Encore: Iran Contra | Don and Ed | 3American Scandal
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When the story breaks that senior U.S. government officials secretly traded arms for hostages, Congress and the American people demand answers. Chief of Staff Don Regan and Attorney General Ed Meese begin building a wall around the President. This episode originally December 11, 2018.Listen ad-free on Wondery+ hereSupport us by supporting our sponsors!Honey - Get Honey for FREE at Join Honey.com/SCANDAL.Better Help - Get 10% off your first month at betterhelp.com/as.
It's early November 1986, a magazine reporter sits in his office in Washington, D.C., he's supposed to be grinding out a deadline, but he's having a hard time concentrating. The D.C. rumor mill is firing on all cylinders and the office is abuzz. A few days ago, al Shara'a, a Lebanese periodical, broke the political story of the decade. Senior U.S. government officials, including former national security adviser Robert Bud McFarlane and Lt. Col. Oliver North, made a secret trip to Iran to trade arms for hostages.
The story was confirmed by the speaker of the Iranian parliament. So far, though, it's been radio silence at the White House. They have neither confirmed nor denied the story for reporters all across Washington. It's a frantic race for the truth, but this reporter is about to snatch a big scoop. Yeah, hello. You got a minute?
Immediately, the reporter knows who's on the other end of the line. He'd recognize that voice anywhere. And he knows this particular man doesn't call journalists unless he has something to say. Are you alone? Hang on a sec. He quickly closes the door to his office. Are we on record? No, I'll talk on background. Right. Who do I say you are? An anonymous source close to the White House. Anonymous it is. We got this Iran ordeal.
There's more to the story. I'm listening. First of all, this was not the president's doing. The reporter nearly spits out his coffee. A delegation of top White House officials go on a secret mission to Iran and the president doesn't even know about it. Come on. Look, the president wants the hostages back, period, but that's not the issue. The issue is who's behind the operation. Everyone is looking at the Oval Office for answers, but they're looking in the wrong place.
All right. Where should they be running? The National Security Council. But the NSC answers to the president. Not this time, at least not directly. So who's pulling the strings? Bud McFarlane, the reporter, grabs a pen and paper and starts furiously scribbling notes like Bud resigned. Reagan forced him out. Here is all I'm willing to say. Iran is a rogue NSA operation, but was way off the reservation on this. Reagan didn't know about it because but never told him.
I give you enough to go on. Yeah, I'll call if I need anything else. Don't. This conversation never happened. On November six, nineteen eighty seven, Reagan tells reporters at the al Shara'a story has no foundation beyond that. His cabinet is divided on how to respond. Some favor Reagan telling the American people the truth. Others favor Reagan saying something, but not everything, while still others favor silence. Believing the best comment is no comment at all.
But Don Regan doesn't wait for a consensus. Don takes matters into his own hands. He talks to multiple reporters. He fingers. But as the central culprit, the mastermind behind the Iran operation, Don tries to plant a story, but it never gets published. That's because reporters start calling the White House, asking officials to comment on Buddz role in the scandal. A co-worker tips but off. But is furious this isn't the first time Don Regan has tried to besmirch his character and it certainly isn't the first time, but has faced a tough fight, but is a soldier, a former Marine?
He responds to Don's treachery by doing what a soldier does best. He fights back. American scandal is sponsored by Animal for centuries, books have been our richest source of learning and entertainment. But as far back as ancient Rome, avid readers have wondered how they could continue reading while doing ordinary tasks like threshing wheat, spinning flax or quashing rebellions. Now we have the answer audiobooks and there's no better place to find them than Audible and their new plus catalog with thousands of select audio books, podcasts, audio originals and more all included with membership audible members get one credit every month good for any title in the entire premium selection of best sellers and new releases, regardless of price to keep forever.
