras and providing military advice.
In one letter, McFarlane wrote: “I can state with deep personal conviction that at no time did I or any member of the National Security Council staff violate the letter or the spirit of the law.”
Rep. Lee Hamilton (D-Ind.), the intelligence committee’s former chairman, testified as the first witness in North’s trial, telling jurors that he relied on the information that McFarlane gave him.
“I certainly relied upon the information given to me by the national security adviser of the President,” Hamilton testified. “I thought that information was accurate, honest and correct,” he said.
McFarlane, who tried to commit suicide in 1987 by taking an overdose of a tranquilizer, played a major role in the Iran-Contra affair after resigning as Reagan’s national security adviser in late 1985. He led a secret mission to Tehran in 1986 in an unsuccessful attempt to trade weapons for U.S. hostages. McFarlane, who accompanied North on the mission, carried a key-shaped cake and a Bible signed by President Reagan.
He also testified without immunity from prosecution during the televised congressional hearings on the scandal in 1987.