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Fairness Doctrine repealed
- Reagan's pro-broadcaster, pro-deregulation Federal Communications Commission repeals the Fairness Doctrine, which mandates "equal access" for opposing political viewpoints among the nation's media outlets. FCC chairman Mark Fowler, formerly a broadcast industry lawyer and known by some as "the James Watt of the FCC," is contemptuous of the idea that broadcasters have a unique role or bear any special responsibilities to ensure democratic discourse: in May 1983, he told the Los Angeles Times that "The perception of broadcasters as community trustees should be replaced by a view of broadcasters as marketplace participants." To Fowler, television is "just another appliance -- it's a toaster with pictures," and favors almost-total deregulation: "We've got to look beyond the conventional wisdom that we must somehow regulate this box." Of course, Fowler and associates do not favor total deregulation: without licensing, the airwaves would descend into chaos as many broadcasters competed for the same frequencies, a situation that would mean ruin for the traditional corporate broadcasters they were so close to. But regulation for the public good rather than corporate convenience was deemed suspect.
- Though Fowler will leave the FCC a few months before the doctrine's repeal, it is largely through his efforts that the doctrine becomes history. He and his like-minded commissioners, most Reagan appointees, argue that the doctrine violates broadcasters' First Amendment rights by giving the government a measure of editorial control over stations. He also argues that the doctrine actually chills rather than encourages debate, because stations feared demands for response time and possible challenges to broadcast licenses -- even though only one license was ever revoked in a dispute involving the Fairness Doctrine. Under Fowler, the FCC stopped enforcing the doctrine years before it formally revokes it. The doctrine remained for so long because Congress's 1959 amendment to the Communications Act made it law. Fowler will make use of a controversial 1986 decision by appeals court justices Robert Bork and Antonin Scalia that held that Congress never actually made the doctrine into law. Bork wrote, "We do not believe that language adopted in 1959 made the Fairness Doctrine a binding statutory obligation," because the doctrine was imposed "under," not "by" the Communications Act of 1934. Bork held that the 1959 amendment established that the FCC could apply the doctrine, but was not obliged to do so -- that keeping the rule or scuttling it was simply a matter of FCC discretion. Bork and Scalia's decision contravened 25 years of FCC rulings that the law had been in place since 1959.
- Under the new chairman Dennis Patrick, a former Reagan White House aide, the FCC formally repeals the doctrine. A year later, former FCC commissioner Nicholas Johnson will sum up the fight to bring back the Fairness Doctrine as "a struggle for nothing less than possession of the First Amendment: Who gets to have and express opinions in America." Congress will overwhelmingly pass a bill to reinstate the doctrine in 1988, but Reagan will veto the bill, and largely through Republican strongarming, Congress will fail to override the veto. Another attempt to resurrect the doctrine in 1991 will fizzle when President George H.W. Bush threatens another veto. Since the doctrine's repeal, two major effects on American broadcasters have been documented: a precipitous drop in the amount of political and social issue coverage on many stations, and a tremendously rightward slant in the quality of broadcast content.
- One anecdotal study will be performed by lawyer Edward Monks of the two commercial talk shows in his home town of Eugene, Oregon, a town considered relatively liberal. Monks found "80 hours per week, more than 4,000 hours per year, programmed for Republican and conservative talk shows, without a single second programmed for a Democratic or liberal perspective." He concludes, "Political opinions expressed on talk radio are approaching the level of uniformity that would normally be achieved only in a totalitarian society. There is nothing fair, balanced or democratic about it." The Media Access Project's Andrew Jaw Schwartzman says, "What has not changed since 1987 is that over-the-air broadcasting remains the most powerful force affecting public opinion, especially on local issues; as public trustees, broadcasters ought to be insuring that they inform the public, not inflame them. That's why we need a Fairness Doctrine. It's not a universal solution. It's not a substitute for reform or for diversity of ownership. It's simply a mechanism to address the most extreme kinds of broadcast abuse." (PBS, FAIR, Wikipedia)
- During this year, Pakistan develops a nuclear weapon. The Pakistani program is supervised by Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan, a brilliant and quite mercenary physicist. Khan and his team spent over ten years illicitly securing the technology necessary for the weapons program, largely from European sources. Though the program is top secret, it has long been penetrated by the CIA, who provided accurate information to the Reagan administration throughout the 1980s. Pakistan is a key ally in the covert struggle to help Afghanistan oppose the Soviet Union, and Reagan's top advisors decide not to interfere in Pakistan's nuclear acquisitions. In 1989, Bush officials will lie to Congress, telling its representatives that Pakistan has no nuclear weapons in order to keep military aid flowing to that country. The Pakistanis will successfully test a nuclear device in 1998, becoming the first Islamic country to publicly possess the bomb. By the early 2000s, Pakistan will be estimated to have dozens of warheads, deliverable by mid-range missiles as well as its US-provided fleet of F-16 aircraft. (Seymour Hersh)
- First-term senator Phil Gramm, a Republican, has a new house for his family built in Maryland, and asks one of his biggest fund-raisers, Dallas S&L mogul Jerry Stiles, to handle the house's interiors. Stiles is currently under investigation for corruption by the FBI. Stiles quotes a price of $63,000, but cost overruns end up bringing the project to $117,000. Gramm only pays the original price of $63,000, and Stiles agreeably forgives the $54,000 remaining costs. An investigation shows that Stiles, with Gramm's collusion, fraudulently pads the bill for the interior by nearly 50%, then embezzles $54,000 from his S&L empire to make up the difference. When the FBI informs Gramm of the cost overruns, he pays Stiles the outstanding $54,000 -- and later receives it back from Stiles. In 1989, Stiles's S&L empire collapses, costing American taxpayers $22 million. He will be convicted of multiple counts of fraud and conspiracy, and is serving a 55-year sentence in prison. Gramm, however, will continue serving in the Senate through 2002. He is currently vice-chairman of UBS Investment Bank. (Wikipedia, Hilton and Testa)
- January 6: Democrat Jim Wright succeeds Tip O'Neill as Speaker of the House. Wright, a tough Texas populist, is a driving force for the Democrats in his first term, but a far more polarizing figure than the gregarious O'Neill. Wright infuriates Republicans by violating House procedures to get Democratic bills passed, such as holding the vote open an extra fifteen minutes to muscle recalcitrant Democrats to vote for a budget reconciliation bill. (These same outraged Republicans will imitate and expand on Wright's tactics when they take over Congress years later.) According to Republican hardliner Dick Cheney, "Jim Wright is a heavy-handed son of a b*tch." Cheney tells a reporter that he never believed he would "miss Tip O'Neill."
- Cheney's publicly profane assessment of Wright is unusual for the usually unflappable, and publicly careful, Congressman, but it is a harbinger of the House Republicans' determination to destroy Wright. Wright succeeds in passing bills that infuriate and embarrass Reagan and the Republicans in Congress, and does so by sometimes rudely riding roughshod over the Republican minority.