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The podcast exposes the truth and lies of online dating. Subscribe on Apple podcast Spotify or wherever you're listening now. From wandering, I'm Lindsey Graham and this is American scandal. When it comes to American political scandals, it's not always the scandal itself that gets people in the most trouble. It's often the steps they take to cover it up in the days after the arms for hostages story breaks. And now Shara'a, there's a mad scramble in the White House to construct a narrative.
Whoever can tell the most compelling story and get the public to believe it would in a sense be writing the first draft of history and deciding who takes the fall. Two men in President Reagan's orbit set out to do just that. Chief of Staff Don Regan and someone who has so far only been tangentially involved but will soon play a large role in the attempt to cover up Iran-Contra. Attorney General Ed Meese. This is Episode three, Don and Ed, it's November 8th, 1986.
National Security Adviser John Poindexter and Chief of Staff Don Regan meet for breakfast in Washington, D.C.. This is not a social outing. It's strictly business. And the mood is tense. Poindexter looks darn right in the eye. Don, we need to talk. Let's talk then. It's about. But Don knows exactly where this conversation is headed. When Don fingered Bud to the press, he knew there was a chance Bud would find out what he was a risk worth taking.
Don's not blaming, but to be cruel, though there's certainly no love lost between them. Don is trying to protect the president, but is angry. Don, he sent me this. It's a copy of a private message sent to Poindexter from Bud McFarlane when Bud resigned in late 1985. Don was happy to see him go. But Don knows full well Bud never really left the White House. He keeps a secure line to Poindexter and Ollie North through his NSC computer and stays in close communication with them both.
Read it. I don't need to read it, John. I know what it says, Don. Read it. Don begrudgingly picks up the piece of paper and scans the document. One sentence sticks out. In particular, Bud writes, This will be the second line Don Regan has sown against my character and I won't stand for it. He's threatening to sue you for singling him out. But be smart, Don. We need Bob on our side.
I need to know you're going to back off. But backing off is not what Don does. He's a scrapper. He grew up poor in the Irish section of Boston, but he pull himself up by his bootstraps. A year after the outbreak of World War Two, he dropped out of Harvard Law School to join the Marine Corps. After the war, Don took a job at Merrill Lynch. He worked his way up to the top, becoming Merrill's chairman and CEO before going to work in government.
Don didn't make it to the top by backing down from a fight. But he knows Poindexter has a point. Blaming bad might protect the president, but Bob could hurt him, too. He could hurt all of them because Bud knows everything about Iran-Contra. So Don reluctantly agrees. All right, John, I'll back off. Thank you, Don. There are records proving this breakfast meeting happened, but not exactly what was said in the conversation. But there are records of a private message Poindexter sent to Bud right after the breakfast.
The message is short and to the point Don will keep his mouth shut. On the morning of November 10th, Reagan and his top advisers gather at the White House, the al Shara'a story has been public knowledge for a week and the press is demanding answers. The question is, how will Reagan respond? Most of Reagan's advisers want the president to stay silent, but his chief of staff, Don Regan, sees it differently. Reagan is getting murdered in the press, and Don wants Reagan to be proactive in the meeting.
Don implores the president. We must get a statement out now. We are being attacked and we are being hurt. Reagan agrees. We must say something he says and then adds caveat, but not much. For one thing, the hostages are still in the hands of terrorists and any statement might provoke their captors to violence. For another thing, if Reagan is too forthcoming, he might provoke Congress into taking action against him. National Security Adviser John Poindexter has a solution to Reagan's dilemma.
He lays out a narrative for the room, a false narrative. The Iran operation was never about arms for hostages, he proposes. It was about reengaging Iran and establishing contact with moderate elements inside the country. And it only started after Reagan signed a formal finding in January 1986. Anything that happened before was all Israel's doing. But Don thinks this approach makes the president vulnerable. Don wants to protect the president and in order to do that, he believes that eventually someone's head will have to roll someone other than the president's.
From Dawn's perspective point, Dexter's narrative is not protecting the president, it's putting him in harm's way. But Don also knows it's not his decision to make. In the end, this decision, like all decisions, belongs to President Reagan. Ultimately, Reagan accepts Poindexter false narrative, but before Reagan tells the story to the American people, he'll have to tell it to Congress. In mid-November, eighty five members of the press aren't the only ones demanding answers about the Iran arms deal.
