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The Minority Report

Below are excerpts from “The Minority Report” signed onto by six Republican congressmen and two Republican senators:

“President Reagan and his staff made mistakes in the Iran-Contra Affair. It is important at the outset, however, to note that the President himself has already taken the hard step of acknowledging his mistakes and reacting precisely to correct what went wrong. He has directed the National Security Council staff not to engage in covert operations. He has changed the procedures for notifying Congress when an intelligence activity does take place. Finally, he has installed people with seasoned judgment to be White House Chief of Staff, National Security Adviser, and Director of Central Intelligence.

The bottom line, however, is that the mistakes of the Iran-Contra Affair were just that — mistakes in judgment, and nothing more. There was no constitutional crisis, no systematic disrespect for ‘the rule of law,’ no grand conspiracy, and no Administration-wide dishonesty or coverup. In fact, the evidence will not support any of the more hysterical conclusions the Committees’ Report tries to reach.

No one in the government was acting out of corrupt motives. To understand what they did, it is important to understand the context within which they acted. . . .

The excesses of the Committees’ Report are reflections of something far more profound. Deeper than the specifics of the Iran-Contra Affair lies an underlying and festering institutional wound these Committees have been unwilling to face. In order to support rhetorical overstatements about democracy and the rule of law, the Committees have rested their case upon an aggrandizing theory of Congress’ foreign policy powers that is itself part of the problem. Rather than seeking to heal, the Committees’ hearings and Report betray an attitude that we fear will make matters worse. The attitude is particularly regrettable in light of the unprecedented steps the President took to cooperate with the Committees, and in light of the actions he already has taken to correct past errors.

A substantial number of the mistakes of the Iran-Contra Affair resulted directly from an ongoing state of political guerrilla warfare over foreign policy between the legislative and executive branches. We would include in this category the excessive secrecy of the Iran initiative that resulted from a history and legitimate fear of leaks. We also would include the approach both branches took toward the so-called Boland Amendments. Congressional Democrats tried to use vaguely worded and constantly changing laws to impose policies in Central America that went well beyond the law itself. For its own part, the Administration decided to work within the letter of the law covertly, instead of forcing a public and principled confrontation that would have been healthier in the long run. . . .

Sadly, the Committees’ Report reads as if it were a weapon in the ongoing guerrilla warfare, instead of an objective analysis. Evidence is used selectively, and unsupported inferences are drawn to support politically biased interpretations. As a result, we feel compelled to reject not only the Committees’ conclusions, but the supposedly “factual” narrative as well.

We always knew, of course, that there would be differences of interpretation. We had hoped at the start of this process, however, to arrive at a mutually agreeable statement of facts. Unfortunately, that was not to be. The narrative is not a fair description of events, but an advocate’s legal brief that arrays and selects so-called ‘facts’ to fit pre-conceived theories. Some of the resulting narrative is accurate and supported by the evidence. A great deal is overdrawn, speculative, and built on a selective use of the Committees’ documentary materials.

The tone of the Report flows naturally from the tone of the Committees’ televised hearings. We feel strongly that the decision to air the hearings compromised some intelligence sources and methods by broadcasting inadvertent slips of the tongue. But one thing television did do successfully was lay bare the passions that animated too much of the Committees’ work. Who can forget the massive displays of travelers’ checks being shown to the country to discredit Col. North’s character, weeks before he would be given a chance to reply? Or the ‘j’accuse’ atmosphere with which witnesses were confronted, beginning with the first week’s prosecutorial confrontation with General Secord, as Members used the witnesses as objects for lecturing the cameras? These tactics had little to do with factfinding, or with a careful review of policies and institutional processes. . . .

The most politically charged example of the Committees’ misuse of evidence is in the way it presents the President’s lack of knowledge about the ‘diversion’ — that is, the decision by the former National Security Adviser, Admiral John Poindexter, to authorize the use of some proceeds from Iran arms sales to support the Nicaraguan democratic Resistance, or Contras. This is the one case out of thousands in which the Committees — instead of going beyond the evidence as the Report usually does — refused instead to accept the overwhelming evidence with which it was presented. The Report does grudgingly acknowledge that it cannot refute the President’s repeated assertion that he knew nothing about the diversion before Attorney General Edwin Meese discovered it in November 1986. Instead of moving forward from this to more meaningful policy questions, however, the Report seeks, without any support, to plant doubts. We will never know what was in the documents shredded by Lt. Col. Oliver L. North in his last days on the NSC staff, the Report says. Of course we will not. That same point could have been made, however, to cast unsupported doubt upon every one of the Report’s own conclusions. This one seems to be singled out because it was where the President put his own credibility squarely on the line.

The evidence shows that the President did not know about the diversion. . . .

Presidents asserted their constitutional independence from Congress early. They engaged in secret diplomacy and intelligence activities, and refused to share the results with Congress if they saw fit. They unilaterally established U.S. military and diplomatic policy with respect to foreign belligerent states, in quarrels involving the United States, and in quarrels involving only third parties. They enforced this policy abroad, using force if necessary. They engaged U.S. troops abroad to serve American interests without congressional approval, and in a number of cases apparently against explicit directions from Congress. They also had agents engage in what would commonly be referred to as covert actions, again without Congressional approval. In short, Presidents exercised a broad range of foreign policy powers for which they neither sought nor received Congressional sanction through statute.

This history speaks volumes about the Constitution's allocation of powers between the branches. It leaves little, if any, doubt that the President was expected to have the primary role of conducting the foreign policy of the United States. Congressional actions to limit the President in this area therefore should be reviewed with a considerable degree of skepticism. If they interfere with core presidential foreign policy functions, they should be struck down. Moreover, the lesson of our constitutional history is that doubtful cases should be decided in favor of the President.”