- Interestingly, Wright, a self-taught Latin Americanist who speaks fluent Spanish, creates a peace process in Nicaragua that becomes known as "Reagan-Wright." Most Republicans oppose any peace initiative in that beleagured country, and are determined to rearm and re-fund the Contras. Reagan's national security affairs assistant Colin Powell, and the assistant secretary of state Elliot Abrams, meet with all of the Central American leaders involved in the process -- all but the Nicaraguans. They urge the four leaders to publicly oppose the Nicaraguan Sandinistas and thereby undermine the Reagan-Wright peace talks.
- Wright keeps working with Costa Rican president Oscar Arias (who will win the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts). Cheney and many Reagan officials see Wright's efforts as encroaching on the power of the executive branch -- an intolerable breach in Cheney's mind. Cheney is determined to rebuild the power of the presidency after the post-Watergate reforms and limitations on the near-unbridled power of the executive. In September 1988, Cheney will be given an opportunity to begin a campaign that will end Wright's career. (Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein)
- January 6-7: Both houses of Congress open investigations of the Iran-Contra arms sales. The Democrats retain Thomas Polgar, an ex-CIA agent. Polgar served as a consultant to George Bush's task force on terrorism, which included several figures in the Iran-contra scandal including Oliver North. As Saigon station chief, Polgar worked for Theodore Shackley, a former top CIA official who facilitated North's arms sales to Iran. Polgar is the only one of the six investigators and 13 lawyers hired by the Iran-Contra committee with a CIA background. During the investigation, Polgar refuses to interview key suspects and sources, and talks to journalists to find out their "spin" before announcing his findings. After his return to Washington, Polgar meets with former CIA colleague Donald Gregg, currently Vice President George Bush's national security advisor. Gregg will later say, "He wanted to assure me that the hearings would not be a repeat of the Pike and Church investigation," a mid-1970s investigation that exposed the CIA's role in assassination plots and led to huge cuts in the covert operations budget. Co-chairman Lee Hamilton will play his own part in limiting the scope of the investigation, including threatening Costa Rican president Oscar Arias with a withdrawal of US involvement if Costa Rica insisted on prosecuting North colleague John Hull.
- Congressional Democrats leading the investigation are determined not to let the situation turn into what Speaker of the House Jim Wright calls a "carnival." Wright and other Democratic leaders quash any speculation about possible impeachment; neither Wright nor Senate Majority Leader Robert Byrd want a repeat of the trauma of Watergate. "That is the last thing I wanted to do," Wright later recalls. "Ronald Reagan had only two years left in his term. I was not going to allow a procedure that would lead to his impeachment in his final year in office."
- Byrd and Wright decide to oversee a first-ever joint House-Senate investigative committee. They hope that a single committee can make the process move more quickly and thus limit the damage to the institution of the presidency. They want to prevent any sort of witch hunt, and Wright tells the Republican leadership, "You appoint and we appoint and we can maintain some control."
- Byrd chooses Democratic senator Daniel Inouye to chair the committee. Inouye names Republican senator Warren Rudman to co-chair the committee, and promises to share equally the powers of the chairmanship. A former prosecutor, Rudman supports the Contras, but believes the White House has improperly bypassed Congress in its operations. Rudman will soon overshadow the more reticent Inouye.
- On the House side, Wright asks conservative Democrat Lee Hamilton to chair his section. Hamilton's driving principle is bipartisanship, a concern his Republican counterparts will easily exploit. Republican Minority Leader Bob Michel appoints six committee members, led by the ruthlessly partisan Dick Cheney, who effectively represents the Reagan administration and takes the lead in perpetuating the White House coverup from inside the committee. One committee staffer later confirms that Cheney is the White House's man on the committee, and the conduit through which the White House works with the Republican members. Michel adds other nakedly partisan Republicans, including Contra supporters Henry Hyde and Bill McCollum, both aligned with Newt Gingrich's hardline faction. Authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein note, "As early as 1987, they were ready to burn the village to the ground in order to save it from the Democrats. This time, their contempt for an institution and its established order was not focused on the executive [i.e. their later attempt to destroy the Clinton presidency], but on a Democratic Congress."
- The Democrats' determination to handle the investigation in a bipartisan fashion, and Wright's announced refusal to consider impeachment as an option, gives the Republicans tremendous leverage, and they use it. Dubose and Bernstein write, "Hamilton's desire to be fair, and his middle-of-the-road orientation, made him an easy mark for the Republican House members, who wanted the committee to fail." Hamilton, in his drive to keep the committee from moving towards impeachment, actually becomes an unwitting tool for the Republicans bent on concealing evidence -- including recordings of Reagan's own phone conversations with foreign leaders involved in third-world funding -- and denying that the government had flaunted the Constitution.
- In fact, the Republicans are not only determined to avoid impeachment, they want to prevent any damage whatsoever from coming down on the White House. "It was obvious that Dick Cheney and others were more interested in protecting the president than in finding out what had happened," Rudman recalls years later. And, as Dubose and Bernstein point out, Cheney is also determined that the committee will "in no way diminish the powers of the executive branch." He succeeds in part because he remains calm and unflappable, lulling the Democrats into underestimating him. "You saw the results of his work, but you rarely saw what he did," one Democratic staffer recalls. "We totally misread the guy. We thought he was more philosophical than political." (Federation of American Scientists, Flashpoints, Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein)
- February 2: Reagan testifies to the Tower Commission, or the Tower Board, headed by former GOP senator John Tower, for a second time on Iran-Contra. His testimony is inconsistent and confused. The Board points out that Reagan apparently hadn't known about any August shipment of anti-tank missiles to Iran, but Reagan had said he indeed did know. When asked for an explanation, Reagan picks up a briefing memo he had been provided and reads aloud: "If the question comes up at the Tower Board meeting, you might want to say that you were surprised." Lou Cannon, Reagan's sympathetic biographer, later writes, "The Tower Board had been exposed to the real Reagan, as he was seen every day at close range by the handful of aides with personal access to him." (PBS, Lou Cannon/Daily Howler)
- January 2: CIA director William Casey resigns because of brain cancer. Casey was supposed to be a key witness in Congress's Iran-Contra investigation. He had director NSC staffer Oliver North to create "the Enterprise," a secret organization run by General Richard Secord that trained, supplied, and even fought for the Nicaraguan Contras, and of course, evaded Congressional oversight and laws restricting US support for the rebels. North will later testify that "the Enterprise" had become a model for other covert operations around the world. It was Casey's idea to solicit secret funding from Saudi Arabia and Israel, among others, to fund the Contras. One Democratic Congressman calls Casey the "Godfather" of the scandal.
- Republican committee member Dick Cheney, the White House's point man in containing the scandal, seizes on Casey's terminal illness to deflect questions about Casey's activities, telling one reporter, "I don't think it's fair for people to criticize the man based on speculation and innuendo, and to do it at a time when he is incapable of defending himself strikes me as in extremely poor taste." Interestingly, after Casey dies on May 6, 1987, the day after the hearings begin, Casey would become a convenient scapegoat for North and a convenient oubliette for the missing information that would have shed critical light on the scandal. Even though four CIA officials will eventually be charged with criminal offenses related to Iran-Contra, George H.W. Bush, Reagan's successor in the White House, will pardon three of them and block the prosecution of the fourth by refusing to declassify information needed for his defense.
