November 25, 1986 – President Reagan Acknowledges Sending Arms to Iran

On this day in history, the “Iran-Contra Scandal” erupted after President Reagan Reagan revealed that profits from secret arms sales to Iran had been diverted to fund Nicaraguan rebels–the Contras–who were fighting a guerrilla war against the democratically elected leftist government of Nicaragua.

President Ronald Reagan shortly after the Iran-contra scandal engulfed his administration in November 1986. (Credit: AP/Dennis Cook)

President Ronald Reagan shortly after the Iran-contra scandal engulfed his administration in November 1986. (Credit: AP/Dennis Cook)

The report caused outrage in Congress, which in 1982 had passed The Boland Amendment (attached to the House Appropriations Bill of 1982 and again attached as a rider to the Defense Appropriations Act of 1983), outlawing U.S. assistance to the Contras for the purpose of overthrowing the Nicaraguan government, while allowing assistance for other purposes.

Nevertheless, Vice Admiral John M. Poindexter, USN, and his deputy, Lt. Colonel Oliver North, USMC, diverted to the Nicaraguan contras millions of dollars in funds received from a secret deal involving the sales of anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles to Iran (this in spite of Reagan’s public pledge not to deal with terrorists).

The Administration was not beset by a fit of conscience; rather, a Lebanese magazine, Ash Shiraa, reported on November 3 that the United States had been secretly selling arms to Iran in an effort to secure the release of seven American hostages held by pro-Iranian groups in Lebanon.

Lt. Colonel Oliver North

Lt. Colonel Oliver North

In 1988, acting on a recommendation made by the Congressional Iran-Contra [investigative] Committee, the Senate approved bipartisan legislation that would have required that the President notify the congressional intelligence committees within 48 hours of the implementation of a covert action if prior notice had not been provided. The House did not vote on the measure.

Then in 1990, Congress tried again to tighten its oversight of covert action. The Senate Intelligence Committee approved a new set of statutory reporting requirements, citing the ambiguous, confusing and incomplete congressional mandate governing covert actions under the then-current law. After the bill was modified in conference, Congress approved the changes, but President George H.W. Bush killed it with a pocket veto.

In 1991, after adding new language pursuant to the objections of President Bush, Congress once again proposed an oversight law. Congress approved and the President signed into law the new measure, now codified as 50 U.S.C. 413b. You can read the provisions here.

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