The Iran-Contra Affair The tangled U.S. foreign-policy scandal known as the Iran-contra affair came to light in November 1986 when President Ronald Reagan said yes to reports that the United States had secretly sold arms to Iran. He said that the goal was to improve relations with Iran, not to get releases of U.S. hostages held in the Middle East by terrorists (although he later agreed that the arrangement had in fact turned into an arms-for-hostages swap). People spoke out against dealings with the hostile Iranian government all over the place. Later in November, Att. Gen.
Edwin Meese discovered that some of the arms profits had been used to aid the Nicaraguan “contra” rebels at a time when Congress had prohibited such aid. An Independent special prosecutor, former federal judge Lawrence E. Walsh, wa appointed to investigate the activities of persons involved in the arms sale or contra aid or both, including marine Lt. Col. Oliver North of the National Security Council (NSC) staff. Reagan appointed a review board headed by former Republican senator John Tower.
The Tower commission’s report in February 1987 criticized the president’s passive management style. In a nationaly televised address on March 4, Reagan accepted the reports judgement without serious disagreement. Select committees of the Senate (11 members chaired by Democrat Daniel K. Inouye of Hawaii) and the house of representatives (15 members, headed by another Democrat, Lee Hamilton of Indiana) conducted televised hearings in partnership from May to August. They heard evidence that a few members of the NSC staff set Iran and Nicaragua policies and carried them out with secret private operatives and that the contras received only a small part of the money. Former national security advisor John Poindexter stated that he personally authorized the diversion of money and withheld that information from the president.
William J. Casey, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, who died in May 1989, was implicated in some testimony. His testomony still remained in doubt. Clearly however, the strange events shook the nation’s faith in President Reagan and ruined U. S.
prestige abroad. Special prosecutor Walsh continued his investigation. On March 11, 1988 Poindexter’s forerunner as national security advisor Robert McFarlane pleaded guilty to criminal charges of witholding information from Congress on secret aid to the contras. A year later, Peter McFariane was fined $20,000 and given two years probation. On March 16, 1988, a federal grand jury indicted North, Poindexter, and two other persons on a number of charges including conspiracy to defraud the U.S. government.
The trials were delayed by legal maneuvering that in part involved questions of releasing secret information. In May 1989 a jury convicted North of 3 of the 12 criminal counts he was ultimately tried on. In July the court fined North 150,000 and gave him a three- year suspended sentence. The North convictions were later set aside by a federal appeals court, which found defects in the trial procedure. On April 7, 1990, Poindexter was convicted on 5 counts of deceiving congressional investigators and sentenced to six months in prison.
In July 1991, Alan D. Fiers, Jr., CIA chief of covert operations in Central America in 1984-86, admitted that he had lied to Congress and that there had been a CIA Iran-contra cover up. Shortly after, his CIA superior Clair E. George was indicted.