- As Speaker of the House Jim Wright later recalls, he and House committee chairman Lee Hamiton "bent over backwards to be fair to the Republicans." For the Republicans, moderates like co-chairman Warren Rudman find themselves increasingly at odds with their more right-wing colleagues like Cheney, who are bent on protecting the Reagan administration regardless of the facts and the increasing evidence of serious criminal offenses.
- The hardliners insist on a short set of hearings. "Did I know Dick [Cheney] wanted to shorten it? Yes, I knew that," Hamilton recalls. The Democrats, fearful of appearing overly partisan, agree to an arbitrary ten-month deadline to complete the investigation -- giving Cheney and his fellows plenty of opportunity to run out the clock. Reagan officials, in collusion with Cheney and other committee members, simultaneously stall the proceedings and drown the committee in mountains of irrelevant evidence. In the fall of 1987, when reams of new information such as White House backup computer files become available, Cheney and others successfully keep the committee on schedule, and the new and potentially damaging evidence from being given anything more than cursory examination. (Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein)
- One of the biggest issues facing the committee is what to do with the special prosecutor, Lawrence Walsh, and the two recalcitrant witnesses, Oliver North and John Poindexter. Both are expected to refuse to testify, instead pleading the Fifth Amendment, if the threat of criminal prosecution hangs over their heads. Republican committee chairman Warren Rudman and Senate counsel Arthur Liman push Walsh to go for a quick conviction by prosecuting North for obstruction of justice over his infamous "shredding party." Rudman believes he can convince his GOP colleagues to defer their investigation until after the North prosecution, thus opening up the investigation. But Walsh, whom authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein describe as having a "political tin ear," refuses. He wants to put together a more elaborate case that would bring out what Rudman calls a "grand scheme of conspiracy." Walsh's insistence forces the committee into either aborting the investigation or granting North immunity.
- The committee is split several ways, with hardline GOP member Dick Cheney leading the charge for sparing North the need to testify in deference to the possible criminal case. Many Republicans, and even a few Democrats, agree. "People were all over the lot on that one," Rudman recalls. Of the Democrats, Lee Hamilton, the co-chair, is the strongest proponent of granting North immunity from prosecution in return for quick testimony. Hamilton believes that North has information no one else has (outside, perhaps, of the terminally ill former CIA director, William Casey, whose illness precludes him from testifying). Hamiton, like his moderate GOP colleagues, wants a thorough airing of the details of the Iran-Contra operations, but isn't so interested in an array of criminal prosecutions. The committee eventually compromises by agreeing to defer North's and Poindexter's testimonies until the end of the investigation. "Hamilton was so fair-minded and balanced that in order to get agreements, he gave ground in areas where he shouldn't have," a committee staff member later recalls. Early testimony from the two -- assuming it would be complete and truthful -- would have given the investigation a clear direction, and would have provided an enormous amount of information on which to follow up.
- The committee eventually strikes a deal with North and his lawyer, Brendan Sullivan; the deal dooms the entire investigation. North receives "use immunity," guaranteeing that nothing he says can be used against him in future criminal proceedings. They also agree not to depose North prior to his testimony, not to recalls him for later testimony, and to allow him to produce documents the committee requires less than a week before his appearance. In return, the committee expects North to tell the truth, an expectation North will flaunt.
- "I think there's a very real possibility that [Iran-Contra will] be at best a footnote in the history books," Cheney tells a reporter in April. With North's sweet deal and Cheney's manipulations, it is all but certain that the substance of Iran-Contra will never be revealed. (Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein)
- February 20: A Reagan memo to the Tower Board reads: "I don't remember, period. ...I'm trying to recall events that happened eighteen months ago, I'm afraid that I let myself be influenced by others' recollections, not my own.... The only honest answer is to state that try as I might, I cannot recall anything whatsoever about whether I approved an Israeli sale in advance or whether I approved replenishment of Israeli stocks around August of 1985. My answer therefore and the simple truth is, I don't remember, period." (PBS)
- February 20: A bomb similar to the one that killed a Sacramento store owner injures a store owner in Salt Lake City, the work of the so-called "Unabomber." An eyewitness provides a description of a man she saw lurking around the property, a man wearing a hooded sweatshirt and aviator sunglasses. Her description gives the FBI their first lead, and the resulting sketch becomes nationally famous. It also apparently drives the bomber underground for over six years. (Unabomber Timeline)
- February 26: The Tower Commission report is delivered to Reagan and released to the public. The report could not link Reagan to diversion of funds from Iran to the Contras. But it concluded that Reagan, confused and unaware, allowed himself to be misled by dishonest staff members who organized the trade of arms to Iran for hostages held in Lebanon and pursued a secret war against the Nicaraguan government. The report charges that Reagan had failed to "insist upon accountability or & performance review," allowing the National Security Council process to collapse. (PBS)
Reagan admits involvement in Iran-Contra
- March 4: On national television, Reagan acknowledges mistakes on Iran-Contra. "A few months ago I told the American people I did not trade arms for hostages. My heart and my best intentions tell me that's true, but the facts and evidence tell me it is not. As the Tower Board reported, what began as a strategic opening to Iran deteriorated, in its implementation, into trading arms for hostages. This runs counter to my own beliefs, to administration policy, and to the original strategy we had in mind. There are reasons why it happened, but no excuses. It was a mistake." An independent counsel, Lawrence Walsh, is appointed by the Justice Department the next day. Journalist David Corn writes in 2003 that Reagan "lied because he was out of touch with reality." And that same year, journalist Paul Waldman notes, "Imagine if Bill Clinton had said that despite the presence of the infamous blue dress, his heart and best intentions still told him that he had never been involved with Monica [Lewinsky]. Such a statement would not only be laughable, it would be evidence of a denial so deep as to be pathological." Waldman is, of course, failing to acknowledge the fact that by this time, Reagan is suffering from severe Alzheimer's disease. (PBS, Federation of American Scientists, David Corn)
- May 5: The Iran-Contra hearings begin in Congress. The joint House-Senate committee has built expensive two-tiered stages for the televised hearings, leading film director Steven Spielberg to note that the setup works in favor of the witnesses, who appear on television "at the hero's angle, looking up as though from a pit at the committee, who resembled two rows of judges at the Spanish Inquisition."
- Adding to the negative visual impact, besides the usually pontificating Congressmen, are the two chief interrogators from the Senate and the House, Arthur Liman and John Nields. Liman is a nasal New Yorker with "spaghetti hair." Nields is a balding, long-haired lawyer who does not keep his distaste for the witnesses from showing in his demeanor. Colonel Oliver North, in contrast, appears as a clean-cut, handsome American warrior, an impression played up by his primary handler, committee member Dick Cheney.
