WASHINGTON — Wealthy private donors to the Nicaraguan rebel cause testified today they were promised that President Reagan would meet with $300,000 donors, and that former CIA director William J. Casey said White House aide Oliver L. North was "the guy to see" about making financial arrangements.
The three--beer magnate Joseph Coors, Texas heiress Ellen Garwood and New York oil and gas executive William O'Boyle--testified that they gladly gave large sums of money after hearing North explain the Administration's Central American strategy. The money wound up in Swiss bank accounts.
Garwood gave more than $2 million and got a personal meeting with Reagan, but O'Boyle contributed only $160,000 and never got the opportunity.
Request Not From Reagan
Coors, a longtime Reagan friend, said Reagan never personally asked him for money for the contras . But he said North provided him with a Swiss bank account number and he wired $65,000 to it.
Coors told the investigators that Casey informed him in June, 1985, that "Ollie North's the guy to see" about making a voluntary contribution to the contra cause.
The contributions occurred at a time when Congress had banned direct and indirect U.S. military aid to the rebels.
O'Boyle told the Iran-contra hearings that he met with conservative fund-raiser Carl R. (Spitz) Channell in Washington in the spring of 1986, and received a White House briefing from North about the contras' problems.
Reagan Relied on Group
O'Boyle said he told Channell after the North briefing that he wanted to help buy weapons for the contra forces. "He said there was a small group of Americans the President relied on to make that kind of contribution," O'Boyle said of Channell.
He also said that Channell told him that if anyone gave $300,000 or more, "the President would meet with the contributor and thank them."
O'Boyle said North never made a direct solicitation of money for the contras, explaining that he was a U.S. government employee.
But Sen. Warren B. Rudman (R-N.H.) later noted that O'Boyle and other contributors described a pattern of North portraying the contras' difficulties followed by a request from Channell.
'The One-Two Punch'
"I call that the one-two punch," Rudman said. "It's a fiction for anyone to assume that's not a solicitation."
O'Boyle said that at an April 29, 1986, meeting with North, the National Security Council aide outlined details of a secret plan for the contras to establish a provisional regime in Nicaragua, followed by a U.S. Navy blockade of supplies from Cuba that would force the downfall of the Sandinista government.
"I assumed it was the U.S. government's plan," O'Boyle said. But Rudman said the secret plan was "all puffery. It was just a fund-raising technique."
Garwood, the widow of a former Texas Supreme Court justice, said she gave nearly $2 million to the contras after North told her they "might cease to exist if the weapons are not replenished."
Subsequently, she said, she and other contributors attended a White House meeting with Reagan, North and Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams. She said Reagan thanked the donors for their support of the contras.
Rep. Peter W. Rodino Jr. (D-N.J.) asked Garwood if she assumed that--although no one in the Administration had solicited a contribution, only Channell--"you really recognized that this was a request coming from the principals at the White House."
"Oh, yes," Garwood replied.