Encore: Iran Contra | Walsh | 4American Scandal
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- 26 Jan 2021
Independent Counsel Lawrence Walsh is called to D.C. to investigate Iran-Contra and bring those responsible to justice. But what he discovers will shake his political allegiances, and drive a wedge through the heart of the country. This episode originally aired on December 18, 2018. Listen ad-free on Wondery+ hereSupport us by supporting our sponsors!Better Help - Get 10% off your first month at betterhelp.com/as. Headspace - Go to HEADSPACE.COM/AS for a FREE ONE-MONTH TRIAL with access to Headspace’s full library of meditations for every situation. Grubhub - Get the food you love with perks from Grubhub.
It's July 8th, 1985, just after 10:00 a.m., the daughters of the American Revolution, Constitution Hall, Washington D.c.'s largest concert venue, is packed to the brim. Above the stage hangs a massive banner that reads ABA, the American Bar Association. Thousands of lawyers have descended on Washington for the ABA's annual meeting. And for one of the lawyers in the audience, this is a special day. His name is Lawrence Walsh. Walsh looks the part of a prosecutor.
He has neatly combed short cut gray hair. His suits are dark, conservative charcoal, often three-piece. In his 70s. He's still trim live. Even Walsh hasn't lost a step. His career in both a public and private sectors has been marked by a steady accumulation of credit, stature and power. And today, Walsh is excited because he is a big fan of the man who's about to speak.
Ladies and gentlemen, it's a distinct honor and privilege for me on behalf of the American Bar Association to present the president of the United States.
Thank you very much. Walsh joins the chorus of applause as President Reagan takes the podium.
I want to welcome all of you to the last Tax-deductible ABA convention.
But the president isn't here to make jokes, he's just priming the room to talk about what's foremost in his mind, the growing threat to America and terrorism in the Middle East. Now there's a temptation to see the terrorist act as simply the erratic work of a small group of fanatics. We make this mistake at great peril. We must act against the criminal menace of terrorism with the full weight of the law. We will act to indict, apprehend and prosecute those who commit the kind of atrocities the world has witnessed in recent weeks.
As Reagan speaks, whilst not there can be no place on Earth left where it is safe for these monsters to rest or train or practice their cruel and deadly skills. We must act together or unilaterally, if necessary, to ensure that terrorists have no sanctuary anywhere. Thank you very much. God bless you all. In July 1985, Lawrence Walsh told President Ronald Reagan in the highest esteem, but his admiration for the president is about to be put to the test a year and a half after Reagan's speech to the ABA.
Walsh will be named the independent counsel for the Iran-Contra investigation, a scandal that will thrust Walsh into a massive political firestorm, a probe that will put him against the president. He respects so deeply an investigation that will shake Walsh's political allegiance to its core and drive a wedge through the heart of the country. 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.
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In the last episode, Don Regan and Ed Meese built a wall of protection around President Reagan in this episode. Independent counsel Lawrence Walsh sets out to break through that wall, investigate Iran-Contra and bring those responsible to justice. By the time Lawrence Walsh arrives in Washington in December 1986, several Iran-Contra investigations are already underway. Shortly after Ed Meese announces the diversion, President Reagan creates the Tower Commission, an investigative body comprised of highly respected Republicans and Democrats. Men with reputations for putting country over party.
Congress gets in the game to both the House and the Senate announced congressional investigations of their own. But there's a big difference between Lawrence Walsh's investigation and the others. The Tower Commission and the congressional investigations are designed to uncover the truth, tell it to the American people and in the case of Congress, hold hearings and pass laws to prevent something like Iran-Contra from ever happening again. Lawrence Walsh is in Washington to investigate crimes and prosecute criminals. There's one major disadvantage to being an independent counsel that Walsh is not yet aware of against the powerful Washington establishment.
Walsh will stand alone, caught between Congress and the White House. Walsh is about to find himself between a hammer and an anvil. This is episode for Walsh. It's January 5th, 1987, in Washington, D.C., one month after Lawrence Walsh received the call, naming him independent counsel for the Iran-Contra investigation, as Walsh gets in his car and pulls out of the parking lot of the Watergate Hotel. He has a lot on his mind based on the preliminary evidence gathered by the FBI.
