The Iran–Contra scandal, or simply Iran–Contra, was a political scandal in the United States that occurred during the second term of the Reagan Administration that lasted from August 20, 1985 – March 4, 1987. Senior administration officials secretly facilitated the sale of arms to the Khomeini government of the Islamic Republic of Iran, which was the subject of an arms embargo. The administration hoped to use the proceeds of the arms sale to fund the Contras in Nicaragua. Under the Boland Amendment, further funding of the Contras by the government had been prohibited by Congress. This History Channel clip gives a brief recap of the events:
The official justification for the arms shipments was that they were part of an operation to free seven American hostages being held in Lebanon by Hezbollah, a paramilitary group with Iranian ties connected to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. The plan was for Israel to ship weapons to Iran, for the United States to resupply Israel, and for Israel to pay the United States. The Iranian recipients promised to do everything in their power to achieve the release of the hostages. The first arms sales authorized to Iran were in 1981, prior to the American hostages having been taken in Lebanon. President Ronald Regan is overwhelmed by questions for details after a press conference:
The plan was later complicated in late 1985, when Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North of the National Security Council diverted a portion of the proceeds from the Iranian weapon sales to fund the Contras, a group of anti-Sandinista rebels, in their insurgency against the socialist government of Nicaragua. While President Ronald Reagan was a vocal supporter of the Contra cause, the evidence is disputed as to whether he personally authorized the diversion of funds to the Contras. Handwritten notes taken by Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger on December 7, 1985 indicate that Reagan was aware of potential hostage transfers with Iran, as well as the sale of Hawk and TOW missiles to "moderate elements" within that country. Here is an NBC News Report includes footage of the Senate hearings including testimony by Colonel Oliver North:
After the weapon sales were revealed in November 1986, Reagan appeared on national television and stated that the weapons transfers had indeed occurred, but that the United States did not trade arms for hostages. The investigation was impeded when large volumes of documents relating to the affair were destroyed or withheld from investigators by Reagan administration officials. On March 4, 1987, Reagan made a further nationally televised address, taking full responsibility for the affair and stating that "what began as a strategic opening to Iran deteriorated, in its implementation, into trading arms for hostages". Here is President Reagan's address to the nation:
The affair was investigated by the U.S. Congress and by the three-person, Reagan-appointed Tower Commission. Neither investigation found evidence that President Reagan himself knew of the extent of the multiple programs. In the end, fourteen administration officials were indicted, including then-Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger. Eleven convictions resulted, some of which were vacated on appeal. The rest of those indicted or convicted were all pardoned in the final days of the presidency of George H. W. Bush, who had been Vice President at the time of the affair.
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