Cheney’s Iran/Contra Legacy: Breaking the Law to Achieve Political Goals Is Presidential Prero

Brian Zick

Sean Wilentz's Op-Ed in the NY Times calls attention to the Republican minority's dissenting report on the Iran/contra scandal. TWENTY years ago this week, Lt. Col. Oliver North testified for six days before a special joint House and Senate investigating committee. Permitted by the Democratic majority to appear in his bemedaled Marine uniform, and disastrously granted immunity, Colonel North freely admitted that he had shredded documents, lied to Congress and falsified official records. (…) A number of House Republicans on the committee cheered Colonel North on. One who led the way was Dick Cheney of Wyoming, who praised Colonel North as “the most effective and impressive witness certainly this committee has heard.”Mr. Cheney the congressman believed that Congress had usurped executive prerogatives. He saw the Iran-contra investigation not as an effort to get to the bottom of possible abuses of power but as a power play by Congressional Democrats to seize duties and responsibilities that constitutionally belonged to the president.At the conclusion of the hearings, a dissenting minority report codified these views. The report’s chief author was a former resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, Michael J. Malbin, who was chosen by Mr. Cheney as a member of the committee’s minority staff. Another member of the minority’s legal staff, David S. Addington, is now the vice president’s chief of staff.The minority report stressed the charge that the inquiry was a sham, calling the majority report’s allegations of serious White House abuses of power “hysterical.” The minority admitted that mistakes were made in the Iran-contra affair but laid the blame for them chiefly on a Congress that failed to give consistent aid to the Nicaraguan contras and then overstepped its bounds by trying to restrain the White House.The Reagan administration, according to the report, had erred by failing to offer a stronger, principled defense of what Mr. Cheney and others considered its full constitutional powers. Not only did the report defend lawbreaking by White House officials; it condemned Congress for having passed the laws in the first place.

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