WASHINGTON (AP) - The Iran-Contra affair exploded 20 years ago Saturday, a scandal that crippled the last two years of Ronald Reagan's presidency and temporarily damaged the career prospects of Robert Gates, President Bush's nominee to replace Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.
On Nov. 25, 1986, Attorney General Edwin Meese announced the diversion of millions of dollars in proceeds from the Reagan administration's secret arms sales to Iran to Central America, where the money was used to help bankroll a war secretly run out of the White House. At the time, Congress had cut off military aid to the rebel force known as the Contras fighting the communist government of Nicaragua.
The National Security Archive, a private group, is posting on its Internet site some of the hundreds of thousands of government documents it has collected on the scandal, including some about Gates. His nomination to become CIA director was derailed in 1987, but Gates stayed on in government, survived the political bloodletting, was renominated by President George H.W. Bush four years later and confirmed by the Senate.
Now Senate Democrats are expected to gauge Gates' willingness to change the administration's war policies, but they probably won't stand in his way to becoming the next defense secretary.
Thirty-one Democrats voted against him in 1991, in part because some felt he had turned a blind eye to the diversion of funds to the Contras. Gates says he first heard information about the diversion nearly two months before it was disclosed to the public, and a CIA official said he first told Gates about it even earlier.
Iran-Contra Independent Counsel Lawrence Walsh investigated Gates but brought no criminal charges, concluding that Gates' statements to investigators "often seemed scripted and less than candid."
One of the central figures in the Iran-Contra affair, retired Air Force Gen. Dick Secord, said Friday that critics "have beat this dead Iran-Contra horse far too much by trying to involve Gates, which is a laugh."