Since the official story broke, Congress has been putting pressure on the White House to make a disclosure about what really happened. In response, Reagan decides to meet Congress head on on November 12th at 2:00 p.m., nine days after the Outdraw story breaks, Reagan and his top advisers hold a closed door meeting with key members of Congress in The Situation Room.
There are some big congressional players present. Senate Minority Leader Robert Byrd, future presidential candidate Bob Dole, and a no nonsense congressman from Wyoming. House Representative Dick Cheney, Dole and Cheney are Republicans and they're big supporters of Ronald Reagan. But today they're here to ask tough questions about the Iran arms deal. Questions like, did the United States trade arms for hostages? And if so, who knew what? When Poindexter leads off the meeting and lays out the false narrative, the Iran operation was about reengaging Iran and establishing contact with moderate elements inside the country.
It was never about arms for hostages. Right off the bat, Senator Byrd asks a tough question. When did we first make contact with Iran? Poindexter answers. The process began in November 1985, but Poindexter claims no transfer of material had taken place until Reagan signed the finding in January 86. Poindexter does not tell the congressman about the November 1985 Hawk mission or the finding Reagan signed after the fact, the finding that was never delivered to Congress. Poindexter, seated at a table in the White House with some of the most powerful men in the country lies.
Poindexter is not the only one bending the truth in the meeting, Reagan tells the congressman that the Iran initiative was principally a covert intelligence operation that involved no negotiations with terrorists. Its purpose was to enhance America's position in the Middle East. Don Regan doesn't say much in the meeting, but he has to be frustrated. His goal is to protect President Reagan. And Reagan just played fast and loose with the truth to Congress, which makes his job of protecting the president all that much harder.
After the meeting, Reagan is frustrated. The congressmen are skeptical. The media is still in a frenzy and the target is still squarely on Reagan's back. Right after the meeting, Secretary of State George Shultz pulls Don Regan aside, he tells Don the same thing he's been saying since the Asharaf story first broke. Reagan is in serious trouble. He urges, Don, the president must come forward and tell the truth. It's the only way to get the people on his side and to get Congress off his back.
Don, calm down. The president has made his decision about what he wants to say about the Iran deal. It's important now that everyone stays on the same page and sticks to the company line. Donna Schultz to make the rounds on the Sunday talk shows to get the word out. President Reagan did not trade arms for hostages. That's been his policy and that will always be his policy. Schultz agrees. But deep down, he's very worried. A few days back in a closed door meeting between Reagan and his advisers, Shultz was the lone man advocating that Reagan go public with the whole truth when Poindexter is false.
Narrative was floated in the meeting, Schultz was incredulous. He asked the room, How can you say the hostages? And then missile shipments aren't linked. Reagan fired back. It's not linked. Schultz left the meeting early. He stormed back to the State Department. One of his aides asked if everything was all right, and Schultz exploded. He railed against Reagan's advisers there, distorting the record. They're trying to get the president to lie. They're dragging him down a drain.
It's Watergate all over again. Schultz isn't the only one worried that Iran-Contra could be another Watergate.
In his diary on the same day as the meeting with Congress, President Reagan writes, The press looks like it's trying to create another Watergate. I want to go public and tell the people the truth.
We are trying to arrange it for tomorrow. The next day on November 13th, 10 days after the al Shara'a story broke, Reagan addresses the nation from the Oval Office. What what he gives them isn't exactly the truth. Good evening.
I know you've been reading, seeing and hearing a lot of stories the past several days attributed to deigning Saylor's unnamed observers at Italian ports and Spanish harbors and especially unnamed government officials of my administration. As Will Rogers once said, rumor travels faster, but it don't stay put as long as truth. So let's get to the facts. The charge has been made that the United States has shipped weapons to Iran as ransom payment for the release of American hostages in Lebanon, that the United States undercut its allies and secretly violated American policy against trafficking with terrorists.
