On this day in 1986, Attorney General Edwin Meese revealed that proceeds from secret arms sales to Iran were illegally diverted to support Contra rebels in Nicaragua . Three weeks earlier, a Lebanese magazine had broken the story that the United States — in violation of its own arms embargo — had sold weapons to Iran in an attempt to gain freedom for American hostages being held in Lebanon. Because President Reagan had publicly stated that he would never negotiate with terrorists, it came as a shock to the American public when his administration admitted to doing just that.
To make things even worse, in 1982 Congress had passed the Boland Amendment, which specifically prohibited sending federal money to the Contra rebels for the purpose of overthrowing the Nicaraguan government. Meese’s revelation that the money from the arms sales was used to support a guerilla war against the leftist Nicaraguan government infuriated Congress. The day that the news broke, Reagan’s National Security Advisor, John Poindexter, resigned. His aide, Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North, was fired.
The following summer, Congress held hearings on what had become known as “the Iran-Contra affair.” Eleven administration officials were found guilty of a number of charges ranging from perjury to conspiracy. Reagan accepted responsibility for the arms sales, but denied any knowledge of the Nicaragua piece, and it has never been established exactly what his role was in the conspiracy. Notes from 1985, taken by then-Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, recorded that Reagan said that he could answer charges of illegality, but not the charge that “big strong President Reagan passed up a chance to free hostages.”
Reposted from Writer’s Almanac