- Cheney makes it clear what his particular agenda is in his opening statement. "Some will argue that these events justify the imposition of additional restrictions on presidents to prohibit the possibility of similar occurences in the future. In my opinion, that would be a mistake. In completing our task, we should seek above all to find ways to strengthen the capacity of future presidents and future Congresses to meet the often-dangerous and difficult challenges that are bound to rise in the years ahead." Cheney's ultimate goal is not only to block any serious investigation of the Iran-Contra scandal, but to ensure that the presidency does not suffer any further limitations on its power as happened after Watergate.
- Cheney develops, during the first few sessions, a "counter-narrative," perhaps best exemplified by the astonishing question, "[T]o what extent did the lack of a clear-cut policy by the Congress contribute to the events we will be exploring in the weeks ahead?" Cheney leads the GOP's claims that, because Congress had supported the Contras in the past, its refusal to continue support amounts to what authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein call "actionable negligence." As a result, the White House's illegal war is justified as a "bridging" mechanism until Congress could be brought back into line.
- Cheney's questioning reaches an apothesis of ridiculousness during the testimony of CIA agent Felix Rodriguez. Rodriguez is a Cuban exile recruited in 1967 to capture Bolivian guerrilla leader Che Guevara; he oversaw Guevara's execution. Rodriguez then worked for the CIA in Vietnam, where he became close friends with Donald Gregg, who himself became the national security advisor to Vice President Bush. Gregg had brought Rodriguez into the Contra operation; Rodriguez's cover was blown when CIA pilot Eugene Hasenfus was captured by the Contras in 1986 (see earlier items). Despite the committee's questioning, the extent of Bush's and Gregg's knowledge of Iran-Contra will never be fully revealed. When Cheney takes his turn, he asks Rodriguez, not about his activities with the Contras, but about Third World perception of how the US measures up in the struggle against global communism. "Can you comment upon the difference in terms of the perception on the part of the people at the local level as to the long-term committment of the United States versus, say, the long-term committment of the Soviet Union?" Rodriguez, a veteran Cold Warrior, is happy to pontificate about the Soviet influence in Central America and elsewhere, as long as Cheney likes.
- Early testimony from Iran-Contra official General Richard Secord is damning. Secord, though attempting to justify the operations, admits that he believes the White House knew about the illegal operations from the outset, and that Reagan praised the operation. Secord says he overheard phone calls from both Reagan and Bush to North regarding the operations. He says that he was recruited by Oliver North, who in turn was taking his marching orders from the CIA's Casey. He says that CIA and Contra operatives were "betrayed and abandoned" by the administration, and gives details about how the operations were funded, alluding to secret Swiss bank accounts managed by Casey. The White House, through North and Secord, negotiated the arms for hostage deal through, among others, Iranian arms merchant Manucher Ghorbanifar. And, according to Secord, former NSC director Robert McFarlane falsified the sequence of events as given to Congress in order to cover for the White House. Much of Secord's testimony is potentially explosive, but the committee never follows up on many of Secord's assertions.
- North's credibility is also hurt when, on May 6, his business colleague Richard Miller pleads guilty to tax fraud and names North as a co-conspirator to defraud the government. Miller, who heads the firm International Business Consultants, played a major role in the release of American hostages, according to the FBI. And on May 15, North's former secretary, Fawn Hall, gives damning testimony about her role in North's "shredding party," where she and North destroyed reams of evidence.
- For his part, North, who has been granted immunity, continues to threaten to blame Congress and the American people for "forcing" the administration to lie to them. Rudman finally has had enough of North's threats: "The American people have the Constitutional right to be wrong," he thunders, referring to their initial support for the Contras. "And what Ronald Reagan thinks or what Oliver North thinks or what I think or what anybody else thinks matters not a whit if the American people say, 'Enough.'" Rudman says years later, "Yes, Congress voted for the Contras and then they voted against them, but it doesn't matter what the hell they did. The law changed, but it's still the law. That's just the way the country works." Unfortunately for the country, the law isn't a consideration for either White House officials or Republicans like Dick Cheney. (IBiblio, Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein)
- May 6: CIA director William Casey dies from brain cancer, just before he can testify in the televised Congressional hearings on Iran-Contra. It is later revealed that Casey "ran" Oliver North's Contra operations. Casey's sudden, quite timely death sparks a host of conspiracy theories.(Federation of American Scientists)
Gary Hart drops out of Democratic primaries after an extramarital affair is revealed
- May 8: Democratic presidential contender Gary Hart drops out of the primaries after his liason with model Donna Rice is revealed. Hart, who was considered the frontrunner for the nomination and expected to have an excellent shot to defeat GOP frontrunner George Bush, has been dogged by rumors about extramarital liasons throughout the campaign; in April, he challenged the media to prove the allegations, telling a reporter from the New York Times: "Follow me around. I don't care. I'm serious. If anybody wants to put a tail on me, go ahead." The media did just that, and on May 3, the Miami Herald published a story revealing that their reporters observed an attractive young woman -- later identified as Rice -- leaving his Washington, DC townhouse. Hart angrily denied the charges that he was having an affair with the woman, but days later, the tabloid National Enquirer published pictures of Rice sitting perkily on Hart's lap while both were aboard a sailboat infelicitously named the Monkey Business in Bimini. Hart's position in the polls sinks, and he drops out of the race, leaving it to new frontrunner Michael Dukakis, the governor of Massachusetts. Bolstered by polls showing that a majority of Americans think he was treated unfairly by the media, Hart will re-enter the race in December, but does poorly. He considers entering the 2004 presidential campaign, but decides against it. (CBS, Wikipedia)
- May 13: Former NSC director Robert McFarlane testifies before the Iran-Contra investigative committee. He admits to "regularly" conferring with Ronald Reagan on the arms-for-hostage deal, and admits that he failed to notify Congress about his choice to use DEA agents to facilitate the arms swap. McFarlane says that Reagan discussed obtaining Saudi funding for the Contras with Saudi Arabia's King Fahd, a damning assertion in light of the committee's recent announcement that it had found evidence that the administration had obtained Contra funds from the Sultan of Brunei. (The committee has also heard testimony that the administration negotiated a deal with Honduras to support the Contras in return for an agreement to sell that country jet fighters.) The committee also hears testimony that Oliver North took Iranian officials involved in the arms-for-hostage deal on a tour of the White House. (IBiblio)
USS Stark attacked by Iraq; US blames Iran
- May 17: Two Iraqi Exocet missiles strike the USS Stark, killing 37. The US shifts the blame onto Iran. The State Department will make a production about Iraq's promise to pay compensation for the attack, but in 1992 was forced to admit that Iraq never paid. Nor was it ever pressured to pay. Instead, weeks after the Stark is attacked, President Bush will pressure the Export-Import Bank to loan $200 million more to Iraq. (PBS, MidEast Web, New American)
- June 2: Assistant Secretary of State Elliot Abrams testifies before the Iran-Contra committee. Abrams admits to lying to Congress in earlier hearings, when he denied that the administration had solicited funds for the Contras from the Sultan of Brunei, a fact that was recently established in earlier testimony. But Abrams continues to lie, denying that he was involved in soliciting such funding, even though evidence shows that he himself flew to London to solicit $10 million from the Sultan. Abrams, like North, has no problem lying to either the committee or to the American people, if it furthers his ideological aims. (Abrams will eventually plead guilty to two lesser charges involving withholding information from Congress, and will be pardoned by Reagan's successor, George Bush. Abrams never feels the need to show any contrition or admit to any ethical or criminal wrongdoings.) After listening to Abrams's lies, Republican committee member Dick Cheney, who has intimate knowledge of the Iran-Contra affair that he never shares with the committee and knows for a fact that Abrams is lying, praises Abrams, saying, "I personally believe you have an extremely bright future in the public arena in the United States." (IBiblio, Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein)
- June 7: Oliver North testifies before the Iran-Contra committee. Driven by an almost fanatical certainty that he and the White House have done right in supplying the Contras no matter what laws he had broken or evidence he had concealed and destroyed, and blessed with a handsome, telegenic appearance, North will play the part of "America's martyr for freedom" so well that he turns the proceedings on their collective ear and puts the Democrats permanently on the defensive. Authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein call his a "bravura performance," and, quoting another writer, says that North "exhibited a righteous glow that made him look 'as if he were posting for an inspirational wall hanging.'" North testifies for six days, each day resplendent in full-dress Marine uniform with rows of ribbons. In his view, and that of hardline committee Republicans such as Dick Cheney -- who carefully coached and orchestrated his performance -- to even question him is to besmirch and attack the very institution of the military, as has (in North's view) happened since Vietnam. Indeed, North proclaims, "We didn't lose the war in Vietnam, we lost the war right here in this city."
