WASHINGTON — President Reagan failed to carry out his constitutional oath of office to "take care that the laws be faithfully executed" and bears ultimate responsibility for the Iran-Contra scandal, the House and Senate committees that investigated the affair declared Wednesday in their final report.
The sharply worded report, signed by three Republican senators as well as all Democrats on the special committees, charged that Reagan repeatedly misled Congress and the public about secret activities, failed to supervise his subordinates properly and created an environment in which a small band of Administration zealots believed that lying to Congress and defying established rules and procedures were justified in pursuit of the President's goals.
"The common ingredients of the Iran and Contra policies were secrecy, deception and disdain for the law," declared the long-awaited report, which capped a 10-month investigation by the two special committees.
"What may aptly be called 'the cabal of the zealots' was in charge," the report said.
"A small group of senior officials believed that they alone knew what was right. They viewed knowledge of their actions by others in the government as a threat to their objectives," said the report, which was based on three months of nationally televised hearings and about 500 interviews with government officials and other participants in the scandal.
An Array of Officials
In denouncing those who disregarded "the rule of law," the committees referred to an array of Administration officials, including Lt. Col. Oliver L. North, the central figure in the scandal; former National Security Adviser John M. Poindexter, who authorized North's activities but said that he kept many of them secret from the President; former National Security Adviser Robert C. McFarlane, whose testimony is riddled with inconsistencies, and the late CIA Director William J. Casey, who the committee believed directed North's activities.
One of the most revealing moments of the hearings came when North's secretary, Fawn Hall, offered this defense of activities that included destroying and removing evidence: "Sometimes you just have to go above the written law."
These officials, the committees said, told neither the secretary of state, Congress nor the American people of their actions and when exposure was threatened, "they destroyed official documents and lied to Cabinet officials, to the public and to elected representatives."
In this atmosphere, the committees continued, former officials of the National Security Council staff and their private agents "could lecture the committees that a 'rightful cause' justifies any means, that lying to Congress and other officials in the executive branch itself is acceptable when the ends are just and that Congress is to blame for passing laws that run counter to Administration policy."
A minority report, signed by all six Republican House members and two GOP senators on the committees, challenged the thrust of the majority report and accepted Reagan's explanation that the Iran-Contra affair involved only "mistakes" that amounted to little more than errors of judgment.
"There was no constitutional crisis, no systematic disrespect for 'the rule of law,' no grand conspiracy," the minority report said.
On one of the most crucial questions raised by the scandal, the committees' majority report did not accept or reject Reagan's contention that he had not known about the diversion of funds from the Iranian arms sales to the Nicaraguan rebels. The evidence on this issue was inconclusive, the majority concluded, although it said there was no evidence to disprove the President's assertion.
Nonetheless, "the President created or at least tolerated an environment where those who did know of the diversion believed with certainty that they were carrying out the President's policies," the majority said.
Among other points and conclusions contained in the majority report:
--Atty. Gen. Edwin Meese III "poorly served" the President in his legal advice on the Iran initiative and then seriously "departed from standard investigative techniques" in a later probe, casting doubt on his credibility.
--Meese, despite his denials that he ever authorized using private money to ransom hostages, did in fact approve North's use of Contra funds in one case: the failed scheme in which special agents of the Drug Enforcement Administration tried to make contact with the captors.
--Although there was contradictory testimony on the matter, the committees concluded that "at least $3.8 million of the $16.1 million in arms sales profits were used for Contra assistance."