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This Day in History: Iran-Contra Affair

  • Catherine Maddux

In this Dec. 18, 1986 file photo, NSC staffer Oliver North is sworn in on Capitol Hill in Washington prior to testifying before the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

In this Dec. 18, 1986 file photo, NSC staffer Oliver North is sworn in on Capitol Hill in Washington prior to testifying before the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Thirty years ago today, the Iran-Contra scandal erupted in the United States following the revelation that secret weapons sales to Iran, which was under an arms embargo, went to fund Nicaragua's Contra rebels seeking to overthrow their country's government.

The complex and illegal affair stemmed from the so-called “Reagan Doctrine," the idea that stopping the spread of communism around the globe was of the utmost importance, which meant supporting anti-Communist insurgents wherever they might be.

The operation involved selling arms to the Iranian regime, then diverting the profits to fund Nicaraguan rebels fighting Cuban-backed Sandinistas. The president believed the Contras were "the moral equivalent of our Founding Fathers."

In this Nov. 25, 1986 file photo, then President Ronald Reagan tells reporters "I'm not taking any more questions" as questions about the Iran-Contra scandal mounted.

In this Nov. 25, 1986 file photo, then President Ronald Reagan tells reporters "I'm not taking any more questions" as questions about the Iran-Contra scandal mounted.

The president’s other goal was the release of American hostages being held by Iranian terrorists in Lebanon.

This composite photo shows Westerners held by Hezbollah in Lebanon during the Reagan administration.

This composite photo shows Westerners held by Hezbollah in Lebanon during the Reagan administration.

In 1982, the Democratic-controlled Congress passed the Boland Amendment, which restricted CIA and Defense Department operations in Nicaragua specifically. A strengthened Boland Amendment passed two years later made support almost impossible.

In November 1986, the Lebanese newspaper Al-Shiraa, acting on a leak, reported on the Iran-Contra deal, which had not been approved by the U.S. Congress.

Reagan later denied the operation on national television.

The president later reversed himself, addressing the nation in a live televised address in August 1987.

The attorney general at the time, Edwin Meese, found that the U.S. government received only $12 million of the $30 million purportedly paid by Iran.

Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North of the National Security Council was a key figure in the scandal. North said he had diverted money from the arms sales to the Contras, and that National Security Adviser John Poindexter was fully aware of what was going on.

Former National Security Advisor John Poindexter, contradicting President Reagan, tells Iran-Contra committees in Washington on Wednesday, July 15, 1987 that the President initially approved selling arms to Iran in late 1985 in a straight-arms for hostages.

Former National Security Advisor John Poindexter, contradicting President Reagan, tells Iran-Contra committees in Washington on Wednesday, July 15, 1987 that the President initially approved selling arms to Iran in late 1985 in a straight-arms for hostages.

Poindexter resigned, and North was fired. Amid the scandal, questions were raised as to what Reagan might have known.

The president appointed the Tower Commission to investigate the scandal, and it found the president's hands-off approach and detachment from the oversight of his White House led to a scenario that made possible the funneling of money to the Contras; yet, there was no hard evidence connecting Reagan to the diversion.

This is the first page of a cover letter to President Reagan from members of the President's Special Review Board concerning their report on the National Security Council, seen Feb. 26, 1987.

This is the first page of a cover letter to President Reagan from members of the President's Special Review Board concerning their report on the National Security Council, seen Feb. 26, 1987.

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