- For two days, majority counsel John Nields grills North. North, who has immunity from prosecution, admits that he created "the Enterprise," the clandestine, illegal operation to fund and operate the Contras outside of the law, at the behest of the now-deceased CIA director William Casey. He admits that NSC director John Poindexter had authorized the transfer of money from Iranian arms sales to the Contras. And, like others before him, he says he is sure Reagan was aware of the operation (though the president, now suffering from advanced Alzheimer's, seems genuinely confused as to what he did and didn't know about the operation). He says that Attorney General Edwin Meese took part in meetings about the operations. North admits to destroying evidence to keep the operation's illegal details from coming to light. (His colleague John Poindexter admits days later that he destroyed a memo signed by Reagan authorizing the arms deal.) He admits to lying to Congress on more than one occasion -- "delivered with exaggerated self-justification," Dubose and Bernstein write. "I'd have offered the Iranians a free trip to Disneyland if we could have gotten Americans home for it," he proclaims in answer to one line of questioning about selling missiles to Iran. But North's testimony, explosive as it is, is a triumph of form over substance. "He made all his illegal acts -- the lying to Congress, the diversion, the formation of the Enterprise, the coverup -- seem logical and patriotic," Nield's co-counsel, Arthur Liman, later writes.
- Nields's choice to bore in on secret covert operations makes committee Democrats nervous. Some Democrats want to use the hearings to further their own objective of limiting such covert ops, but others want merely to get to the bottom of what happened regarding Iran-Contra. Most House members do not want to limit the president's -- any president's -- ability to use covert ops when necessary. "The issue for Cheney and [Henry] Hyde as well as [CIA director William] Colby was that [the hearings] would shut down the ability to conduct covert actions," recalls one GOP staffer.
- Even though North admits -- even brags about -- performing an array of illegal actions, Cheney and other GOP committee members are ecstatic about the image North portrays. He is probably "as effective as anybody we've ever had before the committee in coming forward very aggressively and stating what he did, saying why he did it, arguing that he was in fact authorized to take the activities that he did," one GOP staffer says.
- North parrots a line repeated by Cheney and other House Republicans throughout the hearings: because Congress always leaks much of what its members know, it cannot be trusted with classified information. North even goes so far as to claim that the hearings themselves are a breach: "I believe that these hearings, perhaps unintentionally so, have revealed matters of great secrecy in the operation of our government, and sources and methods of intelligence activities have clearly been revealeed, to the detriment of our security." However, Democratic chairman Daniel Inouye forces North to admit that he has no evidence to support these claims. In fact, as co-chairman Rudman later recalls, "The greatest leaks came out of the White House. North and company were the biggest leakers of all during that period."
- When Cheney takes his run at North on July 10, it is, in the words of Dubose and Bernstein, "more like a duet than an interrogation." Cheney lauds North, saying that "I speak for many people...Congress has been absolutely buried in favorable public reaction to your testimony and phone calls and telegrams. (North has taken to stacking such telegrams on his witness table -- what he doesn't mention is that Western Union is offering 50% discounts on pro-North telegrams.) Once Cheney's questioning begins, the orchestrated pas de deux begins. "It was apparent to me that there was coordination," Rudman later says. Bruce Fein, the research director for the Republican minority, later admits to "coordinat[ing] strategy," but says such collusion isn't unusual.
- Cheney, the ranking House Republican on the committee, is the chief coordinator. Through carefully rehearsed questioning and answering, Cheney gives North the chance to portray himself as just a patriot who wanted "to cut through red tape." When he asks North whether his eagerness to cut corners to help "the Resistance" helped generate political opposition that discouraged Congress from renewing aid, North gets a chance to emote. In a scene that could have come straight from a Frank Capra movie, North pleads, "Hang whatever you want around the neck of Ollie North...but for the love of God and the love of this nation, don't hang around Ollie North's neck the cutoff of funds to the Nicaraguan Resistance again. This country cannot stand that, not just because of Nicaragua, but because of all the other nations in the world who look at us and measure by what we do now in Nicaragua, the measure of our whole commitment to their cause. To things like NATO, to things like our commitment to peace and democracy elsewhere in the world."
- Cheney and North have successfully constructed what Dubose and Bernstein calls a "parallel right-wing fantasyland," running roughshod over the damage caused to America's international reputation by the Reagan administration's support of the Contras and its bartering of arms for hostages with the likes of Iran and Hezbollah. For them, the US mining of Nicaraguan harbors, swiftly repudiated by the World Court, is irrelevant. So is the brutality of the Contras, who routinely ducked confrontations with the Sandinistas and instead attacked hospitals and civilians. Europeans and Americans alike reacted with horror at the revelations of Contra savagery, but for Cheney, North, and their ilk, that is also irrelevant.
