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The 1992 Pardons

On December 24, 1992, President George H.W. Bush granted pardons to six defendants in the Iran-Contra Affairs. The defendants were Elliott Abrams, a former assistant secretary of state for Central America; former National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane; former CIA officials Duane Clarridge, Alan Fiers, and Clair George; and former Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger.

Prior to these pardons, Abrams had pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor charges leading to two years of probation and 100 hours of community service; McFarlane pleaded guilty to one felony charge and received two years of probation; Fiers pleaded guilty to two misdemeanors and was given one year of probation and 100 hours community service; and George had been found guilty of two felony charges but had not yet been sentenced.

However, Bush issued the pardons of Clarridge and Weinberger preemptively, a move reminiscent of President Gerald Ford’s pardon of his predecessor, Richard Nixon, following the Watergate scandal. According to the Independent Counsel, the pardon of an official as high-ranking as Weinberger, whose trial was scheduled to begin on January 5, 1993, raised questions as to what Bush might have hoped to conceal. Walsh had intended to call Bush as a witness in the trial, although Weinberger denied that any of his notes from meetings dealing with Iran-Contra contradicted past statements by Bush and former President Ronald Reagan.

In defense of these six pardons, Bush stated, “[The] common denominator of their motivation—whether their actions were right or wrong—was patriotism.” He criticized the years-long investigation run by Walsh as reflective of “what I believe is a profoundly troubling development in the political and legal climate of our country: the criminalization of policy differences.”

Walsh released a response saying, in part, “[The] pardon of Caspar Weinberger and other Iran-contra defendants undermines the principle that no man is above the law. It demonstrates that powerful people with powerful allies can commit serious crimes in high office—deliberately abusing the public trust without consequence. Weinberger, who faced four felony charges, deserved to be tried by a jury of citizens.” He concluded, “The Iran-contra cover-up, which has continued for more than six years, has now been completed with the pardon of Caspar Weinberger.”

President Bush’s statement

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