Faced with the certainty of years of legal terrorism and thousands of dollars in legal bills defending himself against Prosecutor Lawrence Walsh, former Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams plea bargained to two misdemeanor counts of withholding Iran-Contra-related information from Congress.
One must remember, however, that this was a Congress that was changing U.S. law on aid to the Contras faster than the seasons change in Washington; a Congress that was playing `Simon says' with thousands of young freedom fighters who were putting their lives on the line for a free and democratic Nicaragua.
As Mr. Walsh prepares to shut down his five-year investigation, a House task force has been named by the Democratic leadership to investigate the so-called `October Surprise,' a supposed plot by which Reagan-Bush campaign aides managed to convince the Iranian leadership to delay the release of American hostages until about an hour after Ronald Reagan was sworn in as president. New allegations from former Carter administration National Security Council aide Gary Sick renewed the congressional interest.
But as the panel members for this `October Surprise' task force were being named, Sen. David Boren, Oklahoma Democrat, dismissed the testimony of another former intelligence official who, under oath, disclosed that Democratic members of the House were engaged in questionable dealings with the Sandinista junta ruling Nicaragua in the 1980s.
In recent testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee, Alan Fiers, former head of the CIA's Central American Task Force (and another `two misdemeanor' catch for Mr. Walsh), testified that, in the process of monitoring Sandinista communications, the CIA had intercepted conversations between several members of Congress and the `comandantes' in Managua.
The communications in question were in the form of congressmen and their staff giving the Sandinista, PR tips and strategy suggestions on how to subvert President Reagan's foreign policy agenda in Central America. The former and present members of Congress whose judgment and actions need to be reviewed include former House Speaker Jim Wright of Texas, former Rep. Michael Barnes of Maryland and current House Whip David Bonior of Michigan.
There is clearly a double standard at play when allegations against Republican officials are taken seriously and immediately investigated, while equally serious actions by former and current Democratic congressmen are dismissed without a thought. While the president of the United States was going through the appropriate channel of publicly requesting appropriations from Congress for the Contras, ranking Democrats with access and knowledge of U.S. intelligence were giving back-room advice to the leaders of a communist country openly aggressive to the United States and its interests (democracy, free elections and peace) in the region. All the members involved were outspoken critics of the president's policy and all had the opportunity to oppose the president's policy on the floor of the House.
There is nothing wrong with opposing the administration's position on a foreign or domestic matter, but it's another issue entirely if those members used their access to classified information to advance the cause of the totalitarian government that was in power in Nicaragua at the time.
Congressional access to classified information is both a right and a privilege. Following Mr. Fiers' testimony, the use of that privilege is clearly in question, and the American public deserves to know if any laws were broken by lawmakers obsessed with handing Mr. Reagan a foreign policy defeat. Questions need to be asked: What did the Sandinista PR squad on Capitol Hill know? When did they know it? And which `comandante' did they tell it to?
Elliott Abrams and his former colleagues have answered their share of questions, and it's time for all Democrats implicated by Mr. Fiers to do the same. The principles and the law guiding the integrity and sensitive nature of classified information are too serious to be left uninvestigated.