McFarlane Given Fine, 2-Year Suspended Term : Former Security Adviser Becomes First Reagan Official to Be Punished in Iran-Arms Scandal

Times Staff Writer

Former National Security Adviser Robert C. McFarlane received a suspended two-year sentence Friday and was fined $20,000 on his guilty plea last year to four misdemeanor charges of misleading Congress about the Iranian arms scandal.

The first Ronald Reagan Administration official to be punished in the case, he could have received a maximum prison term of four years and fines of $400,000. The more lenient sentence reflected the former White House aide’s admission of responsibility and cooperation with independent counsel Lawrence E. Walsh in prosecuting others in the case.

Community Service Required

McFarlane, 51, was fined $5,000 on each of the four counts and required to perform 200 hours of community service, duties that the judge said he would specify later. Though the judge did not jail McFarlane, nor order him to undergo the close supervision of regular probation, the two-year suspended sentence, lawyers said, carries a threat of imprisonment if McFarlane fails to fulfill its terms. Under the law, he could have received a maximum sentence of four years in prison and fines of $400,000.


It was McFarlane’s choice to be sentenced before he testifies later this month against retired Lt. Col. Oliver L. North, who worked for him at the National Security Council. Friends said he wanted to demonstrate that he was not “dumping” on North for the sake of getting a light sentence.

At North’s trial Friday, U.S. District Judge Gerhard A. Gesell conducted a hearing outside jurors’ presence to discuss whether his rules have worked in limiting disclosure of government secrets. North’s attorneys claimed the rules are restricting their cross-examination of government witnesses and keeping North from getting a fair trial.

Gesell disagreed, declaring the rules have “worked quite well” so far. He directed that testimony resume Monday but said he expects “more troubles” and interruptions as the trial progresses.

He said he has adopted liberal cross-examination rules and referred to McFarlane by name. “I am placing no limit on . . . inquiries as to who knew what about what Col. North was doing here in Washington. It seems to me that Mr. McFarlane is somebody who might throw some light on this, and I don’t intend to stop it.”


Hours after Gesell made his remarks, McFarlane, who like North is a retired Marine lieutenant colonel, stood ramrod straight as Chief U.S. District Judge Aubrey E. Robinson Jr. sentenced him.

Asked if he had anything to say, McFarlane replied: “This episode in our history has resulted in enormous turmoil. To the point that I contributed to that, I regret it. I tried to serve my country.”

As he left the courthouse, McFarlane told reporters he has “strong faith and a terrific wife and a free country. I am looking to the future.”

In February, 1987--three months after the Iran-Contra scandal broke--McFarlane attempted suicide at his home and later was given psychiatric treatment.

The judge, who noted that he had received “a number of communications” from McFarlane’s friends, did not explain his sentence, except to say “the nature of the offense and the totality of the circumstances” required the fines. Walsh made no recommendation on McFarlane’s sentence. But legal sources said it was significant that he did not seek prison time.

McFarlane, who served as Reagan’s national security adviser from October, 1983, to December, 1985, admitted last March that he withheld information from Congress on four occasions about secret White House support for the Nicaraguan Contras.

He admitted sending three letters in 1985 assuring two House committees that North was not helping raise money for the rebels and was not providing military assistance in defiance of a congressional ban on such aid.

He admitted to a fourth count of misleading the House Foreign Affairs Committee in December, 1986, by disclaiming any knowledge of efforts to solicit money for the Contras from foreign countries to replace U.S. aid that Congress had cut off.


In an opening statement at North’s trial last month, associate independent counsel John W. Keker said McFarlane would testify that while he signed the letters, North drafted them.

Five government witnesses at North’s trial have testified that North gave military advice to the Nicaraguan resistance movement and directed supplies of privately purchased weapons to them, despite denying to members of Congress that he was doing so.

In a famous episode, McFarlane--after leaving government service--led a secret mission to Tehran in 1986 in an unsuccessful effort to trade weapons for U.S. hostages. Accompanied by North, he carried a key-shaped cake and a Bible signed by then-President Reagan.