Nevertheless, the ultimate responsibility for the events in the Iran-Contra affair must rest with the President. If the President did not know what his national security advisers were doing, he should have. It is his responsibility to communicate unambiguously to his subordinates that they must keep him advised of important actions they take for the Administration.
The Constitution requires the President to "take care that the laws be faithfully executed." This charge encompasses a responsibility to leave the members of his Administration in no doubt that the rule of law governs. . . .
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.
This same environment enabled a secretary (Fawn Hall) who shredded, smuggled and altered documents to tell the committees that "sometimes you have to go above the written law;" and it enabled Poindexter to testify that "frankly, we were willing to take some risks with the law."
It was in such an environment that former officials of the NSC 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. What may aptly be called the "cabal of the zealots" was in charge.
In a constitutional democracy, it is not true, as one official maintained, that "when you take the king's shilling, you do the king's bidding." The idea of monarchy was rejected here 200 years ago and since then, the law--not any official or ideology--has been paramount. For not instilling this precept in his staff, for failing to take care that the law reigned supreme, the President bears the responsibility.
President Reagan and his staff made mistakes in the Iran-Contra affair. It is important at the outset, however, to note that the President himself has already taken the hard step of acknowledging his mistakes and reacting precisely to correct what went wrong.
He has directed the National Security Council staff not to engage in covert operations. He has changed the procedures for notifying Congress when an intelligence activity does take place. Finally, he has installed people with seasoned judgment to the White House chief of staff, national security adviser and director of central intelligence.
The bottom line, however, is that the mistakes of the Iran-Contra affair were just that--mistakes in judgment and nothing more. There was no constitutional crisis, no systematic disrespect for "the rule of law," no grand conspiracy and no Administration-wide dishonesty or cover-up. In fact, the evidence will not support any of the more hysterical conclusions the committees' (majority) report tries to reach.
No one in the government was acting out of corrupt motives. To understand what they did, it is important to understand the context within which they acted. The decisions we have been investigating grew out of:
--Efforts to pursue important U.S. interests both in Central America and in the Middle East.
--A compassionate, but disproportionate, concern for the fate of American citizens held hostage in Lebanon by terrorists, including one CIA station chief who was killed as a result of torture.
--A legitimate frustration with abuses of power and irresolution by the legislative branch.
--An equally legitimate frustration with leaks of sensitive national security secrets coming out of both Congress and the executive branch.
A substantial number of the mistakes of the Iran-Contra affair resulted directly from an ongoing state of political guerrilla warfare over foreign policy between the legislative and executive branches. We would include in this category the excessive secrecy of the Iran initiative that resulted from a history and legitimate fear of leaks.
We also would include the approach both branches took toward the so-called Boland amendments. Congressional Democrats tried to use vaguely worded and constantly changing laws to impose policies in Central America that went well beyond the law itself. For its own part, the Administration decided to work within the letter of the law covertly, instead of forcing a public and principled confrontation that would have been healthier in the long run. . . .
The country's future security depends upon a \o7 modus vivendi \f7 in which each branch recognizes the other's legitimate and constitutionally sanctioned sphere of activity. Congress must recognize that an effective foreign policy requires, and the Constitution mandates, the President to be the country's foreign policy leader. At the same time, the President must recognize that his preeminence rests upon personal leadership, public education, political support, and interbranch comity. . . .