Walsh believes there are two obvious candidates for prosecution, Lieutenant Colonel Ollie North and former national security adviser John Poindexter. The evidence suggests both men obstructed justice and tampered with evidence. Walter, strategy is simple. Dangle the evidence in front of them and force them to take a deal, lenient sentences in exchange for their full cooperation. Start at the bottom and work his way up the ladder. Climb as high as the evidence takes up, even if it takes them all the way to the Oval Office.
But the other investigations, especially those in Congress, could interfere if they grant immunity, wants immunity is granted. Nothing, witnesses say, to Congress can be used against them directly or indirectly in any criminal prosecution. In a high profile case like this, where the testimony is sure to be televised, immunity can be a prosecutor's worst nightmare brought before Congress. Witnesses with immunity may make self incriminating statements on national television for millions to see. But back in the courtroom, a judge might find that the previously broadcast testimony tainted the statements of other witnesses.
Evidence could be thrown out, witnesses disqualified. And even if the prosecutor does get a guilty verdict, an appeal would be certain, perhaps overturning the conviction. Walsh knows this is a problem. So he drives to Capitol Hill to head it off by meeting one on one with the new speaker of the House, Jim Wright, the most powerful man in the House of Representatives. Walsh wants Congress to conduct their investigation without offering immunity or at least wait till his investigation is on more solid ground.
He's hoping in this meeting, Wright will see his point of view. But when Walsh arrives in Wright's office, he's surprised to find Wright isn't alone. There's a slew of congressmen waiting inside. It's not a one on one meeting. It's an ambush. At the head of the pack is Wyoming representative and future Vice President Dick Cheney. Cheney and the other congressmen immediately began firing off questions, questions like what evidence do you currently have? What evidence are you willing to share?
How will you cooperate with Congress and when will that cooperation begin? Walsh is in a tough spot and he knows it. It's not that he doesn't want to cooperate with Congress. He just literally can't. He turns to Dick Cheney.
Congressman, I'm required by law to maintain the secrecy of any evidence presented to a grand jury. Disclosing evidence to Congress before trial is potentially prosecutorial misconduct. And I won't do it.
Most of the congressmen are sympathetic to his position, but not Cheney. He radiates dissatisfaction.
How long is this investigation going to take, Mr. Walsh? It's hard to say, Congressman Cheney. I intend to follow the evidence wherever it leads. Well, you need to wrap this up as soon as possible. Speed is not only essential, it is justified as Walsh leaves Capitol Hill.
He fears a conflict with Congress is unavoidable. Walsh knows that investigating something on the level of Iran-Contra is slow, painstaking work. He needs to nail down the facts and pin them to the wall. But he also knows that with congressional hearings looming over his investigation, a slow, deliberate pace is not a luxury he can afford. Walsh will have to work fast and gather evidence as quickly as he can. Congressional immunity isn't Walter's only problem. For one thing, the case is very complicated.
It will require jurors to understand the entire national security establishment, an array of very dense facts, including the wording and intention of the Boland amendment and the Arms Export Control Act, the concept of a presidential finding and the very nature of covert operations. And for another thing, Walsh and his team of lawyers need to confront potential witnesses with facts. And they need to know the facts better than anyone, especially the people that are questioning. A massive chunk of the paper trail is missing due to Oliver North shredding party.
The remaining documents that contain those facts. The paper trail on Iran-Contra are in the hands of senior members of the national security community, and many of them have a dog in this fight. Some are true believers in the arms for hostages and contradictions. Others are directly involved and could be implicated. Their willingness to cooperate is suspect. Walsh will later admit that at the beginning of his investigation, he's a bit naive. In his words, he approaches the case like a government lawyer who expects honest compliance from the government.