- Cheney and other Republicans, according to Fein, intend to lay out their paradigm of how government should work -- a nearly-monarchical paradigm that precludes Congressional oversight and skirts most Constitutional restrictions. One argument North advances to make this case is his citation of a 1936 Supreme Court decision, United States v. Curtiss-Wright, which involved an executive order by then-president Roosevelt issued at the behest of Congress that imposed an arms embargo on Bolivia and Paraguay, then at war with each other. Curtiss-Wright, the aviation firm charged with violating the ban, argued that the order was illegal. The Court found against Curtiss-Wright; the majority opinion established the "exclusive power of the president as the sole organ of the federal government in the field of international relations." But North's argument, based on the case, runs aground during questioning by Democratic senator George Mitchell, an accomplished lawyer. "The Supreme Court held again that it was within the purview of the [president] to conduct secret activities and to conduct secret negotiations to further the foreign policy goals of the United States," North asserts. Wrong, says Mitchell. "If I may just say, Colonel, the Curtiss-Wright case said no such thing. I just think the record should reflect that Curtiss-Wright was on a completely different factual situation and there is no such statement in the Curtiss-Wright case." (North gets to cite the case again after careful prompting from Republican Jim Courter.) When Louis Fisher, the majority's research director for the investigation, hears North, who is not a lawyer, cite the decision, he thinks, "Someone is feeding him this." Fisher says later, "This was one of the key arguments used by the Republicans and witnesses, and it was just a misuse of history."
- But North's testimony, orchestrated by Cheney and other Republicans, is so effective that Cheney allows North to use his final 20 minutes of questioning to present a slide show on the importance of funding the Contras. Dubose and Bernstein write, "The turnaround from defense to offense was complete." (IBiblio, Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein)
Reagan's "tear down this wall" speech
- June 12: Reagan, in a speech at Berlin's Brandenberg Gate, asks Gorbachev to raze the Berlin Wall: "General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization: Come here to this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!" This speech is widely credited for sparking the collapse of the Soviet Union, and while it played a key part in helping bring that about, that analysis ignores the many other factors involved in the collapse. (PBS)
Reagan's "secret government"
- July 5: A Miami Herald article exposes much information about the "secret government" operating almost unchecked in Washington since the Reagan administration's first days in office. The activities of this secret government, staffed by key Reagan advisors and officials, apparently extend well beyond the secret arms sales to Iran and the illegal aid to the Nicaraguan Contras now under investigation. One example is the plans drawn up by Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North to suspend the Constitution in time of a national crisis such as nuclear war, violent internal dissent, or national opposition to a US military invasion of another country. When the then-attorney general, William French Smith, learned of the proposal, he protested in writing to North's boss, then-national security adviser Robert McFarlane. Apparently Smith's protests were ignored.
- The advisors conducted their activities through secret contacts throughout the government with persons who acted at their direction but did not officially report to them. Investigators and knowledgeable officials say the contacts were coordinated by the National Security Council. There appears to have been no formal directive for the advisers' activities, which knowledgeable sources described as a parallel government. In a secret assessment of the activities, the lead counsel for the Senate Iran-Contra committee called it a "secret government-within-a-government." The arrangement permitted Reagan administration officials to claim that they were not involved in controversial or illegal activities, the officials say. "It was the ultimate plausible deniability," says a well-briefed official who has served the Reagan administration since 1982 and who often collaborated on covert assistance to the Nicaraguan contras. While the roles of Reagan's top officials, and Reagan himself, are not yet clear, the topic is expected to be addressed when North appears before the Iran-Contra committee to testify. Special prosecutor Lawrence Walsh also is believed to be trying to prove in his investigation of the Iran-Contra affair that government officials engaged in a criminal conspiracy.
- Much of the time, Cabinet secretaries and their aides were unaware of the advisors' activities. When they periodically detected operations, they complained or tried to derail them, interviews show. But no one ever questioned the activities in a broad way, possibly out of a belief that the advisers were operating with presidential sanction. Reagan did know of or approve at least some of the actions of the secret group, according to previous accounts by aides, friends and high-ranking foreign officials. One such case is the 1985 visit to Libya by William Wilson, then-US ambassador to the Vatican and a close Reagan friend, to meet with Libyan leader Colonel Moammar Qadhafi, officials said last week. Secretary of State George Shultz rebuked Wilson, but the officials said Reagan knew of the trip in advance.
- The center of the shadow government, which operated outside any strictures of Constitutional or federal law, seems to be in the office of Oliver North, who worked from 1983 to 1986 out of the Old Executive Office building. Sources say North's influence was so strong that he was able to unilaterally have the orbits of surveillance satellites changed to follow Soviet ships around the world, call for the launching of high-flying spy aircraft on secret missions over Cuba and Nicaragua, and become involved in sensitive domestic activities. Others in the structure included some of Reagan's closest friends and advisers, including former national security adviser William Clark, the late CIA Director William Casey, and Attorney General Edwin Meese. Congressional investigators said the Iran deal was just one of the group's initiatives. They say exposure of the unusual arrangement may be the legacy of their inquiry. "After we establish that a policy decision was made at the highest levels to transfer responsibility for contra support to the NSC...we favor examining how that decision was implemented," wrote Arthur Liman, chief counsel of the Senate committee, in a secret memorandum to panel leaders Senators Daniel Inouye and Warren Rudman before hearings began May 5. "This is the part of the story that reveals the whole secret government-within-a-government, operated from the [Executive Office Building] by a Lt. Col., with its own army, air force, diplomatic agents, intelligence operatives and appropriations capacity," Limon wrote in the memo. The White House, of course, denies everything. "The president has constantly expressed his foreign policy positions to the public and has consulted with the Congress," says an official.
- No one who will talk seems to know the full extent of the secret government's activities, but, based on investigations and personal experience, investigators and officials believe the secret governing structure actually can be traced to October 1980, when Reagan campaign officials created an "October Surprise Group" to monitor then-president Jimmy Carter's attempts to negotiate with Iran for the release of 52 American hostages. The OSG, headed by campaign foreign policy advisor Richard Allen, not only monitored Carter's efforts to gain the release of the hostages and assess the impact of the negotiations on the impending election, but took action, meeting with an Iranian representative to conduct their own illegal negotiations for the delay of the hostages' release until after the elections. Such interference with Carter's negotiations can only be characterized as high treason. Both Allen and another campaign aide, Laurence Silberman, have confirmed that the meeting took place, and confirmed that Robert McFarlane, then a Senate Armed Services Committee aide for the Republicans, arranged and attended the meeting. McFarlane later became Reagan's national security adviser and played a key role in the Iran-Contra affair. Allen and Silberman said they rejected the offer to release the hostages to Reagan, but mounds of circumstantial evidence proves that their negotiations were successful -- Carter's negotiations were sabotaged, the hostages were not released until January 1981, and Reagan, benefiting from voter anger over the supposed failure of the elections, won a razor-thin election victory.
- The same group of campaign advisors apparently arranged the theft of a Carter campaign debate briefing before the October 28, 1980 debate. The thieves apparently delivered the briefing book to Casey, who passed it to another Reagan campaign aide, James Baker, who became Reagan's first chief of staff. The briefing book allowed Reagan campaign aides to prepare their candidate for the debate, which most media pundits awarded to Reagan.
