WASHINGTON — Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams was warned by members of Congress on Wednesday that he seems to have been selected as one of the Reagan Administration's "designated fall guys" who will be forced to resign to pay for the Iran- contra scandal.
In Abrams' second day of questioning by the Iran-contra committee, several members suggested that the brash assistant secretary for Latin American affairs was being "hung out to dry" by Administration officials. And Sen. David L. Boren (D-Okla.), chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, urged Abrams to resign.
"We have to rebuild trust" so that Congress and the executive branch can work together to put U.S. Central American policy back together, Boren said, and "I'm afraid there's too much in the record at this point for you to be able to effectively play that role."
And Dante B. Fascell (D-Fla.), the powerful chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told Abrams that Congress' doubts about his credibility would "make it very difficult . . . if you indeed now are and still are charged primarily with driving the policy on contra assistance."
Sen. George J. Mitchell (D-Me.) said he believes that Abrams, the chief spokesman for the Administration's Central American policy, had been treated "shabbily" by the Administration--particularly in light of his testimony that he was never told that U.S. officials were running a private contra supply network at a time when military assistance to the rebels was prohibited by Congress.
"Baseball has a designated hitter, this committee has a designated questioner, and it looks to me like you're one of the Administration's designated fall guys," Mitchell said.
In response, Abrams indicated that he, too, fears that he might be sacrificed by the Administration for his role in the Iran-contra affair, but he insisted that he still has the support of Secretary of State George P. Shultz and that "it is not his view or mine that I am the fall guy."
Aides to Abrams said he intends to stay in his job "until the last day of the Administration." In addition, after the hearing, Shultz issued a statement pledging full support for the combative assistant secretary.
"I have complete confidence in Elliott Abrams," Shultz said. "He has done a sensational job as assistant secretary for inter-American affairs and, despite the difficult situations in which he was put, has handled himself extremely well . . . . He is a man of integrity and candor, and his record demonstrates this clearly. He was and remains my selection to be assistant secretary for inter-American affairs."
But Mitchell replied that Abrams' demise as an Administration official appears "truly inexorable and inevitable." And Rep. Jack Brooks (D-Tex.) added: "I can't see how you can survive as assistant secretary of state."
Even Rep. William S. Broomfield (R-Mich.), ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee and one of the Administration's most loyal supporters in Congress, suggested that Abrams' resignation may be necessary to salvage the President's Central American policy.
"I really think there are problems for him," Broomfield said after the hearing. "There's no question that the Administration is going to have to evaluate (whether it wants Abrams to continue as assistant secretary of state) very carefully."
Jobs Lost by Three
So far, three other Administration officials--former White House aides Oliver L. North, John M. Poindexter and Johnathan S. Miller--have lost their jobs as a direct result of the disclosure of the Iran-contra affair. The departure of former White House Chief of Staff Donald T. Regan also was related to the scandal.
There were also strong warnings to Abrams that the Iran-contra affair may deprive the Administration of congressional approval of its expected request for $105 million for the contras in the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1.
"I have many reservations about how this policy is being driven and will be driven in the next several months," said Fascell, a longtime proponent of contra aid. "I am not convinced that, without broad bipartisan and public support and support in Congress, that you're going to be able to accomplish it. What we've done . . . is almost destroy the contras."
Boren, in a statement issued after the hearing that called for Abrams' resignation, said: "It is my honest belief that it would be in his own best interests, and the best interests of the country, for him to step down as assistant secretary of state, so that we can begin with a clean slate as we work to restore trust and build a bipartisan Central American policy."
Throughout his testimony, Abrams clung to a story that many committee members clearly found implausible: that he was aware of a private supply network aiding the Nicaraguan resistance but never suspected that it was being run by government officials in violation of a congressional ban on U.S. military aid.