But very quickly, he finds out that in a Washington, D.C., mired by scandal, honest compliance is hard to come by. In January nineteen eighty seven, Walsch requests, documents and records from the Justice Department, the CIA, the NSC and the White House, he needs to establish a clear picture of events. Some records have turn over what many documents are withheld. The CIA and the White House cite reasons of national security and executive privilege. As independent counsel, Walsh has the power to subpoena these records, to force the White House and others to turn them over.
But like all things in Washington, it's not that simple. Subpoena power is a nuclear option, a declaration of war against the White House. If Walsh uses this power of subpoena, the government could fight it in court. And Walsh's investigation could be tied up for months or even longer. And he doesn't have that kind of time. Delays give suspects time to think, time to craft their stories, time to destroy evidence and Congress, time to grant immunity.
But there's another power player in D.C. who wants the evidence released to a former firebrand senator from the state of Texas named John Tower.
On January 20th, 1987, Senator Tower invites Lawrence Walsh to meet him in the new executive office building, despite his name, John Tower, as a short man. But on the Hill, he has a big reputation for being tough. He's the man President Reagan has tapped to lead the president's special review board to investigate Iran-Contra. Tower called this meeting because his commission has a major problem compared to the broad scope of Walsh's power. Tower's mandate is limited. The Tower Commission has no authority to subpoena documents or compel witnesses to testify.
And so far, Tower is having a hard time getting people to talk. When Walsh sits down with him, Tower skips the pleasantries and gets right down to business. He implores Walsh to use his subpoena power to obtain the records they both need and compel witnesses to start talking. He urges Walsh to move fast and then turn over his findings to the Tower Commission. So Tower and publishes report. Walter's answer is an unequivocal no. He tells Tower that's just not how the law works, which puts an end to the meeting and any potential alliance.
While it's another dead end for Walsh, he learns a valuable lesson when it comes to this investigation. The members of the Tower Commission, like Congress, see Walsh's role as subservient to their goals. Their job is to uncover the facts in their mind. Walsh's role is to prosecute the crimes they expose. Walsh is not subservient to Congress or to the Tower Commission. Walsh is only subservient to the law.
In spite of delays from the White House, tussles with Congress and disagreements with the Tower Commission, Walsh presses on. The first step is finding a key witness, an insider who knows the inner workings of the Iran-Contra affair, someone Walsh can compel to cooperate. Walsh's first instinct is CIA Director Bill Casey. But Casey has recently made a troubling announcement. He is dying of cancer and only has a few months to live. The cancer has all but incapacitated him.
Any secrets he holds about Iran-Contra will likely die with him. So Walsh's team must turn to someone else.
On January 31st, 1987, two months after Lawrence Walsh arrived in Washington, he calls a meeting with his large team of investigators and lawyers at the new D.C. headquarters for the Office of the Independent Counsel, or the OIC for Short. The space is cramped and the walls are in need of a fresh coat of paint. But Walsh finds it a fitting home base and once belonged to a federal judge. And Walsh is a former judge himself. In fact, his team still refers to him as Judge Walsh at half past ten.
Walsh enters the room.
The first thing he says is with a group this big, we should be done already. Walsh always starts his meetings with a quip, a flick of wit to break the ice. His team calls this tactic the needle. But today, Walsh says needle doesn't have the desired effect. No one laughs. That's because the general feeling in the room is that the clock is ticking. Congress might move forward with immunity at any moment, and the OIC doesn't even have its first cooperating witness in the meeting.
One of the first people to speak as prosecutor, John Douglass, a tall, soft-spoken former FBI agent. Douglas believes the obstruction case on Ollie North is open and shut when he started shredding documents in November nineteen eighty six. He wasn't exactly subtle. He didn't do it behind closed doors. He did it out in the open in front of NSC staffers and got his secretary to help him. Even the press got wind of it. On November 27th, 1986, the Los Angeles Times did a story on ruling party.
Problem is all. He won't admit it. Neither will anyone else. Walsh needs a witness, someone who can paint a clear picture of all his crimes. Douglas has someone specific in mind. Ollie North, Secretary Fawn Hall, the woman who helped Ollie commit the crime. Walsh gives Douglas the green light to offer Forn a deal, a lenient sentence in exchange for her cooperation.