- Once Reagan was sworn in, the group moved quickly to set itself up, officials say. Within months, the advisers were clashing with officials in the traditional agencies. Six weeks after Reagan was sworn in, apparently over State Department objections, then-CIA director Casey submitted a proposal to Reagan calling for covert support of anti-Sandinista groups that had fled Nicaragua after the 1979 revolution. It is still unclear whether Casey cleared the plan with Reagan. But in November 1981 the CIA secretly flew an Argentine military leader, General Leopoldo Galtieri, to Washington to devise a secret agreement under which Argentine military officers trained Nicaraguan rebels, according to an administration official familiar with the agreement. About the same time, North completed his transfer to the NSC from the Marine Corps. Those who worked with North in 1981 remember his first assignments as routine, although not unimportant. North, they recalled, was briefly assigned to carry the "football," the briefcase containing the secret contingency plans for fighting a nuclear war, which is taken everywhere the president goes. North later widened his assignment to cover national crisis contingency planning. In that capacity he became involved with the controversial national crisis plan drafted by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
- From 1982 to 1984, North assisted FEMA, the US government's chief national crisis-management unit, in revising contingency plans for dealing with nuclear war, insurrection or massive military mobilization. North's involvement with FEMA set off the first major clash between the official government and the advisers and led to the formal letter of protest in 1984 from then-Attorney General Smith. A government official familiar with North's collaboration with FEMA says then-Director Louis Guiffrida, a close friend of Meese's, mentioned North in meetings during that time as FEMA's NSC contact. FEMA spokesman Bill McAda confirms the relationship. "Officials of FEMA met with Col. North during 1982 to 1984," McAda recalls. "These meetings were appropriate to Col. North's duties with the National Security Council and FEMA's responsibilities in certain areas of national security." FEMA's clash with Smith occurred over a secret contingency plan that called for suspension of the Constitution, turning control of the United States over to FEMA, appointment of military commanders to run state and local governments and declaration of martial law during a national crisis. The plan did not define national crisis, but it was understood to be nuclear war, violent and widespread internal dissent or national opposition against a military invasion abroad. The official says the contingency plan was written as part of an executive order or legislative package that Reagan would sign and hold within the NSC until a severe crisis arose. The martial law portions of the plan were outlined in a June 30, 1982, memo by Guiffrida's deputy for national preparedness programs, John Brinkerhoff. The scenario outlined in the Brinkerhoff memo resembled somewhat a paper Guiffrida had written in 1970 at the Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, in which he advocated martial law in case of a national uprising by black militants. The paper also advocated the roundup and transfer to "assembly centers or relocation camps" of at least 21 million "American Negroes." The FEMA plans alarmed Smith, who sent a letter to McFarlane on August 2, 1984 lodging his objections and urging a delay in signing the directive. "I believe that the role assigned to the Federal Emergency Management Agency in the revised Executive Order exceeds its proper function as a coordinating agency for emergency preparedness," Smith said in the letter to McFarlane. "This department and others have repeatedly raised serious policy and legal objections to the creation of an 'emergency czar' role for FEMA." It is unclear whether the executive order was signed or whether it contained the martial law plans. Congressional sources familiar with national disaster procedures said they believe Reagan did sign an executive order in 1984 that revised national military mobilization measures to deal with civilians in case of nuclear war or other crisis.
- North, showing a personal interest, was then transferred from national crisis management to international covert management of the Contras. Neither the State Department nor anyone else wanted to deal with the Contras after it became clear early in 1984 that Congress was moving to bar official aid to the rebels. The new assignment, plus North's natural organizational ability, creativity and the sheer energy he dedicated to the issue, gradually led to an expansion of his power and stature within the covert structure, officials and investigators believe. Meese also was said to have played a role in the secret government, investigators now believe, but his role is less clear. Meese sometimes referred private American citizens to the NSC so they could be screened and contacted for soliciting support for the Nicaraguan contras. One of those supporters, Philip Mabry of Fort Worth, recalls that in 1983 he was told by fellow conservatives in Texas to contact Meese, then White House counselor, if he wanted to help the contras. After he contacted Meese's office, Mabry received a letter from Meese advising him that his name had been given to the "appropriate people." Shortly thereafter, Mabry recalls, a woman who identified herself as Meese's secretary gave him the name and phone number of another NSC secretary who, in turn, gave him North and his secretary, Fawn Hall, as contacts.
- North also took on the role of secret overseer of State's Office of Public Diplomacy, through which the Reagan administration disseminated information that cast Nicaragua as a threat to its neighbors and the United States. North directly handled most of the best-publicized news leaks, including the November 4, 1984, Election Day announcement (later proven false) that Soviet-made MiG jet fighters were on their way to Nicaragua. McFarlane is now believed to have been the senior administration official who told reporters that the Soviet cargo ship Bakuriani, en route to Nicaragua from a Soviet Black Sea port, was probably carrying MiGs. The intelligence official said North apparently recommended that the information be leaked to the press on Election Day so it would reach millions of people watching election results. CBS and NBC broadcast the report that night.
- Not everyone liked the news leaks. State's official spokesman, John Hughes, tried hard to play down the report, noting that it was unproven that the Soviet ship actually carried MiGs. At the same time, employees of the Office of Public Diplomacy, acting under North's direction, insisted that the crates were inside the ship and that MiGs were still a possibility. North ordered an SR-71 spy plane overfly the Nicaraguan port of Corinto while the Bakuriani unloaded its cargo; the spy plane proved that the cargo ship unloaded helicopters, not fighter planes.
- North was also part of a semi-official unit called RIGLET, which included Alan Fiers, a CIA Central American affairs officer, and assistant secretary of state and veteran covert operative Elliot Abrams. Abrams's subordinate Richard Melton revealed the existence of RIGLET (the name is a diminutive of RIG, Restricted Interagency Group) in a deposition given to the Iran-Contra committees. RIGLET ordered the US ambassador to Costa Rica, Lewis Tambs, to assist the Contras in setting up a front in southern Nicaragua; Tambs verified the assignment to Iran-Contra investigators.
