Lawrence Walsh and the Abuse of Power

Former Iran Contra Independent Counsel Lawrence Walsh recently passed away at the age of 102. While I know it is not the nicest thing to speak ill of those who have just died, I cannot let this occasion pass. I highly doubt that any of Walsh’s loved ones will read this and Walsh committed a genuinely heinous act for which he has borne very little negative publicity.

While I was not a big fan of the Independent Counsel statute, the problem with Walsh was how he behaved as independent counsel. Walsh may have committed one of the most consequential misdeeds in the history of criminal prosecutors, and the amazing thing is so few people remember or know about this. Walsh may very well have changed the result of the 1992 Presidential election between George Bush, Bill Clinton, and Ross Perot.

Walsh was investigating the Iran Contra scandal and he had spent six years with little to show for it. After this period, he was seeking to indict former Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger. Walsh initially indicted Weinberger in June of 1992, but the indictment was thrown out on technical grounds. (I base the following description on a book by Lanny Davis, a political associate of Bill Clinton.)

Walsh decided to indict Weinberger again. He then made two extremely dubious decisions. First, and most problematically, he had the re-indictment of Caspar Weinberger filed on October 30, the Friday before election day. What possible legitimate reason could there have been to file it then rather than the following week? What reason other than the illegitimate one to harm Bush’s candidacy could there have been for filing the indictment on that day?

Second, Walsh included in the indictment the words “VP favored” from Weinberger’s notes of an important meaning. This suggested to some and was played up by the liberal media that Bush was at a meeting he had denied attending. Thus, it could be used to support the claim that Bush was actually more involved in Iran Contra than he claimed and that he had lied about his involvement. Significantly, this was not necessarily the case nor was it necessary to include it the indictment.

The Weinberger indictment created an enormous media response and may very well have swung the election. On the Friday before the election, prior to the release of the re-indictment, the Bush internal tracking poll (as well as the Gallop poll of the previous day) indicated a surging Bush was tied with Clinton at 39 percent, with 12 percent supporting Perot, and an unusually large 10 percent still undecided. The re-indictment ended Bush’s surge and reversed the momentum. The Saturday Bush internal tracking poll indicted 39 percent for Clinton, 32 for Bush, and 19 percent for Perot.

I believe that Walsh’s decision to release the indictment of Weinberger on the Friday before the election was probably an impeachable offense. And in any event should be condemned by all people, including Clinton supporters, as an outrageous abuse of authority.

It should forever associate Walsh with infamy, but unfortunately it does not. The New York Times, of course, declines to mention it in their obituary of Walsh. And so I write about it now, at probably the last moment when people remember Lawrence Walsh.