At first, Hall is reluctant to talk. She believes in Colonel North and what he was doing for the country. Douglas is polite, but he doesn't mince words. He tells FAAN that they have her dead to rights on tampering with evidence. He explains that crime alone carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. Forn quickly gets the picture, its cooperation or jail, and with her back against the wall, Forn takes the deal. She tells them everything.
By February of 1987, Lawrence Walsh has what he needs to make a case against Ollie North. He has secured Fawn Hall's cooperation, but what he really wants is Ollis cooperation. If Ollie talks, Walsh can learn who else is involved and potentially go after bigger fish on bigger crimes. But getting Ollie to tell his story will be difficult, even with Fawn Hall's cooperation in his back pocket throughout December of nineteen eighty six, January and February of 87. While Lawrence Walsh and his team of prosecutors close in on north, other investigations charge ahead full steam, the ones in Congress and the Tower Commission.
But many of the key players involved in Iran-Contra are still reluctant to talk. Former national security adviser John Poindexter and Ollie North have both taken the fifth. In fact, in December of 1986, in a closed door hearing with the Senate Intelligence Committee, Ollie North takes the Fifth Amendment not once, but over 40 times what in February of 1987. There is one man who's willing to talk, former national security adviser Robert Bud McFarlane. American scandal is sponsored by Better Help.
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Go to headspace dotcom. That's Headspace Dotcom Slash asked for a free one month trial with access to Headspaces full library of meditations for every situation. This is the best deal offered right now. Head to Headspace Dotcom A-s today. By February 1987, board has been talking for months, unlike Ollie and Poindexter, but didn't take the Fifth to Congress, he told his story in a closed door session. He even agreed to testify before the Tower Commission. But as his date with the Tower Commission approaches, Bond is starting to waver, but is something of a scholar on ancient Japan.
He's enamored by the great warrior class. The Samurai Samurai means one who serves, and that's how Bud sees himself. Hours before he is set to testify, Foud, the warrior servant, is ashamed by setting Iran-Contra in motion, but abandoned his honor. So Bud does what an American Samurai is duty bound to do when he has dishonored his country and sullied his name late at night with his wife already in bed, blood pours himself a glass of wine and opens the cap to a bottle of pills.
It's Tuesday, February 17th, 1987, when Bud's eyes flutter open for a brief moment, he doesn't know where he is, but then it all comes flooding back. The note, the pills, the ambulance ride. Now he's recovering in a hospital bed where he's been for a full week at the Bethesda Naval Medical Center, a hospital just a few miles from his home. Did you sleep well? The sound of the doctor's voice startled him. Seems like you were having a good nap.
Whereas, John, your wife's in the cafeteria. She needed to stretch your legs. When can I go home? Soon. Mr Macfarlane, how are you feeling? I'm fine. That's a lie. But doesn't tell the doctor that he's a ruined man. He doesn't tell him that through his entire life he's been consumed by the idea of devotion to his country. And he doesn't tell him that when he looks back on his career, he finds himself wanting.
Instead, he says, Where you are, John?
No, I'm awake, of course. Get some rest. Just then a nurse hurries into the room. She looks like she's seen a ghost.
Mr Macfarlane, you've a visitor, sir. I'm not taking visitors. Tell them I'm sorry. I'm not sure I can do that, sir. There's a knock at the door and a familiar voice. How are you feeling, Bud? Instantly, but understands that this is no ordinary visitor. Standing in the doorway of his hospital room as former President Richard Milhous Nixon had worked for Henry Kissinger under the Nixon administration. And though they didn't know each other well when Nixon was president, over the past few years, they've developed a friendship.
Nixon is one of the first people to visit, but in the hospital, he gives Bud some much needed advice. Advice from a former president taken down by scandal to another public servant who finds himself mired in a scandal of his own. Nixon says it's essential for all of us to accept in our souls error and to have the gumption to realize that an even greater error would be to lapse into morose, soporific laziness, Nixon pleads. Don't give up.
