WASHINGTON — It was never illegal for U.S. officials to solicit funds from foreign governments for Nicaragua's contras , despite legislation prohibiting the U.S. government from supporting "directly or indirectly" any military action against the Managua regime, the White House said Thursday.
In a prolonged and often confusing exchange with reporters, White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said President Reagan was never aware that Administration officials had sought money from Saudi Arabia, Taiwan, Brunei and other countries, although White House lawyers consistently concluded that such solicitations were not against the law.
Contributions solicited from those countries have been a prime subject in the congressional hearings on the Iran-contra scandal.
Fitzwater conceded that he did not know why the Administration did not appeal openly for foreign funds to replace U.S. financial support for the contras if there were no legal bars.
At issue is a series of amendments to appropriation bills restricting--and for a time prohibiting--U.S. support for the contras. The measures, sponsored by Rep. Edward P. Boland (D-Mass.), are usually lumped together under the name "Boland amendment." Although there are differences among the amendments, all sought to prohibit the Administration from doing more to support the contras than Congress was willing to endorse.