John M. Poindexter, the highest-ranking former official convicted in the Iran-Contra scandal, was sentenced Monday to six months in prison after a judge said that he had sought to “nullify” the actions of Congress and had shown no remorse.
The former national security adviser in the Ronald Reagan White House was the only one of seven convicted in the scandal to receive a prison term. The others, including two former White House officials, were placed on probation or required to perform community service.
The retired rear admiral, standing ramrod straight before U.S. District Judge Harold H. Greene, looked grim and pursed his lips on hearing the sentence. But he managed a faint smile as he walked to embrace his wife, Linda, in the front row of the courtroom.
He refused to speak with reporters and drove off with his lawyers after briefly thanking a group of flag-waving supporters who demonstrated outside the courthouse.
Greene allowed Poindexter to remain free until a ruling on his appeal, which is likely to occur next year. The judge did not impose any fine, noting that Poindexter already had incurred large legal bills. Navy spokesmen have said that Poindexter’s pension, which is about $55,000 a year, will not be affected by his conviction.
Dan K. Webb, the associate independent counsel who prosecuted the case, told reporters later that the sentence was “very fair and very proper.” Webb said that it should alert other public officials that “when you serve in high government office . . . you must do so with the highest levels of integrity and honesty.”
Before sentencing, Poindexter’s lead attorney argued that “what he did, he did for his country.”
Poindexter, who did not take the witness stand at his trial, faced a maximum sentence of 25 years in prison and fines of $1.25 million.
Reagan refused to comment on the sentence, according to his press secretary, Mark Weinberg, in Los Angeles. The former President gave videotaped testimony that was presented at the trial in which he said that he had never authorized anyone to break the law and did not, in fact, believe any laws had been violated.
Before imposing sentence, Greene told Poindexter that decisions of Congress cannot be “nullified by appointed officials.” Congress voted in 1984 to cut off military aid to rebel forces in Nicaragua. Greene said that, by lying and obstructing congressional inquiries about the National Security Council’s involvement in supplying arms to the Contras in Nicaragua, Poindexter had sought to “invalidate the decisions made by elected officials.”
A jury last April found Poindexter, 53, guilty on five felony charges for seeking to conceal from Congress that a subordinate, Oliver L. North, was secretly violating a congressional ban by raising funds for the Contras and supplying them with weapons. Jurors found that Poindexter had also obstructed congressional efforts to learn about covert U.S. arms sales to Iran and diversion of the profits to benefit the Contras.
After calling Poindexter’s offenses serious and noting that he had shown no remorse, Greene said: “Congress is entitled to accurate and complete information and cannot fulfill its constitutional duties without it.”
Greene said that the defendant had conducted his scheme “for a lengthy period of time” and, along with North, had “engaged in the destruction of evidence,” including 5,000 computer memos dealing with the Nicaraguan supply mission and a presidential authorization for shipping arms to Iran.
The judge noted that, under new federal sentencing guidelines, Poindexter would have received a prison term of 21 to 27 months. But the guidelines do not apply to such crimes committed before 1987, and a sentence of that length would be unfair because six other defendants received probation from other judges, Greene said.
He took note also of Poindexter’s 33 years of military and government service.
On the other hand, Greene said, a prison term is necessary to deter other high government officials from considering perjury.
Before delivering his lecture, Greene listened to a plea for leniency by Richard W. Beckler, Poindexter’s chief defense attorney.
Greene asked Poindexter if he wished to speak himself.
“Your honor, I don’t have any comment,” the defendant replied.
Beckler called Poindexter “an honorable person” and pointed out that he had received “no personal gain, no personal profit” from any of his actions.
Webb conceded that Poindexter, who resigned from the White House when the Iran-Contra scandal broke in November, 1986, had been “a well-respected public official in one of the highest positions of government.”
After remarking on Poindexter’s “brilliance” and the fact that he had been graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy at the top of his class, Webb told the court: “Except for the events of this case, I don’t quarrel with his 33 years of service to his country.”
But Webb said that the defendant’s five felony convictions showed that “John Poindexter was carrying out presidential policies at all costs. He accepted that the end justified the means.
“This is not a malevolent or evil man in any way,” Webb continued. But, because his crimes “undermined the very fabric of our government,” a prison sentence must be given, he told the court.
IRAN-CONTRA DEFENDANTS John Poindexter, former national security adviser, convicted April 7 of conspiracy, two counts of obstructing Congress and two counts of making false statements in connection with Reagan Administration assistance to the Contras and a November, 1985 shipment of missiles to Iran. He was sentenced Monday to six months in prison. Oliver North, former National Security Council aide, was found guilty in May, 1989, of three felonies -- aiding and abetting the obstruction of Congress, destroying official documents and accepting an illegal gratuity -- and sentenced to two years probation, fined $150,000 and ordered to perform 1,200 hours of community service. He is appealing while serving the community service in an anti-drug program. Robert McFarlane, former national security adviser, pleaded guilty to four misdemeanors of withholding information from Congress by denying that the NSC staff was soliciting support for the Contras’ military activities and helping move supplies to the rebels and denying that he knew anything about other-country financing of the Contras. He was placed on two years probation, fined $20,000 and sentenced to 200 hours of community service. Richard Secord, a retired Air Force major general, pleaded guilty Nov. 8 to lying to congressional investigators when he said he wasn’t aware of any money that went to the benefit of North from the maze of companies known as “the enterprise,” which Secord had used in the Iran-Contra affair. Secord on Jan. 24 was sentenced to two years probation. Carl (Spitz) Channell, pleaded guilty to using his nonprofit National Endowment for the Preservation of Liberty to raise more than $2 million to buy weapons for the Nicaraguan rebels. He was sentenced to two years probation for conspiring to defraud the Treasury of taxes due on the money raised with North’s assistance. He died last month. Richard Miller, head of a Washington public relations company, pleaded guilty to conspiring to defraud the Internal Revenue Service of taxes on contributions used to supply military aid to the Contras. He was sentenced to two years probation. Albert Hakim, an Iranian-born businessman who with Secord ran “the enterprise,” pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor of aiding and abetting in supplementing North’s income by paying for a security fence at North’s home. Hakim was fined $5,000 and sentenced to two years probation Feb. 1. Joseph Fernandez, former CIA station chief in Costa Rica, is charged with obstruction and making false statements in connection with his assistance to North’s Contra resupply network. The judge in the case said the charges must be dismissed due to the attorney general’s ban on the use of classified material Fernandez needs for his defense. Prosecutors are appealing. Thomas Clines, former CIA agent, was indicted for allegedly failing to report to the IRS some of his income he received for working for North’s Contra resupply network. Clines, a business partner of Secord and Hakim, has pleaded innocent and is scheduled to go on trial Sept. 4.