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Donald Regan White House Chief of Staff

As President Reagan’s chief of staff from February 1985 to February 1987, Donald Regan was responsible for who met with the president and what information reached his desk. However, although he joined Reagan at daily national security briefings, he could not authorize any actions himself; the conduct for which he was investigated centered on his response to and testimony given after the exposure of the Affairs.

In 1991, after completing a comprehensive review of compliance with their document requests, Walsh’s office determined that the production of Regan’s documents had been both late and incomplete. Although Regan claimed not to take extensive notes, his aides said otherwise, claiming he had been preparing to write a book on his experiences. Regan then admitted that he had relevant notes. When subpoenaed later that year, he complied fully. Indeed, it was his writings, along with Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger’s notes, that revealed Attorney General Edwin Meese III’s role in covering up President Reagan’s involvement in the shipment of missiles to Iran in November 1985.

Walsh focused on Regan’s notes from a November 10, 1986 meeting, in which National Security Adviser John Poindexter omitted that 1985 shipment as part of a chronology of arms sales to Iran. Regan claims to have said nothing because others in the room knew of those sales, and because he assumed Poindexter was only discussing those that took place after he became national security adviser. The statement that came out of that meeting failed to acknowledge any sales, simply stating that no laws had been broken.

Two days later, as recorded by Regan, Poindexter told Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV) that there was “no transfer of material” in 1985. Regan knew this to be false but said “he was not concerned about it at the time.” The next day, on November 13, President Reagan admitted that sales had indeed taken place, though he did not share the full story.

The next week, Secretary of State George Shultz confronted Reagan and Regan about the false statements by the president, specifically his failure to describe the November 1985 HAWK sales as an arms-for-hostages swap. Reagan stated that he knew of the sales but that it was not a quid-pro-quo as Shultz claimed.

On November 24, Regan met with Reagan, Meese, and others. Meese told them that the November 1985 sales were possibly illegal, but claimed that Reagan had not been aware of the transaction. He also told them of the diversion of funds to the Contras. Regan says this was the first he learned of the Diversion, though CIA Director William Casey had informed him of financial problems with the sales earlier. Regan’s testimony about what he knew and when he knew it was somewhat inconsistent, at first denying a specific meeting with Casey but later admitting that it had indeed happened.

Regan also claimed that President Reagan did not know about the sales of TOW missiles in August and September 1985 until they were completed and never approved sending missiles to Israel to replace them. However, McFarlane said the opposite. Ultimately, when the Tower Commission interviewed the president, he vacillated between their claims and ultimately stated that he could not recall. This controversy led to Regan’s dismissal (he resigned after Vice President George H.W. Bush urged him to do so).

Ultimately, no charges were brought against Regan. First, there was no evidence that he was actively colluding with Meese to create a false version of the Affairs. When Regan was interviewed afterwards, he was honest and helpful, and his testimony was going to be used against Weinberger and could also have been used against Meese if the Independent Counsel had prosecuted him. Although his delay in producing his notes was harmful, that was in part the responsibility of the White House as a whole—he did produce all of the requested documents once subpoenaed.

(Go to Regan's Hearings Page)