Those charges are utterly false. The United States has not made concessions to those who hold our people captive in Lebanon, and we will not. The United States has not swapped boatloads of planeloads of American weapons for the return of American hostages. And we will not. As president, I have always operated on the belief that, given the facts, the American people will make the right decision. I believe that to be true now. Thank you and God bless.
The public doesn't buy it. After his address, President Reagan's popularity starts to plummet. Polls show that for every American who accepts Reagan's version of events, six more doubt him. They believe Reagan's administration traded arms for hostages, that Reagan knew about the operation and he authorized it. But still, he denied it over and over again on November 12th. He denied it to Congress in The Situation Room on November 13th. He denied it to the American people in his Oval Office address.
But after that address, there are numerous leaks from the White House and the false narrative starts to unravel. The same day as Reagan's televised remarks, reporters put the screws to Poindexter.
He caves under the pressure. Poindexter admits that a small amount of weapons had gone to Iran in connection with the first release of a hostage. This is a major problem for the president, Poindexter. His confession confirms on the record that Reagan was not telling the whole truth, not to Congress, not to the American people. But in a press conference on November 19th, Reagan doubles down.
Mr. President, you have stated flatly and you stated flatly again tonight that you did not trade weapons for hostages. And yet this record shows that every time an American hostage was released last September, this July, and again just this very month, there had been a major shipment of arms just before that. Are we all to believe that was just a coincidence?
This the only thing I know about major shipments of arms. As I've said, everything that we saw them could be put in one cargo plane and there would be plenty of room left over, sir, if I may.
The polls show that a lot of American people just simply don't believe that. But the one thing that you've had going for you more than anything else in your presidency, your credibility has been severely damaged. Can you repair it? What does it mean for the rest of your presidency?
Well, I imagine I'm the only one around who wants to repair it. And I didn't do have anything to do with this if damaging it.
Reagan's words might be true to him, but Don Regan, who is watching in the wings, knows they're not true to the facts. With every statement he makes, Reagan digs the hole deeper and edges closer to the precipice of danger. Don wants to get the press and the American people and by extension, Congress off the president's back. Don knows for that to happen, someone will have to take the fall. And in order for that to happen, everyone in the White House will have to speak with a unified voice.
But in order to craft a convincing narrative, you have to start from a baseline of truth. No more contradictions, no more slips. President Reagan is having a difficult time with that concept. Don is starting to understand that the protection President Reagan needs is not protection from his political enemies or his detractors in the media. Reagan needs protection from himself. American scandal is sponsored by honey these days, especially, we're all shopping online and we've all seen that promo code feel the checkout and it makes you wonder how much of my overpaying by not having a code, you might even stop shopping and start Googling your famo.
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He doesn't have a lot of friends in politics, but he and Reagan are definitely kindred spirits. Secondly, there's something else that might be driving, Don. Feeling of personal responsibility. Don once boasted that not even a sparrow could fly to the White House without his hearing about it. He has a tight lid on everything. And yet this Iran-Contra scandal is unraveling on his watch and his friend, President Reagan, is in the line of fire. On November 20th, 17 days after the Shara'a story breaks, Don Regan and Secretary of State George Shultz meet with President Reagan in the family quarters of the White House for 45 minutes.
Shultz tries desperately to get Reagan to face the truth. He did trade arms for hostages, but Reagan doesn't see it. He contends that because he never intended to trade arms for hostages, he had never done so. Schultz reminds the president that Bud McFarland had told him about the 1985 Hawk shipment Reagan response. Oh, I knew about that. But that wasn't arms for hostages. Schultz is gobsmacked, he later tells an aide, we didn't shake him one bit.
