Walsh’s Last Stand

Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters—United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, Vol. I, Investigations and Prosecutions

by Lawrence E. Walsh Independent Counsel
Government Printing Office, 572 pp., three volumes, $60.00 (paper)

Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters—United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, Vol. II, Indictments, Plea Agreements, Interim Reports to Congress, and Administrative Matters

by Lawrence E. Walsh Independent Counsel
Government Printing Office, 785 pp., three volumes, $60.00 (paper)

Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters—United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, Vol. III, Comments and Materials Submitted by Individuals and Their Attorneys Responding to Volume I of the Final Report

by Lawrence E. Walsh Independent Counsel
Government Printing Office, 1,150 pp., three volumes, $60.00 (paper)

Iran-Contra: The Final Report

by Lawrence E. Walsh
Times Books, 592 pp., $15.00 (paper)

The confusion with which Lawrence E. Walsh’s final Iran-contra report was received was strikingly reflected in The New York Times of January 19, 1994. A news report by David Johnston emphasized that the report “presented few fresh facts,” and that Walsh had “persevered on a trail that seemed to be growing cold.” A news analysis by David E. Rosenbaum said that the report “added nothing but small details to what was already known about the case.” An editorial was somewhat warmer—the report vindicates “the law’s requirement for a full report of his investigation.” On the op-ed page, Peter Kornbluh and Malcolm Byrne of the National Security Archive in Washington were much the warmest: the report “set the record straight on the major players in the scandal.” Thus the Times provided its readers with two negative news reports, one moderate editorial, and one totally uncritical op-ed piece.

One reason for this strange reception is the very nature of the material. It was issued in three large volumes—572 pages of Walsh’s own report, 1,150 pages of responses by those mentioned, and 785 pages of other, subsidiary matters. These 2,501 pages appeared after interest in the Iran-contra case had subsided. Walsh and his assistants took almost seven years from his appointment in December 1986 to issue their final report. It is full of excerpts from material that had not been made public, and the material itself is so voluminous that one cannot imagine how all of it could ever be made public. An outside observer must take the excerpts on faith, which was not true of previous reports. The hearings of the joint congressional committees on which earlier studies could be based were published in twelve volumes of hearings, two volumes of appendices, and twenty-seven volumes of private testimony, all printed in full. Walsh’s final report rarely refers to these volumes; instead, much of it is based on altogether new material, some of it gathered in the last two years of his investigation.

This new material is derived from previously unpublished grand jury testimony, Swiss financial records, private notes by former secretary of defense Caspar Weinberger and former chief of staff Donald Regan, notes for secretary of state George P. Shultz by his executive assistant, Charles Hill, a diary by former vice-president George Bush, and much else of this type. For the most part, I found that the new material, with one notable exception, was generally familiar from previous work on the subject. Nevertheless, the new material substantially enriches the story and provides most of the alleged evidence for the report’s charges against some of the principal participants in the affairs. It is one thing, for example, to read Shultz’s testimony at the congressional hearings; it is another thing to read Hill’s notes on what Shultz told him soon after the event.

Walsh has been criticized for taking so long, but there was some reason for his delay. Many of the notes …

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