Viruses, a lot of well and gifts during his time in the hospital, chocolate truffles, Bibles, flowers, cards, a stranger even sent a copy of Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life. The videocassette came with a simple note. Watch this. It's hard to say exactly what was going through Bud's mind when he swallowed those pills. A friend will later tell The Washington Post that when he heard about Bud's suicide attempt, his first thought was, Oh, my God, Bud's a samurai.
His sense of duty and loyalty conflicted with his sense of duty to tell the truth. While Bud's in the hospital, Nixon isn't the only president who makes his presence known, but also gets a call from Ronald Reagan, but tells him, I'm sorry I failed you. Reagan responds, You didn't fail me. It was a sensible goal to pursue. And you shouldn't blame yourself because it didn't work. A few days after bad checks out of the hospital, he and his wife snuggle up on the couch in their living room.
They watch It's a Wonderful Life. Maybe it's the words of Richard Nixon or the well wishes of his friends or the power of the story itself. But as Bud recuperates from his suicide attempt, he takes to heart the message of the Capra film. He sees meaning again in his values, his life and his career. And more importantly, he sees that he still has a part to play in this mess that he helped start. He doesn't lapse into a soporific laziness, as Nixon admonished.
Instead, Bud, the faithful servant, does his duty. On February 21st, a few days after bad checks out of the hospital, he invites the members of a tour commission to his home in suburban Maryland, but goes on the record. He tells them President Reagan knew about the November 1985 hawk shipment in advance. Not only did he know about it, he ordered it, but will go on to cooperate with Lawrence Walsh's investigation. In a year's time, he will plead guilty to four misdemeanor charges in connection with his Iran Contra activities, but gets off easy in exchange for his cooperation, Walsh will weigh felony charges and Bud will never spend a day in jail.
But statements in February 1987 and the conclusions of the Tower Commission are a major problem for President Reagan because the Tower Commission's findings contradict the public statements Reagan has made. But it's a problem for someone else, too. Chief of Staff Don Regan. Don had tried to pin the Iran-Contra scandal on Bud, but in late February of 1987, it's Don who's about to be the odd man out.
On February 27th, 1987, after interviewing over 80 witnesses and compiling a mass of evidence, the Tower Commission publishes its 300 page report. While it's not a death knell for President Reagan, it's not good news either. As The New York Times puts it, the report portrays President Reagan as a confused and remote figure who failed to understand or control the secret arms deal with Iran. The tower commission doesn't lay the bulk of the blame on Reagan.
Instead, it points the finger at Chief of Staff Don Regan, saying he gave the president poor advice and neglected to grasp the serious legal and political risks involved with Iran-Contra. On February 27th, the same day as the Tower Commission releases its report, Reagan asks for Dan's resignation. Don writes a one sentence letter addressed to the president. I hereby resign as chief of staff to the president of the United States. A few days later, Don returns to the White House to gather his belongings.
He cleans out his desk and says goodbye to his aides, many of whom will be fired in the days to come. Still, Reagan knows Dawn's resignation will not be enough. The Tower Commission contradicts the public statements Reagan has made. Even if Reagan believed what he said when he swore he did not trade arms for hostages, the Tower Commission paints a very different picture, which means Reagan has no other choice but to confront the truth. On March 4th, 1987, Reagan addresses the nation from the Oval Office.
He tells his fellow Americans why he's been silent for the past three months. He says he wanted to wait until he had the complete story. And now that the tower commission has given it to him, he's ready to talk.
First, let me say I take full responsibility for my own actions and for those of my administration. As angry as I may be about activities undertaken without my knowledge, I am still accountable for those activities. As disappointed as I may be in some who served me, I'm still the one who must answer to the American people for this behavior. And as personally distasteful as I find secret bank accounts and diverted funds, what does the Navy would say? This happened on my watch a few months ago.
