The joint hearings of the House Select Committee to Investigate Covert Arms Transactions with Iran and the Senate Select Committee on Secret Military Assistance to Iran and the Nicaraguan Opposition will come to order.
Ladies and gentlemen, 200 years ago, the framers of our Constitution provided for more perfect union by establishing a strong national government built on a system of checks and balances. The Founding Fathers did not believe that effective government and checks and balances were inconsistent. On the contrary, it was their premise that no branch had such a monopoly on truth that it should be free to act with total independence. The unique genius of the American system was that by dividing power, it promoted sound policy based on reasoned and open discourse and mutual trust between the branches. These hearings this morning and for the days to follow will examine what happens when the trust which is the lubricant of our system is breached by high officials of our government.
The story is not a pretty one. As it unfolds in these proceedings, the American people will have every right to ask how could this have happened here. And as we answer that question, the American people will have every right to demand that it will never happen again.
Indeed, it should never have happened at all.
The constitutionally mandated relationship between the Executive and Legislative Branches of this Nation has stood the test of
time. It has survived the shock of civil war, outlasted the mightiest
monarchies and dictatorships, and seen us successfully through the
turbulence of world wars.
There is no reason this same carefully calibrated system could not have guided us through the difficult choices we faced in Central America and Iran.
The formulation of American foreign policy has always been a matter of discourse between the President and Congress. Without detracting from their own primary responsibility, Presidents have understood that Congress has an indispensable role in foreign policy.
We must ratify the treaties, confirm the major foreign policy officials, authorize and appropriate the funds and exercise the oversight. Bipartisanship in the execution of foreign policy requires prior consultation in the development of foreign policy. In short, it is a working relationship. The President may be the senior partner in foreign policy, but he is not the sole proprietor. Indeed, this fact was seemingly recognized by this Administra- tion. In 1984, the Administration pledged its complete cooperation with Congress. It entered into an unambiguous agreement with the Senate Intelligence Committee promising advance notification of anticipated covert activities.
As recently as the summer of 1986, the Director of Central Intel- ligence reaffirmed this agreement and lauded the successful partnership that had developed between the Executive and the Intelligence Committee.
But at the very moment these promises of cooperation, notifica- tion, and partnership were being made and reaffirmed, the secret chain of events which would explode in the Iran/Contra affair was well in motion.
The story is one not of covert activity alone, but of covert foreign policy. Not secret diplomacy, which Congress has always accepted, but secret policy making, which the Constitution has always rejected.
It is a tale of working outside the system, and of utilizing irregular channels and private parties accountable to no one on matters of national security while ignoring the Congress and even the tra- ditional agencies of executive foreign policymaking.
The story is both sad and sordid; it is filled with inconsistencies and often unexplainable conduct. None of the participants emerges unblemished. People of great character and ability holding positions of trust and authority in our government were drawn into a web of deception and despair.
Congress, too, is not immune from scrutiny in these hearings. We cannot avoid asking whether appropriations bills which changed from year to year and sometimes within the same year were an effective way of controlling foreign policy.
Nor can we avoid asking whether we were vigilant enough in carrying out our oversight functions.
Let it be clear, however, that our concern in this inquiry is not with the merits of any particular policy, but with flawed policymaking processes.
Our hearings are neither pro-Contra nor anti-Contra, neither pro-Administration nor anti-Administration. We are not prosecu- tors; and this is not an adversarial proceeding. We meet here as American citizens, united in a common effort to find the facts lest we repeat the mistakes.
Our purpose is self-examination, not recrimination. To this end, we will deal with questions of the greatest sensitivity to our national security, questions we address precisely because we in Congress do recognize that the paramount importance of foreign policy. And so we will consider in these hearings the following questions: First, were the statutory restrictions on the United States aid to the Contras violated?
Second, was Congress misled?
Third, were the executive branch's own internal checks and balances bypassed in policy decisions in Nicaragua and Iran?
Fourth, was there a public foreign policy and simultaneously was there a very different covert foreign policy?
Fifth, was American foreign policy privatized; And, finally, were decisions on the most significant matters of national security driven or influenced by private profit motives? We do not deal here with civil disagreements over the direction of U.S. foreign policy, or with the creative tensions between the branches of government.
Those are normal and healthy, and they do not end in shredding of documents. Only a contempt for law leads to altered documents and perjured statements.
By eliciting and examining the entire story, we believe our Nation will emerge stronger. We also believe that sunlight is the best disinfectant. Our country is not divided or dispirited. These hearings do not represent our democracy's weakness, but its strength.
This strength and unity of purpose are reflected in the decision of our two committees to conduct these hearings jointly. This was an historic decision, insuring that the public interest would prevail over any parochial interest and that the full story would be pre- sented to the public expeditiously and fairly. This outcome would not have been possible without the cooperation and statesmanship of my colleagues on the House Committee and their distinguished leaders, Congressman Lee Hamilton and Congressman Richard Cheney.
Another historic feature of this inquiry is the bipartisan spirit that has guided our efforts. Our Senate Committee has a unified staff whose members report to the committee as a whole, not to Democrats or Republicans. The Senate Select Committee has beer: pleased with a staff of extraordinary talent and dedication to match.
When the history of this period is written, I am certain its footnotes will amply recognize the indispensable contribution of the staff which was ably guided by the chief counsel, Arthur Liman. This usual superlatives cannot describe this man's contribution to this committee. My senior Republican colleague on this panel, the very Honorable Warren Rudman, is this committee's vice chairman and my equal partner in this inquiry.
He and I have worked closely together, consulting on every issue, reaching joint decisions on every question, striving always towards the same objective. I applaud his leadership. I value his wisdom. I value his counsel.
So, too, do I recognize the great contributions of every member of our committee. Each Senator has spent many hours preparing for these hearings, reviewing mountains of evidence, pouring over the transcripts and documents on busy days, week nights, and week- ends.
No one has raised a political issue in private or in public. Not one has sought to turn this matter into partisan or personal advantage.
All our committee votes on even the most sensitive and potentially divisive questions have been unanimous. This bipartisan spirit has been matched on the other side of Pennsylvania Avenue. The White House has been cooperative. Executive privilege has not been asserted. And even the President's personal diaries have been shared with us. The Executive Department has likewise re- sponded to our requests.
None of this is to say that we and the executive agencies have agreed on every matter. We have had our disagreement. But there they have been minor and also in good faith and most importantly, it has worked.
It is truly sad that such interbranch cooperation and trust could not have been the rule before, because if it had, we would not be here today. Indeed, we must ask why the bipartisanship which has marked this examination of our foreign policy making process could not be extended to the making of our foreign policy in the future. Some of us believe it can. All of us hope it will. But first we must clear the air and let the facts of this unfortunate and sad affair emerge. So to this end, I call these hearings to order.