He refuses to see we have a problem. Reagan is blind to his own potential culpability, but there is someone else who fully understands the gravity of the situation. Reagan's attorney general, Ed Meese. At first glance, Ed Meese doesn't look like much his droopy skin and Perman bags under his exhausted looking eyes. But Ed is a smart, calculating man, a fastidious man known for taking copious, detailed notes. And like most around him in the administration, he was fiercely loyal to Ronald Reagan and has been following the Iran story closely.
And like Don, he's worried about the president's public statements. He's worried Reagan is backing himself into a corner he cannot get out of. On the morning of November 21st, 18 days after the ouster of a story breaks, Ed decides to take matters into his own hands. He gathers his top deputies in his office in D.C. and lays out his plan and tells his staff he's going to convince President Reagan that a fact finding mission is needed. An internal investigation to find out the answer to the question everyone is asking about the Iran deal, who knew what and when the Iran deal is a National Security Council operation.
So before Ed goes to the president, he calls the head of the NSC, national security adviser John Poindexter. It's bright and early on Friday, November 21st, 1986, National Security Adviser Poindexter sits at his desk poring over large stack of memos. This is Poindexter. John Poindexter isn't surprised to get a call from Attorney General Ed Meese. He and Meese have been in constant contact throughout the month of November. The Iran arms scandal is a major crisis and it's all hands on deck.
What can I do for you? Listen, there's a disagreement in the cabinet about what happened in November 85 with the hawk shipment. I've told you everything I know. I know you have a meeting with the president at the White House at eleven thirty. We're going to talk through the timeline with the cabinet to try and sort out the disagreement. I'd like you to be there. Of course, I don't think I have to tell you how important this November hauk situation is if the president knew about it in advance.
Yes, I know. Well, we just need to get this thing cleared up to make sure we're all on the same page. Absolutely. One of the things, John. Yes, I'm going to be sending over a few of my people this afternoon to help me piece of the puzzle together. I was hoping you might pull some documents from my guys. What documents? Just anything pertinent. Anything material. Can I count on you of? You're my full cooperation.
Great. I'll see you at the meeting. When Poindexter hangs up the phone, he knows what he has to do. Poindexter has the CIA findings from the November eighty five heart mission in his office. The finding Reagan signed right after it went sideways, the finding that was never delivered to Congress. Poindexter knows that document is an embarrassment to the president and even more, he knows it's a serious legal liability. So Poindexter takes the finding in his hands and tears it to pieces.
Poindexter and Ed Meese meet with President Reagan in the White House later that day.
Chief of Staff Don Regan joins them and believes that if Reagan knew about the 85 hawk shipment and if he authorized it and if he didn't inform Congress, then the president is in serious jeopardy and tells Reagan that he wants to nail down the facts and put together a complete version of the truth. He asked Reagan to give him the weekend to sort it out. Reagan agrees and officially orders and to launch a fact finding mission. The real purpose of Ed's expedition is subject to debate.
It's either an honest attempt to help President Reagan understand the truth or it's an attempt to cover it up while making it look like no stone was left unturned. On Saturday morning, the day after his meeting with Reagan and sits down with Secretary of State George Shultz, Shultz tells Ed the president admitted knowing about the November 85 hawk shipment, but had already knows that he attended a meeting earlier in the month where the hawk shipments were discussed.
The two Israeli shipments that predated the hawk shipments were also discussed and is a meticulous note taker. Over the weekend. Ed calls Don Regan on the phone multiple times to talk about what he knows. But curiously, Ed does not take notes during those calls. In fact, he doesn't keep any record of his talks with Don. When asked later about the content of these conversations and will say he does not recall, Don will say he doesn't recall either. A lot of people don't recall.
Next, Ed talks to Don's nemesis, Bud McFarlane, but tells Ed that although he doesn't have proof in writing, there's no doubt in his mind President Reagan definitely knew about the 1985 hawk shipment. While Ed is questioning Reagan's cabinet, his deputies at the Justice Department start digging through NSC records. There's a mountain of paperwork, internal communications memos and routine filings. For the most part, it's typical bureaucratic red tape. But when they make their way to the records from Ali North Office, they find something explosive.
