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Elliot Abrams  Assistant Secretary for Inter-American Affairs

Elliot Abrams became the assistant secretary of state for inter-American affairs in 1985. Along with NSC staff member Oliver North and CIA agent Alan Fiers, Jr., he dealt with Central American issues as part of the Restricted Interagency Group (RIG). In his work at RIG, Abrams was made aware of North’s covert military support for the Contras and encouraged foreign countries to contribute to the rebel group, though he later denied that knowledge and involvement when testifying before Congress.

North first exposed Abrams’s knowledge in his testimony before the Select Iran-Contra Committees in 1987. His claims were later verified by Fiers after he pleaded guilty to withholding information from Congress in 1991, and were further underscored by written documentation, including notes by State Department officials Charles Hill and Nicholas Platt and U.S. Ambassador to El Salvador Edwin Corr. At multiple RIG meetings in 1986, North listed each action he was performing to aid the Contras, including aircraft descriptions and salaries paid. North asked if his activities should be continued, and Fiers said that they should be in Abrams’s presence.

In addition, when it appeared that summer that the $27 million Congress approved for humanitarian aid would be insufficient, Abrams and Fiers urged North to make use of his network of private contacts (which they referred to as Project Democracy) to raise $2 million to feed the Contras, which North promised to do. North recorded their request in a memo he sent to National Security Adviser John Poindexter.

After CIA employee Eugene Hasenfus’s plane was shot down in October 1986 while delivering supplies to the Contras, Congress questioned Abrams. He told Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Richard Lugar (R-IN), who asked how the Contras were continuing to receive financial and military support, “it is not our supply system. It is one that grew up after we were forbidden from supplying the resistance, and we have been kind of careful not to get closely involved with it and to stay away from it.” Abrams also told House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Lee Hamilton (D-IN) that the government was not involved in any way with the supply of the Contras and that the involvement was limited to standard intelligence monitoring.

In addition, although Abrams told Secretary of State George Shultz that he should solicit funds for the Contras at a meeting with Sultan of Brunei, Shultz declined to do so. As a result, Abrams requested an offshore bank account number from Fiers and solicited the $10 million from Brunei’s defense minister himself. The Sultan transferred the money and sent the State Department the following cable: “This is to confirm that [Defense Minister] General Ibnu assures me arrangements have been consummated.” However, when John Kerry (D-MA), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, asked if Abrams knew of any foreign country that financially supported the Contras, he replied, “I don't know. But not that I am aware of and not through us.”

Abrams pleaded guilty to two counts of withholding information from Congress in 1991. His plea was based upon these three discussions with members of Congress. He was sentenced to two years of probation and ordered to complete 100 hours of community service. However, in 1992, President George H.W. Bush pardoned Abrams.

Documents


(Go to Abram's Hearings Page)