Author: MCDONALD, DIAN (USIA STAFF WRITER) - Date: 19921224
BUSH PARDONS WEINBERGER, FIVE OTHERS TIED TO IRAN-CONTRA
(Calls Weinberger "true American patriot") (650) By Dian McDonald USIA White House Correspondent Washington -- President Bush December 24 granted pardons to former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger and five other individuals for their conduct related to the Iran-Contra affair.
Bush said Weinberger -- who had been scheduled to go on trial in Washington January 5 on charges related to Iran-Contra -- was a "true American patriot," who had served with "distinction" in a series of public positions since the late 1960s.
"I am pardoning him not just out of compassion or to spare a 75-year-old patriot the torment of lengthy and costly legal proceedings, but to make it possible for him to receive the honor he deserves for his extraordinary service to our country," Bush said in a proclamation granting executive clemency.
The president also pardoned five other persons who already had pleaded guilty or had been indicted or convicted in connection with the Iran-Contra arms-for-hostages investigation. They were Elliott Abrams, a former assistant secretary of state for Inter-American affairs; former National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane; and Duane Clarridge, Alan Fiers, and Clair George, all former employees of the Central Intelligence Agency.
Explaining those pardons, Bush said the "common denominator of their motivation -- whether their actions were right or wrong -- was patriotism." They did not profit or seek to profit from their conduct, Bush said, adding that all five "have already paid a price -- in depleted savings, lost careers, anguished families -- grossly disproportionate to any misdeeds or errors of judgment they may have committed."
Asked about the pardons at a news conference in Little Rock, Arkansas, later in the day, President-elect Clinton said he did not have all the details on the matter and would withhold comment until he had had a chance to study the president's statement and related information.
However, Clinton said he was concerned "by any action which sends a signal that, if you work for the government, you're above the law, or that not telling the truth to Congress under oath is somehow less serious than not telling the truth to some other body under oath."
The Iran-Contra affair involved the secret sale of weapons to Iran in exchange for the release of American hostages held in Lebanon by pro-Iranian terrorists and the diversion of money from that sale to provide support for anti-communist resistance fighters in Nicaragua known as the "Contras."
Weinberger had been charged by independent counsel Lawrence Walsh with four counts of lying to congressional Iran-Contra investigators in 1987 and to Walsh's prosecutors in 1990. His case involved allegations that he had concealed from congressional investigators his personal notes that detailed events related to Iran-Contra and which reportedly undermined what then-President Reagan said about the origins and operations of the covert arms-for-hostages dealings. Weinberger had pleaded not guilty and said he was being unfairly prosecuted.
Although a president has unlimited pardon powers, it is highly unusual to pardon someone before trial and conviction. The best-known precedent -- following the Watergate political scandal during the Nixon administration -- was former President Ford's pardon in 1974 of former President Nixon, who was never indicted.
Bush said the prosecutions of the persons he was pardoning on Christmas Eve represent "what I believe is a profoundly troubling development in the political and legal climate of our country: the criminalization of policy differences."
The differences should be addressed in "the political arena, without the Damocles sword of criminality hanging over the heads of some of the combatants," he said. "The proper target is the president, not his subordinates; the proper forum is the voting booth, not the courtroom."
Bush also granted Christmas Eve pardons to 18 other individuals who were not involved in the Iran-Contra affair.