- Perhaps the linchpin to the secret government was the role played by Reagan's second national security advisor, William Clark. It was during Clark's tenure that North began to gain influence in the NSC. Clark also recruited several midlevel officers from the Pentagon and the CIA to work on a special Central American task force in 1983 to push aid for El Salvador, a task force member recalls. "Judge Clark was the granddaddy of the system," he says. "I was working at the Pentagon on another issue when my boss said that because of special circumstances, I was to be reassigned to the task force." Clark also had approved contacts between Vatican Ambassador William Wilson and Libya before Wilson's November 1985 journey, which came after McFarlane replaced Clark at the NSC. Wilson also carried out secret missions for the Reagan administration in an unidentified Latin American country where Wilson reportedly maintained contacts with high-level officials. (Miami Herald/Free Press International)
- August: As Yugoslavia's Communist regime crumbles, Serbian politician Slobodan Milosevic visits the separatist province of Kosovo, then torn between advocating a closer alliance with Serbia and becoming part of Albania. His fiery rhetoric inflame Kosovan Serbs to ally themselves with him, and by year's end, Milosevic takes the leadership of Serbia. Milosevic will oversee "democratic reforms" in Serbia and Kosovo, although the proud words of the new constitution will not often be observed by Milosevic's regime, which ensures its dominance through vote-rigging, strict control of the news media, and human rights abuses. (Wikipedia)
- August 3: Congress completes its public hearings on Iran-Contra. Both Oliver North and John Poindexter are granted limited immunity from prosecution for their testimony (see above items). The report concludes, "We may never know with precision or truth why it ever happened.," Meanwhile, Reagan's close aides Lyn Nofziger and Michael Deaver are convicted of influence peddling. Attorney General Edwin Meese is "investigated" and cleared. Nofziger's conviction is overturned on appeal. (PBS)
Robert Bork blocked from US Supreme Court, infuriating conservatives
- October: Reagan's nominee for the Supreme Court, Robert Bork, is blocked from taking the bench by a well-coordinated opposition from Democrats, liberals, libertarians, and others. Bork's confirmation hearings, aired for two weeks on American television, show Bork to be a vituperative, inflexible extremist, vehemently anti-gay, anti-environment, anti-civil rights, and in favor of breaking down the barriers between the three branches of government. His far-right stance and combative demeanor costs him dearly in the public eye, and Congress rejects his nomination. This galvanizes the right wing of American politics; for years afterwards, they will use Bork's defeat as a rallying cry for advancing their own agenda. A cottage industry of misinformation has appeared over the years to explain why Bork was treated unfairly: accusations that his positions were misrepresented, that his privacy was violated to the point where his video rentals were being subpoenaed, and that he was subjected to unfair partisan and personal attacks, all have been disproven, but still carry weight in some circles. Former right-wing journalist David Brock writes, "More than any single figure, for the right, Bork's nomination represented the culmination of a strategy put in place at the beginning of the Reagan administration to force a right-wing economic and social agenda on the country by judicial fiat." Bork's nomination also brings the shadowy Federalist Society to light; the Society is a legal network devoted to "restricting privacy rights and reproductive freedoms, rolling back civil rights gains, and thwarting the authority of government to regulate industry in the public interest." Members include Bork, future Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, Attorney General Edwin Meese, William Bradford Reynolds, Theodore Olson, Kenneth Starr, Laurence Silberman, and many others. (FAIR, People for the American Way, David Brock)
"The left at its core understands in a way Grant understood after Shiloh that this is a civil war, that only one side will prevail, and that the other side will be relegated to history. This war has to be fought with the scale and duration and savagery that is only true of civil wars. While we are lucky in this country that our civil wars are fought at the ballot box, not on the battlefields, nonetheless it is a civil war." -- Newt Gingrich, rallying the right wing after Robert Bork's Supreme Court nomination is rejected, 1988 (David Brock)
- November 16: A day before the official majority report from the Iran-Contra investigative committee is due to be released (printing problems delay the report from coming out until November 18), the Republican minority, led by House member Dick Cheney, leaks its own report in a successful attempt to upstage the majority. The Democratic leadership, in an excess of bipartisanship, has made numerous concessions to the Republicans in order to be able to release a unanimous report, but the Republicans take the concessions and then refuse to join in the report. The Democrats agreed to leave out controversial aspects of the conclusions, such as accusations of an administration coverup and evidence directly supporting that claim. The Republicans took the concessions and then reneged. "From the get-go, [Dick Cheney and Henry Hyde] wanted a minority report," says minority research director Bruce Fein.
- In the minority report, the Republicans, with the exception of committee members Warren Rudman, Paul Trible, and William Cohen, accuse the majority of engaging in a "witch hunt" against Reagan and the White House. "There was no constitutional crisis, no systematic disrespect for 'the rule of law,' no grand conspiracy, and no administration-wide dishonesty or coverup," the report declares. "In our view, the administration did proceed logically in pursuing both its [C]ontra policy and the Iran arms initiative." Rudman calls the report "pathetic," saying he and his GOP colleagues had "separated the wheat from the chaff and saved the chaff." The Democrats largely ignore the minority report. As one staff member later recalls, "This was '87. We had a substantial majority and the Republicans were trained to be what we thought was a permanent minority party. When they would yap and yell, we would let them yap. It just didn't matter."
- The majority report finds that the "clandestine financing operation" of Iran-Contra "undermined the powers of Congress as a coequal brance and subverted the Constitution." The Reagan administration had violated a key tenet of the Framers that "the purse and the sword must never be in the same hands."
- Cheney leads the Republicans in ignoring the findings of the majority; indeed, they intend to thwart any attempts to enact any reforms. On November 23, Cheney tells reporters that Democrats are in for a "big fight" if they try to impose any limits on covert action or the president's ability to conduct foreign policy. Cheney does not want to see bipartisan legislation that would require the president to notify Congress within 48 hours of covert ops, among other proposed restrictions. Cheney and his fellow hardliners will ultimately be successful in blocking any reforms coming out of Iran-Contra. (Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein)
- December 22: The UN Security Council condemns Israeli actions in the occupied territories; Arab states begin funding the Palestinian intifada. (Dan Cohn-Sherbok)
- Late 1987: The Iraqi Air Force begins using chemical weapons against Kurdish resistance forces in northern Iraq. Many of these chemical weapons have been supplied by the United States. (Iran Chamber Society)
1980 photo of Iraqi warplanes attacking Iranian forces.
- 1987 - 1989: Uncounted hundreds of US visas are issued to unqualified applicants by the US consular office in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. According to the former head of the US Consulate in Jeddah, Michael Springmann, he complained repeatedly about the visas being issued, and pointed out that in many cases these visas were issued to known terrorists. Springmann says that many of the visas were issued to "engineers" going to an engineering conference, but could not name the schools they attended. Springmann denied their visas, but was overruled by superiors. Springmann was eventually fired and the records he kept on these questionable visas were destroyed before they could be examined. Springmann later says that he knows many, many terrorists connected to bin Laden in Afghanistan were issued visas, and claims that the Jeddah consulate was run almost entirely by CIA agents. 15 of the 19 hijackers on 9/11 got their visas through Jeddah. Springmann believes that the illicit issuing of visas continued until September 11, 2001. Another consular official, John Moller, says, "I was against the issuance of nonimmigrant visas except within the regulations. ...I was unable to get anyone to relent on the matter, and, rather than endure the situation further, elected to take my retirement." Another consular official, Lonnie Washington, got no answers when she asked why her repeated telegrams to Washington questioning the visas were purged from the files, an unprecedented act considering the "secret" classification of the telegrams. Martin Groeneweg of the US embassy delegation to Saudi Arabia wonders why the CIA was, in his words, "playing fast and loose" with the visa applications. Springmann later determines that many of the applicants, some sent by Osama bin Laden, were being brought into the US for terrorist training for use against the Soviets in Afghanistan, in part orchestrated and executed by the World Association for Muslim Youth (WAMY), a known Islamic terrorist front group. Ironic that these terrorist trainees, invited into the US by Reagan and Bush, were the same ones who would attack the US twelve years later. (Greg Palast, CCR, Greg Palast)
- 1987 - 1992: US arms are used by Israel to repress the first Palestinian Intifada. During this time period, the US vetoes five Security Council resolutions condemning Israeli repression. (ZNet)