I told the American people I did not trade arms for hostages. My heart and my best intentions still tell me that's true. But the facts and the 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, there are reasons why it happened, but no excuses. It was a mistake. At the Watergate Hotel, as independent prosecutor Lawrence Walsh watches President Reagan's statement, he has to be asking himself the same thing many Americans are asking.
Is President Reagan telling the truth? It's not hard to imagine that Walsh has his doubts. How could the president not know the details of the Iran-Contra operations? And if he didn't, he should have. Walsh is likely thinking something else, too. If Reagan is not telling the truth, then there's no doubt Walsh's investigation will lead him to one destination showdown with the president of the United States. In mid-March, Congress sends word to Lawrence Walsh and his team that Ollie North, John Poindexter and a slew of others will receive congressional immunity in exchange for their testimony when the hearings begin in the summer.
Congressional immunity protects witnesses from their testimony being used against them in court, but it does not protect witnesses from any evidence discovered in the course of an investigation. Evidence like documents or papers proving guilt unless that evidence is discovered as a result of their testimony before Congress. If Walsh wants to go after North and Poindexter, he has to move fast, gathering evidence and sealing it in a court controlled depository before the hearings begin, a process known as Canning. Walsh and his team work nonstop around the clock.
For three months, they collect hundreds of boxes of evidence, interview 800 witnesses, pore over 200000 pages of secret memos and 30 full days of grand jury testimony. They learn the tentacles of the Iran-Contra scandal spanned through as many as 13 foreign countries from the Middle East to Central America. It starts with a National Security Council and into the Departments of State, Defense, Justice, Transportation and Treasury. It winds through the CIA and the office of the vice president and eventually reaches into the Oval Office.
But there was always one man at its center, Ollie North. In the summer of seven, the world watches as Ollie North goes before Congress to tell his story, North is about to become immortalized, a dubious celebrity for the rest of his life. But as the circus of the congressional hearings unfolds, Lawrence Walsh is not watching. Walsh and his team are not allowed to listen to the testimony of immunize witnesses. The answer what Walsh calls a period of limbo.
He will later say that he felt like he was living in a world where everyone we knew was assiduously following a wrong conscious developments. We had to be like Ulysses crew with our ears stopped against the song of the sirens as Walsh and his team cover their eyes and ears. In early July nineteen eighty seven, Polly takes the stand and raises his right hand. While Lawrence Walsh waits in the wings. His explosive testimony in front of Congress elevates his status from White House scapegoat to conservative superstar.
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Grab what you love. It's July 7th, 1987, in a room in the Russell Senate Office Building in 1954, the same room was used for the McCarthy hearings, a series of investigations meant to expose supposed communist infiltration of the U.S. government in 1973. This room held the Watergate investigation into President Nixon and his administration. But today, the trove of reporters and spectators who pack into the vast, marbled, walled caucus chamber are here to listen to Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North.
Ollie North usually commands a large presence, but sitting at the small table on the caucus room floor with over a dozen senators and congressmen towering over him all he seems small. Colonel North, please rise.
Do you solemnly swear that the testimony you're about to give will be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help you God?
I do it from the very beginning. Ali doesn't take a defensive posture and he doesn't cower before the powerful men of Congress seated in front of him while he goes on the attack. His opening statement speaks volumes.
As you all know by now. My name is Oliver North. Lieutenant Colonel, United States Marine Corps. I believe that this is a strange process that you are putting me and others through. You put them under oath for what must be collectively thousands of hours of testimony. You dissect that testimony to find inconsistencies and declare some to be truthful and others to be liars. It's sort of like a baseball game in which you are both the player and the umpire.
It's a game in which you call the balls and strikes and where you determine who is out and who is safe. And in the end, you determine the score and declare yourselves the winner for all.
The real culprit of the Iran-Contra scandal isn't him or the NSC or President Reagan. The real culprit is Congress.
One thing is, I think for certain that you will not investigate yourselves in this matter. There is not much chance that you will conclude at the end of these hearings that the Boland amendments and the frequent policy changes, therefore were unwise or that your restrictions should not have been imposed on the executive branch. You are not likely to conclude that the administration acted properly by trying to sustain the freedom fighters in Nicaragua when they were abandoned. And you are not likely to conclude by commending the president of the United States who tried valiantly to recover our citizens and achieve an opening for the strategically vital Iran.
