In a marked difference with many Democrats in Congress, two Democratic leaders--House Speaker Thomas S. Foley of Washington and defense secretary nominee Les Aspin of Wisconsin--had assured President Bush they would support his decision to pardon former Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger, The Times has learned.
Their support, expressed privately in the weeks before Bush’s announcement of the pardon Thursday, came during an intensive behind-the-scenes lobbying campaign on Weinberger’s behalf directed mainly by his lawyer, Robert S. Bennett of Washington, and by longtime friend William P. Clark, former national security adviser and later Interior secretary in the Ronald Reagan Administration and once a member of the California Supreme Court.
Two sources familiar with the campaign, both of whom spoke only on condition of anonymity, said the effort succeeded in lining up bipartisan congressional support for the pardon without stressing that five other former government officials also should be given clemency, as Bush ultimately determined.
In addition to Weinberger, Bush pardoned Elliott Abrams, Reagan’s assistant secretary of state; Robert C. McFarlane, Reagan’s national security adviser, and former CIA officials Clair E. George, Alan D. Fiers and Duane (Dewey) Clarridge. All had been involved in aspects of the Iran-Contra affair, in which U.S. arms were sold to Iran in exchange for release of American hostages, with proceeds from the sales going to help finance anti-communist rebels in Nicaragua.
In another development Friday, the White House said President Bush will make public all his notes and interviews with Iran-Contra independent counsel Lawrence E. Walsh, who charged Thursday that Bush’s pardon was part of a six-year cover-up of the affair.
White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater, in an interview with the Washington Post, said Bush would make “everything” in his own files public, along with the transcript of the President’s five-hour interrogation by the independent counsel’s office in 1988, as soon as the transcript is returned to him by Walsh aides.
But Walsh, asked about the transcript in an interview Friday with The Times, noted that prosecutors don’t normally release such information in the midst of an investigation. He said he would want to see where the probe was going before he faced any question of releasing material to the public.
Bush was questioned by the Walsh team in 1988, and prosecutors subsequently said they found the five-hour session unproductive, because the then-vice president did not recall some events about which he was questioned.
Word that Foley and Aspin supported the Weinberger pardon emerged one day after many congressional Democrats expressed outrage over the pardons. Neither Foley nor Aspin could be reached for comment Friday.
Foley was described as the most important congressional Democrat who gave assurances he would not criticize a pardon, citing his high personal regard for Weinberger as a public servant.
Aspin is to step down as head of the House Armed Services Committee to become defense secretary in President-elect Bill Clinton’s Adminstration. Clinton said in Little Rock, Ark., on Thursday that the pardon is a signal to high government officials that they are “above the law.”
A third influential Democrat, Sen. Dennis DeConcini (D-Ariz.) also told Bush he favored the pardon, the sources said.
DeConcini confirmed the report Friday, saying he telephoned Bush, without any prompting from Weinberger supporters, because he thought the Iran-Contra affair “had gone on long enough.”
“It was time to ring down the curtain on the whole thing,” said DeConcini, a moderate Democrat who is to take over leadership of the Senate Intelligence Committee and who has supported the President on many occasions.
“I don’t condone what these gentlemen have allegedly done,” he said. “I think some of them did lie to Congress, but I don’t think the country is well served by continuously pulling us apart, especially when there is a new Administration waiting in the wings.”
Of those involved in the campaign to win congressional support for the pardon, sources said, none were considered more important than Clark, a longtime California friend of Weinberger’s dating back to their days in Reagan’s California gubernatorial Administration, starting in 1967. Clark contacts included many old friends in the Bush Administration.
Clark took pride in his legal expertise as a former California trial judge and later state Supreme Court justice and even had three face-to-face meetings in Washington with Walsh, the sources said.
Reached at his ranch in Paso Robles, Calif., Clark declined comment, other than to express satisfaction that “justice has been done.”
Among Republicans who contacted White House counsel C. Boyden Gray or Bush directly to argue for a pardon were Sens. Bob Dole of Kansas and Orrin G. Hatch of Utah and former Sen. Howard H. Baker Jr. of Tennessee, who once was Reagan’s White House chief of staff.
“The biggest single event that helped our effort was when Walsh revealed his belated indictment of Cap (Weinberger) just four days before the presidential election,” one source said. “It affected a lot of people who were on the fence by convincing them that Walsh’s effort was highly political.”
The Oct. 30 perjury charge, designed to replace an earlier charge that a judge dismissed as defective, disclosed a 1986 note written by Weinberger that appeared to contradict Bush’s claim that he was out of the loop on the arms-for-hostages swap. Although Walsh said its timing had nothing to do with the political campaign, some congressional Republicans and White House aides saw it as an effort to hurt Bush’s campaign as he seemed to be gaining ground on Clinton.
“This kind of galvanized things,” a source said. “All of a sudden the idea of a pardon went from loose talk to something that took on a new life.”
Bennett declined to discuss his efforts. But he said he wished to take strong exception to a statement by Walsh following the pardon that accused both Weinberger and Bush of participating in a cover-up of the scandal.
“There is absolutely no evidence that Weinberger was part of any cover-up, and Walsh’s statements attacking the President are preposterous,” Bennett said Friday. “It’s irresponsible and vindictive for him to say he’s going after Bush. The only place a conspiracy exists is in Walsh’s head.”
Bennett said he has “absolutely no objection” to the release of all of Weinberger’s notes, which formed the foundation of Walsh’s case.
Walsh, in a telephone interview from his home in Oklahoma City, rejected Gray’s claim that Iran-Contra notes from Bush, now being examined by Walsh’s investigators, contain no new or relevant information. The White House disclosed the existence of the notes to Walsh earlier this month, and the prosecutor first referred to them in his criticism of the pardons.
“Certainly they are relevant to the independent counsel’s investigation,” Walsh said. “What’s new and what’s not new we’ll be able to decide when we’re able to” fully review them.
“We’ll also look into why we didn’t receive them,” he said, noting that his office first learned that Bush had kept such notes in a call from Chester Beach, an assistant to counsel Gray.
Walsh said there is no doubt that Bush’s notes, which are understood to be typewritten from his daily dictation, are covered by requests Walsh’s investigators first made in 1987 for all relevant notes and documents maintained by Bush and other officials of the Reagan Administration.
The failure to turn over the notes has made Bush a “subject” of his investigation, Walsh noted, a term that applies to individuals whose actions are part of a criminal investigation but who are not deemed to be a “target” likely to be indicted.
Walsh said he was particularly puzzled by the failure to disclose the existence of the material after he saw a television film of Bush stating during the presidential campaign that he had turned over all his notes to Walsh’s investigators.
Walsh said Bush’s notes begin in November, 1986, and run into 1988, but that there is a “gap that interests us.” He declined to specify the length or exact dates that notes seem to be missing. But he said the dates are from a time when investigators were taking certain actions, and that he would be interested in Bush’s response to those actions.
Times staff writers William J. Eaton, Robert Shogan and James Gerstenzang contributed to this story.