When Ed Meese starts his internal fact finding investigation, the Iran operation is public knowledge, but the diversion is not. And the connection to Nicaragua is still under wraps throughout 1985 and 86. There are rumors in the press about the contra operation. There are even rumors that Ollie North is the one pulling the strings. But there was never a smoking gun. In October 1986, when Eugene Hasenfus plane crashed into the Nicaraguan jungle, those rumors reached a fever pitch.
But repeated denials from the Reagan administration satisfied Congress and reduce the heat from the press. And when the al-Sarraf story broke, the media's attention shifted away from Nicaragua completely. No one knew the two stories were linked, but Ali did, so when Ed starts his fact finding expedition, all knows he's in hot water. And he also knows it's only a matter of time before lawyers from the Department of Justice search his office. And if the paper trail for Iran-Contra is discovered, it could be a serious problem for President Reagan and for all, too.
On November 21st, Ollie North fires up his government issue, industrial strength paper shredder and starts destroying documents. He doesn't do it alone. He has the help of his personal secretary, a fiercely loyal woman from Virginia named Fawn Hall. It's November 21st, 1986, for Fawn Hall, the day starts like any other. She drives a sixteen hundred Pennsylvania Avenue, makes her way through security and walks downstairs to the basement of the White House. She makes a pot of coffee, pours herself a cup and heads to her desk.
Fonds come a long way from her hometown of Annandale, Virginia. Annandale's only about a half hour southwest of D.C. but for a southern gal from pretty much nowhere, the office of the National Security Council is a big deal. That Friday morning, her boss burst into the room.
Fawn? Yes, sir. I need your help. Normally, Colonel North is a pretty happy go lucky guy. Today, though, something's different. Fan knows right away that whatever's going on, it is serious.
What do you need? I've marked up these documents. OK, I need you to make some alterations. The colonel stricken through several sentences on each page and he scribbled some handwritten notes in the margins. From what Von can see, there's something about 20 million dollars from Saudi Arabia and something about a Nicaraguan merchant ship. But Ford doesn't know what any of it means. He make these alterations for me. John, this is top priority.
The question gives her pause. She may not understand the context of the papers, but she knows this much altering official documents is not part of her job description. It might even be illegal. But Colonel North is a good man. He's been a good boss. He wouldn't be asking if it weren't important. I'll get right on it, sir. File the new ones and bring the originals to my office straight away and then he starts to go away. I think there's something wrong with this document.
What do you mean wrong? There's a box at the bottom of the first page. It looks like it's meant to show Mr. Macfarlane's approval. Yeah, what about it? It's not checked on the original, so I had a checkmark. Yes. Thank you. Fine. Yes, sir. With that, he's gone, Forn slides in front of the keyboard, types up the new memos and files them away. She heads to the colonel's office to give him the originals, but when she opens the door, he's not there.
So she leaves the original memos sitting on his desk and closes the door behind her. Ford she turns to find Colonel North, standing outside his office near the paper shredder, stack of documents two feet tall in his hands. Can you help me with these two? Ford doesn't give it a second thought. She doesn't ask questions. If Colonel North needs her help, that's her job. She grabs a document from the stack and shoves in the shredder. And then another.
And another and another until the whole stack disappears. Whether Ford knows it or not, her boss just committed several felonies, and so did she finally later say that the infamous shredding party on November 21st was no big deal. But that's not true. It was a big deal and it will come back to haunt them both together. And Ali destroyed 15 months worth of private messages between Ali and members of his staff. No one will ever know the true content of those documents except for Ali and Fawn.
Over the weekend, Ali sits down for his interview with Ed Meese and grilled him about the Iran operation, but Ali plays a cool he's not worried. And why should he be? If the president knew about this mission, if he authorized it, then Ali has nothing to fear. Besides, Ed does not know. Ali has altered documents. He doesn't know about the thousands of pages Ali and Falen shoved into the shredder on November 21st. Ali has covered his tracks.
