By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By David Villano
By Jose D. Duran
By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Luther Campbell
In Looking Forward, that veritable trove of fabrications, Bush wrote that he hadn't become aware of the details until two months after the scandal was uncovered:
"My first real chance to see the picture as a whole didn't come until December 1986, when Dave Durenberger, then chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, briefed me on his committee's preliminary investigation of the affair.
"What Dave had to say left me with the feeling, expressed to my chief of staff, Craig Fuller, that I'd been deliberately excluded from key meetings involving details of the Iran operation."
At first blush, Bush's claim of ignorance didn't seem entirely preposterous. As vice president under Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman had been kept in the dark about the building of the atomic bomb. He didn't find out about the Manhattan Project until after he took over as president.
But, as historian Theodore Draper details in his exhaustive book on the scandal, A Very Thin Line, "At the time [Bush's autobiography] was written, the congressional hearings had not yet taken place and much of the documentary material had not been released. As a result of the voluminous material now available, we know that Bush could not have failed to know a great deal about the problems and pitfalls, because he was usually present...at the...morning briefings of Ronald Reagan." Despite his denials, White House records show that Bush was indeed present at a high-level meeting in January 1986, where the deal was discussed, and at another meeting in July 1986 in Jerusalem.
Former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, who also attended the meetings, concurs. In Fighting for Peace, Weinberger writes that "[Bush] was present at some of the meetings I attended." And in a secret White House memo released on December 17, 1987, Reagan's National Security Adviser John Poindexter, who was also at the meetings, informed his predecessor, James McFarlane, that Bush was in fact very favorable toward an arms for hostages deal: "VP...solid in taking the position that we have to try," the memo read.
At the same time that Bush was scrambling to cover his role in the Iran-contra affair, he was working vigorously to deny his part in yet another foreign-policy debacle, this one involving Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega. As part of Reagan's war on drugs, the U.S. indicted Noriega on drug trafficking and money laundering charges in February 1988. The indictment came as no surprise. Noriega had been suspected of laundering drug money as early as 1972, when he was working as an informant on Latin American affairs for the CIA, reports Elaine Shannon in Desperados, her 1988 book on the drug trade.
This raised the question of what Bush, who was director of the CIA during the early Seventies and who had met with Noriega, had known about Noriega's drug activities. Bush denied knowing anything at all, adopting the formula that served him through Iran-contra. He claimed that the first time he'd heard about Noriega's drug dealings was after Noriega was brought up on charges in 1988. Even more than Bush's denials about Iran-contra, though, this claim of ignorance stretched credulity to the breaking point. For even if, while CIA director, Bush hadn't known about Noriega's activities, he must have learned about them ten years later as vice president. In 1983 Bush had met with Noriega for a second time, and Bush would later head up Reagan's South Florida Drug Force, which was investigating the Panamanian drug connection.
Bush remained firm: "Nobody with any sense of decency in the political arena has alleged I have [had any previous knowledge]," he said on May 8, 1988.
"If they say it's true, let's see your evidence."
The New York Times had given him the evidence. On May 7, 1988, the newspaper reported that Ambassador to Panama Everett Briggs met with Bush in December 1985 and discussed Noriega's drug trafficking. In the weeks preceding the meeting, Briggs said he had sent several cables to Bush on the same issue. Bush said there were no such cables "that I can remember," and claimed that Briggs and he hadn't discussed Noriega's drug activities during their meeting. (Months later Briggs would recant, saying he couldn't remember ever having discussed it with Bush.)
In sworn testimony later that month, however, Bush's National Security Adviser Donald Gregg, who was also at the meeting, said that he had left the meeting "with the sense that Noriega was a growing problem, politically, militarily, and possibly in the drug area." And on July 14, 1988, Bush's former chief of staff, retired Admiral Dan Murphy, told a Senate subcommittee that Bush had in fact been informed in "face to face" briefings with the CIA that Noriega was laundering drug money.
As he had in 1980, Bush vigorously lied to whitewash his history. And once again, he was rewarded by the voters. Bush swept into the Oval Office on a crest of promises and assurances.
Hollow promises, that is, and false assurances. Now, 30 months after he stood on the Capitol steps and vowed to "faithfully execute the office of the president of the United States" (and, in a way, he's doing just that), what of those stern and lofty campaign pledges?