It is difficult to be caught in the middle of a constitutional struggle between the executive and legislative branches over who will formulate and direct the foreign policy of this nation. It is difficult to be vilified by people in and out of this body.
But after Ali's opening statement, it's Congress's turn to go on the attack.
Mr. John W. Nields, chief counsel for the House committee, leads off.
I don't know if you are involved in two operations of this government. They were covert operations. Yes, they were. And covert operations are designed to be secrets from our enemies. That is correct. But these operations were designed to be secrets from the American people.
Ali doesn't answer with a yes or no. He gives Congress a lesson in the nature of covert operations.
I think what is important, Mr. Nields, is that we somehow arrive at some kind of an understanding right here and now as to what a covert operation is.
And if we could find a way to insulate with a bubble over these hearings that are being broadcast in Moscow and talk about covert operations to the American people without getting into the hands of our adversaries, I'm sure we would do that.
But you put it somewhat differently to the Iranians with whom you were negotiating on the 8th, the 9th of October in Frankfurt, Germany, didn't you?
Did you tell the Iranians that the secretary of defense had told the president at his most recent meeting, when the American people find out that this has happened, they'll impeach you?
That is a bald faced lie told to the Iranians.
And I will tell you right now, I'd have offered the Iranians a free trip to Disneyland if we could have gotten Americans home for it.
Now, in certain communist countries, the government's activities are kept secret from the people. But that's not the way we do things in America, is it? It's a tough question, Ali sees himself as a patriot who undertook patriotic covert actions in the name of keeping America safe. The implication of Mr. Nields question is that all his actions in connection with Iran-Contra were un-American.
Counsel, I would like to go back to what I said just a few moments ago. I think it is very important for the American people to understand that this is a dangerous world, that we live at risk, and that this nation is at risk in a dangerous world, and that they ought not to be led to believe as a consequence of these hearings that this nation cannot or should not conduct covert operations by their very nature. Covert operations or special activities are a lie.
There is great deception practiced in the conduct of covert operations. They are at essence, a lie. We make every effort to deceive the enemy as to our intent, our conduct, and to deny the Association of the United States with those activities. And that is not wrong.
When asked about the missing documents that might shed light on the question of who knew what and when, Ali doesn't hold back.
Where are these memoranda? Which memoranda? The memoranda that you sent up to Admiral Poindexter seeking the president's approval? You know, if I try to guess I'm going to be wrong, but I think I shredded most of that. Well, that's the whole reason for shredding documents, isn't it, Colonel Law, so that you can later say you don't remember whether you had them and you don't remember what's in it. Almost Danneels the reason for shredding documents and the reason the government of the United States gave me a shredder, I mean, I didn't buy it myself, was to destroy documents that were no longer relevant, that did not apply or that should not be divulged.
Over his several days of testimony, Ali admits to everything he did, obstructing justice, tampering with evidence, lying to Congress. But there's one lingering question Ali has yet to answer. Congress wants to know if Ali is covering for the president.
You described yourself as an action oriented person, correct? That's correct. You are the person who I think in your own statement, people would say, Ali, fixing, right? That's correct. And it would get fixed, right? Usually. But Oliver North, I hear you say that he people would expect you to come before Congress and say, I did it. It's not their fault. I was a loose cannon. I did do it. I am not, as I said in my statement at all, ashamed of any of the things that I did.
I was given a mission and I tried to carry it out. But part of that mission was to shield the others who are giving you the orders. That is the part of any subordinate.
Every centurion had a group of shields up in front of 100 of them.
Ollie North does not deny he was covering for President Reagan. He admits it out in the open. He's more than happy to be Reagan scapegoat. But with his impassioned, brutal honesty, all his testimony becomes a manifesto. The creed of patriots all. He makes the case that if he's guilty, then the entire government is guilty. And in fact, the United States of America as a country is guilty, guilty of trying to defend itself at all costs, guilty of holding the unshakeable values of liberty and freedom.
