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THE IRAN-CONTRA HEARINGS : Denies Reagan Knew Other Nations Were Asked to Fund Contras : White House Calls Rebel Aid Pleas Legal

May 15, 1987|From a Times Staff Writer

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.

Unanswered Question

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.

For instance, from Oct. 12, 1984, to Sept. 30, 1985, Congress cut off all U.S. government funds for the contras, and from Oct. 1, 1985, to Sept. 30, 1986, the lawmakers limited U.S. aid to $27 million in "humanitarian assistance."

The 1984-85 version of the Boland amendment provided that no funds appropriated for the Pentagon, CIA or other "agency or entity involved in intelligence activities" could be used to support "directly or indirectly military or paramilitary operations in Nicaragua by any nation, group, organization, movement or individual."

Interpretation Sought

Fitzwater was asked for the White House interpretation of that statute.

"Many legal scholars on both sides of the question have had differing opinions about the enforceability of the Boland amendment and what it means," the White House spokesman said. "We don't have a view on the Boland amendment; that's a matter for the legal authorities to pursue."

But, when reporters asked if the White House had a view of what it was required to do or prohibited from doing by the amendment, Fitzwater said: "Certainly.

"I don't think we have ever felt it's against the law to solicit money from third countries--for humanitarian (aid) or arms."

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