Except Ali neglected to destroy one document which admits his lawyers found when they searched Ali's office the day before, a document proving conclusively that profits from the arms for hostages deal were funneled to the Contras in Nicaragua, a document that will come to be known as the diversion memo. American scandal is sponsored by Better Help. It's a new year and after the year we just had, many are glad to be looking forward, but how can we plan during a time of such uncertainty and disruption?
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That's Madisen Dash. Read Dotcom Offer Code A-s. On November 24th, 1986, Don Regan sits down for a meeting in the Situation Room with President Reagan and the top members of the National Security Planning Group. Normally, aides and other senior officials are present for the NPG meetings, but today, the chairs lining the walls are empty. Today, it's just the top dogs. That's because today's topic is especially sensitive. It's about more than national security. It's fraught with political and legal implications, which is why there's a special guest in the room, Attorney General Ed Meese.
The cabinet is still at odds over what really happened and what the president knew. And Reagan is starting to lose his composure. He pounds his fist on the table and roars. I did not trade arms for hostages. Ed Meese is the only one in the room who has spoken to all the players in an official capacity. Don Regan turns to him and asked the million dollar question, did the president approve the 1985 Hauk transaction? Everyone in the room already knows the answer.
Ed Meese knows Don Regan and George Shultz. No, Reagan admitted it to them both a few days earlier. Oh, I knew about that. But that was an arms for hostages. But the question posed, did Reagan know about the 85 Halk missile deal? Isn't the question needing an answer? The real question is, who is going to take the blame for this? Finally, Poindexter speaks up with a bold claim, but handled the Israel Iran sales alone and agrees the hawk shipment was illegal.
There's no doubt, but the president didn't know anything about it because Bud did not tell him. It's a lie. Everyone in the room knows it, but no one pushes back, no one says a word. It's significant to note that in the meeting on November 24th, Ed Meese doesn't mention the diversion memo. Neither does Don Regan. Maybe that's because the diversion is just the thing Don and Ed need to protect the president, a cohesive narrative that will point the finger of blame somewhere else.
But Don knows that Bud McFarland's head on a silver platter is not enough, but has already resigned. He's a private citizen. Now, Don needs someone in office in the Reagan administration to lay the blame on. So Don takes the scheme one step further after the meeting on November 24th, Don circulates a private memo titled Plan of Action. He writes, Tough as it seems. Blame must be put at next door rogue operations going on without president's knowledge or consent.
In the memo, Regan calls for the resignation of national security adviser John Poindexter and the ousting of Oliver North. After reading Don's memo, Poindexter gets a panic call from one of his subordinates. Are you resigning? Poindexter doesn't answer the call or pushes back. Stay at your post and force the president to step up to the plate and take responsibility for his actions. But Poindexter knows it's over. He's been flanked by Don Regan and Ed Meese. He responds, It's too late.
They're building a wall around him. On November 25th, Reagan calls a press conference to announce the result of the attorney general's investigation.
Ladies and gentlemen, the president of the United States last Friday, after becoming concerned whether my national security apparatus had provided me with a security or a complete factual record with respect to the implementation of my policy toward Iran. I directed the attorney general to undertake or undertake a review of this matter over the weekend and report to me on Monday. And yesterday, Secretary Meese provided me in the White House chief of staff with a report on his preliminary findings. And this report led me to conclude that I was not fully informed on the nature of one of the activities undertaken in connection with this initiative.
This action raises serious questions of propriety. I've just met with my national security advisers and congressional leaders to inform them of the actions that I'm taking today, although not directly involved. Vice Admiral John Poindexter has asked to be relieved of his assignment as assistant to the President for national security affairs and to return to another assignment. The Navy Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North has been relieved of his duties on the National Security Council staff. And now I'm going to ask Attorney General Meese to break and tries to quickly wrap it up.
But the press has questions. They were older. Did you make a mistake in sending arms to Tehran, sir? No. And I'm not taking any more questions. In just a second. I'm going to ask Attorney General Meese to brief you on what we presently know of what he has found to be let go.
