WASHINGTON — Vice President George Bush is hurting his credibility by refusing to say what he advised President Reagan about selling arms to Iran, Arthur Liman, chief counsel for the Senate Iran-Contra committee, said today.
Records of National Security Council meetings do not show Bush expressing reservations about selling weapons to Iran, Liman said in an interview on ABC's "Good Morning America" but do show others' objections--contrary to earlier Bush claims.
Craig Fuller, vice presidential chief of staff who was traveling with Bush, said in a statement issued by the White House that Liman's charges were a "regrettable . . . repeat (of) a somewhat partisan line."
"Mr. Liman's reappearance may be designed to raise new questions, but he more than most should realize there are no new answers," said Fuller. "Quite frankly, he really didn't have any new questions."
'Privilege ... Waived'
Liman said today: "It's an important principle that conversations in which (Cabinet officers) give advice to the President are privileged. But the President in this case waived the privilege for all of them--for the secretaries of state and defense and the vice president.
"He waived executive privilege. So I really don't understand how the vice president can refuse to discuss what he told the President, when the President has said that . . . 'Our privilege is now waived,' " Liman said.
"I think that the vice president in a way has tended to make the issue stay alive," Liman said, "because if he had said directly that, 'Yes, I had supported the initiative,' and given his reasons, he might have taken criticism--because I think that the sale of arms to the ayatollah was foolish--but it would be over.
"Instead, by creating this mystery, it stays on and has raised a question as to his own credibility. And I don't understand why he's done that."
Bush has variously said that he had reservations about aspects of arms sales to Iran, that he never condoned swapping arms for the release of U.S. citizens being held hostage in the Middle East, that he strongly supported selling Hawk anti-aircraft missiles and other weapons to so-called moderates in Iran and that he never heard other Cabinet officers object to the Iran arms sales.
"If he had reservations, he certainly did not express them at any of the meetings with the National Security Council principals," Liman said.
"The records were very, very clear that the secretaries of state and . . . defense were consistently opposed to the sale of arms to Iran. And the only record reflecting the vice president's view was one in which he was described as being solidly in support of the sale of arms.
"The only reservation (by Bush) that I'm familiar with that he ever expressed--and that was one that (former White House Chief of Staff) Don Regan has discussed--was that he had a reservation about allowing Israel to manage the Iran initiative," Liman recalled.