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IRAN-CONTRA AFFAIR: THE FINAL REPORT : Panel Findings Leave Little Doubt Laws Were Violated

November 19, 1987|DAVID LAUTER | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — The voluminous report of Congress' Iran-Contra committees could serve as a virtual outline for the indictments expected over the next few months against key figures in the affair, although the independent counsel who is developing criminal cases is forbidden from reading it.

The report carefully avoids conclusions about who broke the law but leaves little doubt that laws--governing activities varying from foreign arms sales to misappropriation of government funds--were broken.

"Activities in the Iran-Contra affair . . . were conducted and later covered up by members of the (National Security Council) staff in violation of the Constitution and applicable laws and regulations," a majority of the committee members concluded.

8 Republicans Disagree

The minority report signed by eight of the committees' 11 Republicans disagreed. While conceding that some Iran-Contra activities may have been illegal, the minority argued that "the Administration was in substantial compliance with the law."

Independent counsel Lawrence E. Walsh, in brief comments to reporters Wednesday, refused to say when indictments will come but said his investigation "has its own momentum now." Walsh spoke with reporters shortly before meeting with the grand jury that is considering evidence against participants in the affair.

Walsh has decided he and his investigators will not look at the committees' report because they must avoid using statements by witnesses who testified on condition that their words would not be used against them.

Many of the laws that, according to the committees' account, may have been violated during the Iran-Contra affair carry no criminal penalties. However, legal analysts say, Walsh could seek to bring a criminal case based on a conspiracy to violate these laws--a common prosecutorial strategy.

Prosecutions 'Not Easy'

Prosecutions of Iran-Contra figures will "not be easy," Arthur L. Liman, chief counsel to the Senate investigating committee, said in an interview. He said potential defendants, including former National Security Council aide Oliver L. North, who masterminded arms sales to Iran and diversion of some of the profits to Nicaragua's rebels, probably will argue that they were acting in the national interest and at the direction of their superiors.

The activities that, according to the committee, might lend themselves to criminal charges include:

--The Iran arms sales themselves.

--The sale of arms to the Contras at a time when Congress prohibited such activity.

--The use of profits from the Iran arms sales to finance a variety of causes--the purchase of arms for Nicaragua's rebels and the enrichment of Richard V. Secord, Albert A. Hakim and Thomas Clines, the private citizens who ran the Iran-Contra operation with North.

--The "outright falsehoods" contained in some congressional testimony on the affair and the destruction of pertinent evidence.

Laws on Arms Sales

At least three laws--the Arms Export Control Act, the 1961 Foreign Assistance Act and the 1947 National Security Act--govern U.S. arms sales abroad. The committee said all three may have been violated.

The first two of those laws require that recipients of U.S. weapons may not transfer them to other countries without prior approval of the U.S. government and notification of Congress. The Iran-Contra committees found that President Reagan signed a "finding" authorizing two 1985 shipments of weapons from Israel to Iran only after the fact, in December, 1985.

The Arms Export Control Act was amended in 1977 to forbid arms sales to terrorist nations--a category that included Iran during the 1985 and 1986 arms sales. The act permits the President to waive that requirement if he signs a finding and notifies Congress; the committees said he did neither.

The National Security Act requires a presidential finding and congressional notification when the United States sells arms abroad. Reagan signed a finding in January, 1986, before a series of direct U.S. arms sales to Iran, the committees found, but he did not notify Congress.

Rep. Howard L. Berman (D-Panorama City), with the backing of the House Democratic leadership and Rep. Henry J. Hyde (R-Ill.), introduced legislation Wednesday that would replace those sometimes conflicting laws with one comprehensive statute. The bill for the first time would impose criminal penalties for violations.

The Iran-Contra committees also insisted that U.S. support for arms sales to the Contras during 1985 and 1986 violated congressional limits on U.S. military aid to the Contras. The minority report signed by eight of the committees' 11 Republicans found no such violation.

In another central legal conclusion, the majority report found that Secord and Hakim operated as government agents in their sale of arms to Iran and the Contras even though they were not on the government payroll. The minority report called that "a matter for the courts to decide."

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