He's just a loyal American willing to go down with the ship waving an American flag. Ali's testimony makes him an instant media sensation, a conservative hero. Maybe it's because the hearings were televised and frankly, the camera loves Ollie North. He's a handsome, charming man who painted a picture of himself as a patriot, who did what he had to do to keep America safe. Or maybe it's because in a story chock full of lies, including many of his own, Ollie North didn't dissemble.
He told the truth. But whatever the reason, in the days after his testimony, he mania, as it came to be called, sweeps the nation. A publisher prints nearly a million copies of taking the stand, a transcript of Ali's testimony, Ali's hometown of Philmont, New York, hosts a parade in his honor. There's merchandise, too, Ali T-shirts, Ali buttons and Ali dolls. There's even an Oliver North sandwich and a deli near Buffalo, New York.
But despite whatever PR victory Ali has scored with the American people, his legal troubles are mounting.
North is finished as a witness before the committees, but not finished accounting for what he did. Still ahead, the special prosecutor and possible criminal indictments. The evidence against Ali is damning. In the summer of 1987, independent prosecutor Lawrence Walsh and his team of lawyers and investigators prepare for trial. And it's clear to them Ali obstructed justice by destroying a significant portion of the paper trail. It's clear to them that he lied to Congress. It's clear to them he accepted an illegal gift to buy a personal security system worth over 10 grand.
He took five grand in cash and used it as a down payment on a new car. Walsh believes he has the evidence he needs and a trial his team delivers. District Judge Gearheart, Gizelle If Oliver North the following a three year suspended prison sentence, a fine of one hundred fifty thousand dollars, two years probation and an order to perform twelve hundred hours of community service in an inner city youth drug program.
For many across the country, the conviction of Ollie North is the end of the Iran-Contra affair. A year and a half later, Reagan will leave office unaffected by the scandal with the highest approval rating in American history. By 1988, Reagan's vice president, George Bush, wins the White House in an electoral landslide. I've just received a telephone call from Governor Dukakis.
And I want you to know I thank all the people throughout America who have given us this great victory and I thank Ronald Reagan. I thank him for turning our country around and for being my friend. He is simply one of the most decent man I have ever met. Americans have clearly put the Iran Contra scandal behind them, but there's one man who has not moved on, independent counsel Lawrence Walsh. Walsh swore an oath to obey and defend the Constitution of the United States as independent counsel.
His duty is to follow the evidence wherever it leads. Walsh knows Ollie North is just the tip of the iceberg, and he's determined to go as high up the ladder as the evidence takes him as 1988 winds to a close. Walsh and his team set their sights on Reagan's inner circle that includes his cabinet, his former vice president and Reagan himself. In February 1990, Reagan will be subpoenaed as a witness. He will be subject to cross-examination by Lawrence Walsh as prosecutors and duty bound to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
So help you God. Next on American Skemp, independent counsel Lawrence Walsh sets his sights on the White House and tries to answer the question everyone has been asking, what did President Reagan know and when did he know it from laundry? This is Episode four of Iran-Contra for American Scandal. If you like our show, please give us a five star rating. Leave a review. Be sure to tell your friends. Subscribe on Apple podcast Spotify or wherever you're listening.
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Be sure to listen to my other podcast to American history tellers and American elections. Wicked game. Quick note about our reenactments. In most cases, we can't know exactly what was said, but all our dramatisations are based on historical research. 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 Dereference.
This episode is written by Steve Walters, edited by Andrew Stelzer. Our consultant is Malcolm Burn. We highly recommend his book, Iran Contra, Reagan Scandal and the Unchecked Abuse of Presidential Power. Executive producers are Stephanie Gen's, Marshall Lui and Hernan Lopez for wondering. On the Internet, people can hide their true identity and become anyone they want to be, but what happens when those lies go too far? MTV and Wonder represent Cavefish, the podcast hosted by award winning filmmaker Neil Schulman Catfish.
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