Thursday, 27 March 2014


My obituary of Lawrence Walsh, the independent counsel who headed the Iran-Contra investigation, is up at the Guardian online (link to it here) and should be in the paper paper tomorrow. It was difficult to write in the sense that the details and scope of Iran-Contra needed to be explained, and that required much of the space allotted to him. So there are a few points to make here.

It's important to remember that Walsh was about to turn 75 when he accepted the post of independent counsel, and led the investigation for six years; he then spent another three writing his book, Firewall. His energy and persistence belied his age, but he also was the victim of his own respect for the law, and his unwillingness to play political games. He understood that his best chance of success came if he could avoid the pratfalls of the Congressional committees, whose blanket granting of immunity hamstrung his own investigation from the start.

George Bush avoided Iran Contra becoming a campaign issue in 1992--you can easily find Bill Clinton expressing his amazement that his own draft status or trip to Moscow were burning issues, while Bush's participation in Iran-Contra was a non-starters. And when Bush's Christmas Eve pardons finally threw the monkey wrench into Walsh's efforts, his denouncing of a cover-up was long overdue. He also showed remarkable restrain in the face of massive criticism from a press corp uninterested in pursuing the Reagan administration's criminality, not just on Iran-Contra, but more members of Reagan's government were convicted of crimes that in any admistration's since Warren Hardings. And now, of course, we have to endure the retrospective sticking of Reagan's mug on a metaphoric Mount Rushmore.

Firewall is a powerful book, if so prodigiously detailed it riks losing the reader. It pulls no punches on the participation of everyone from Reagan on downward in illegal activites, and then in multiple perjuries and obstructions of justice. Walsh is scathing about the phony patriotism and bragadoccio of the Oliver Norths, and of the self-enrichment programme of many of those involved, from Albert Hakim to North himself.

It surprised me that he never delves into the Reagan October Surprise, the deal made with Iran to hold the Tehran hostages until after the 1980 Presidential elections, because many of the same people, including Reagan, Bush, and CIA director William Casey, were key players in both, and since the Surprise so clearly established the pattern followed in Iran-Contra.

And in one very interesting irony--the federal panel of judges who overturned Walsh's original convictions and hammered home another plank of the coverup, included David Sentelle, the Jesse Helms protege who would later be instrumental in manipulating the change in independent counsel that brought Kenneth Starr in to investigate Clinton. That caricature of the process finally saw the independent counsel post abolished.

Both the New York Times and Washington Post compared Walsh to one of the elite New York lawyers in Louis Auchincloss's novels, which would mean  little to audiences here, and with his lean patrician frame, classic suits, and swept back gray hair he certainly looked the part. But he was just enough of an outsider not to bend the game to the hidden rules of the club--perhaps the Dewey years had taught him that. Walsh joked that he was one of a number of Dewey's Boy Scouts who, despite their names, turned out not to be the ruthless Irish-Catholic lawyers he was expecting.

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