Sir, if anyone else going to be like no one was let go, they chose to go. What about you? Ed Meese quickly takes the podium as Reagan exits to a barrage of questions. When the press is quieted, he drops a massive on the issue. Reagan wasn't my fault. I'm fine. I tell you what, what is the situation? And then I'll take your questions. What is involved is that in the course of the arms transfers, which involved the United States providing the arms to Israel and Israel, in turn transferring the arms, in effect, selling the arms to representatives of Iran, certain moneys which were received in the transaction between representatives of Israel and representatives, Iran were taken and made available to the forces in Central America, which are opposing the Sandinista government there.
There's an audible gasp in the room, this is the moment the American people learn for the first time that two separate scandals in two separate countries on opposite sides of the globe are actually won. The moment when the world learns that money from the Iran deal was funneled to fund the contras in Nicaragua and goes on to say the president knew nothing about the diversion and that the White House will be launching a full scale internal investigation into the matter. Ollie will later write that the Reagan administration chose to focus almost exclusively on the diversion and there was certainly a lot to be gained in presenting it that way.
This particular detail was so dramatic, so sexy, that it might actually well divert attention from other even more important aspects of the story, such as what else the president and his top advisers had known about and approved only isn't the only one who feels this way. A reporter at the November 25th press conference asks Ed Meese wants to prevent an increasingly cynical public from thinking that you went looking for a scapegoat and came up with this whopper, even though it doesn't have a lot to do with the original controversy and is evasive.
The president's priority is to lay out the facts just as rapidly as he gets them, to be sure that there is no hint that anything is trying to be concealed. The reporter's question about scapegoating is a perceptive one, and the reporter won't be the last to ask that type of question.
Meanwhile, as Fawn Hall watches the press conference from N office, she's terrified because Fawn realizes she's made a terrible mistake. Some of the original memos, the ones she altered at the colonel's behest, were never destroyed. It's unclear why she didn't destroy them. Maybe she didn't think she needed to or maybe in the chaos of the shredding party, she simply forgot what after the official announcement that her boss has been fired. And Mrs. Revelation about the diversion, Fawn Hall is starting to grasp just how much trouble she and Colonel North might be in.
So on November 25th, she stuffs the original memos into her blouse, sneaks them past NSC officials who are sealing off the office and delivers them personally to Colonel North. There's another important person watching the press conference on November 25th. His name is Lawrence Walsh. Walsh is a lifelong Republican, a former deputy attorney general and a former prosecutor for the Southern District of New York. But in his 70s now, Walsh Day of Public Service are far behind him.
That day, he watches Reagan's press conference from his home in Oklahoma City. Reporter asks Ed Meese another question. Will Ed consider appointing a special prosecutor to look into the matter? Ed, as always, is calculated and measured in his response. He says he wants to wait for the facts. At the moment, though, he sees no need for outside help. But on December six, 1986, a little more than a week after that press conference, Ed Meese will get outside help.
Lawrence Walsh receives a phone call from a federal judge offering him a job not long after he'll pack his bags, fly to D.C. and launch one of the most controversial investigations in American political history. On the first Sunday of 1987, Walsh, the newly appointed independent counsel for the Iran-Contra investigation, begins his journey by checking into the infamous Watergate Hotel. Next on American Scandal, independent prosecutor Lawrence Walsh is called to D.C. to find out the truth. He expects a tough fight with the Reagan administration, but his first opponent is the United States Congress from January.
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If you'd like to learn more about the Iran-Contra affair, we recommend Firewall by Lawrence Walsh, underfire by Oliver North and Special Trust by Bud McFarlane. American Scandal is hosted, edited sound design and executive produced by me Lindsey Graham for Airship Additional Production Assistance by Derek Barens. This episode is written by Steve Walther's, edited by Andrew Stelzer. Our consultant is Malcolm Byrne. We highly recommend his book, Iran Contra Reagan Scandal and the Unchecked Abuse of Presidential Power.
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