Iran-Contra: What Did Reagan Know?; Congress's Bid for Self-Reform
IRAN-CONTRA: WHAT DID REAGAN KNOW? The secrets of Iran-Contra are still emerging almost seven years after the fact, thanks to the stubborn efforts of independent counsel Lawrence Walsh. With last week's indictment of former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, the special prosecutor seems a step away from either closing up shop or proving that a coverup disguised Ronald Reagan's involvement in the quasi-legal, arms-for-hostages deal with Iran.
It is a matter of attrition if nothing else: Walsh has spent five years and $31 million investigating his way through the core of Reagan's White House, bringing 14 indictments, eight of which have stuck. Weinberger, Walsh's biggest catch yet, is accused of withholding more than 1,700 pages of personal notes on meetings with Reagan and of lying both to Walsh and to Congress.
Weinberger, after refusing a plea bargain, indignantly denounced the charges as a "moral and legal outrage." But his own papers may be formidable evidence against him. They place him in key meetings where shady missile transfers were discussed. Notes on one session show him telling Reagan that the missile shipments, some of which had already occurred, were illegal, and that "washing" the shipments by funneling them to Iran through Israel would not make them any less so. The president, according to Weinberger's notes, replied that "he could answer charges of illegality but that he could not answer the charge that he had passed up a chance to free the hostages."
Walsh is likely to argue during Weinberger's trial that three White House meetings were held in November 1986 to create an alibi for Reagan, who claimed at the time that he knew nothing of any 1985 missile deal. Weinberger's jottings could implicate the former president, if not by deed then at least by scribbled word.
CONGRESS'S BID FOR SELF-REFORM Congress is trying to clean up for the many new members expected to enter next year. As the number of congressional departures edged up to 81 last week, the House overwhelmingly passed a bill to set up a reform committee to find ways of breaking through the legislative gridlock that bogs down the business of passing laws. The new committee could propose limiting the number of committees that can tamper with a bill and curtailing the power of committee chairmen, who often block bills single-handedly. But critics say the reform bill, which is expected to pass the Senate as well, will have to be coupled with campaign-finance reform to significantly change how Congress gets things done.
George Bush vetoed one campaign-finance-reform bill. And he is expected to veto the "motor voter" bill Congress passed last week, a measure aimed at boosting voter turnout by registering voters automatically when they apply for driver's licenses. Both issues, campaign finance and voter registration, will most likely command Congress's attention when the next term's wave of newcomers comes flooding in.
81 open seats VACANCY
Retirees House Senate 30 Democrats 4 18 Republicans 3
Defeated in Primary 10 Democrats 1 2 Republicans 0
Quit to Run for Other Offices 9 Democrats 0 4 Republicans 0 73 *TOTAL 8
Involved in House bank scandal: 48
*As of June 19
This story appears in the June 29, 1992 print edition of U.S. News & World Report.