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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.

Reader Discussion

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on March 24, 2014 at 09:26:22 am

Since the Democrats turned against the Iraq War, it's been funny to hear lefties talk about how much they "respect" George H. W. Bush for his "realist" foreign policy (and, when they're not trying to hoodwink elderly Jewish voters, his relative coolness to Israel). If your memory goes back to those days, you know that the Democrats and leftists hated the first President Bush when he was in White House only slightly less than they hated Nixon, Reagan and George W. during their administrations.

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djf
on March 24, 2014 at 12:18:26 pm

I remember that tracking poll painfully well. I didn't know about Bush's own internal polls. I think Bush still would have lost, but in a squeaker.

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David Upham
on March 24, 2014 at 16:21:01 pm

Possibly - but right before the election, our friends in the labor or commerce dept (I forget which) released GDP figures which were 2 full points below what the actual growth rate was. Of course, the appropriate correction was made after the election.

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gabe
on March 24, 2014 at 20:14:01 pm

It gets worse. Shortly after the election the charges against Weinberger were thrown out. I think the statute of limitations had expired. Walsh then threw a tantrum and made threats against Bush after the pardons of some Iranaquiddock figures.

Walsh said that he didn't intend to prosecute Eliott Abrams. He abruptly changed course after his convictions against Oliver North and John Poindexter were overturned.

I'm working from memory, but Walsh was a scofflaw himself. One time he flew to California to interview Reagan. Walsh or an assistant checked a briefcase full of classified documents with his regular luggage. It was lost. Walsh often disclosed classified information in open court.

Walsh claimed his residence in the mid-west as his permanent duty station. For years he collected per diem and was reimbursed for lodging at the luxury Watergate Hotel. The things he got away were amazing.

Again, I'm working from years old memories, but no one investigating Democrats would have survived all of this.

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LesLein
on March 25, 2014 at 11:03:37 am

Not to defend Walsh, but I think Bush pardoned Weinberger after the election. I'm not a fan of Weinberger - whose views of Israel were similar to Obama's, and the man who lifted Colin Powell out of well-deserved obscurity - but Weinberger's indictment was particularly unjust, since he had been one of the opponents of the Iran-Contra scheme. I believe that he was indicted for some immaterial lapse of memory in talking to Walsh's investigators.

BTW, if memory serves, Walsh was a nominal Republican.

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djf
on March 25, 2014 at 13:13:11 pm

Of course, the real travesty was the pERsecution of Elliot Abrams, the prosecution of whom demonstrated that it was now fair game to turn policy differences into criminality.

Nice point about Colin Powell - another "nominal" Republican!!

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gabe
on March 25, 2014 at 16:56:29 pm

We are both right and wrong. I had forgotten that Bush pardoned Weinberger. I was correct in saying that the pre-election indictment was thrown out shortly after the election. From the December 12, 1992 New York Times:

"A Federal district judge today threw out a one-count indictment that was brought against former Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger four days before the Presidential election and created an uproar when Republicans asserted that it had contributed to President Bush's defeat.

"In his ruling the judge, Thomas F. Hogan, said the new charge violated the five-year statute of limitations in the Iran-contra case and improperly broadened the original indictment that was filed in June against Mr. Weinberger. The one-count indictment was returned by a grand jury on Oct. 30."

It's hard to believe that Walsh didn't know about the statute of limitations. So the whole thing was probably timed to affect the election.

Regarding Abrams, at his sentencing the judge was practically apologetic about his sentence to community service. I believe Abrams had to lecture lawyers on ethics.

Getting back to Walsh, dif is right about him being a Republican. Mona Charen said that Walsh was a Republican in the same sense that Madonna was a Roman Catholic.

I remember one MSM member denouncing Walsh, David Brinkley. Bill Clinton expressed concern about the pardons, but didn't denounce them. He must have been planning ahead.

The link to the New York Times story is here:

http://www.nytimes.com/1992/12/12/us/charge-in-weinberger-case-that-caused-furor-before-election-is-thrown-out.html

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LesLein
on March 25, 2014 at 17:56:48 pm

I had forgotten about the dismissal of the Weinberger indictment on the statute of limitations issue. Thanks for refreshing my memory, LesLein. As the article indicates, a few charges remained pending after the court ruling but those were disposed of by the pardon.

After the passage of so many years, even people who were around back then can forget how ferocious the Democrats, the news & entertainment media, and the legal establishment (in which Walsh was one of the grandees) were in their hatred of Republicans and conservatives during the Reagan/Bush I administrations. There's a tendency to think partisanship is worse now, but I think that's just because there was some semblance of national unity for about the first two years after 9/11, which of course had disappeared by the time the 2004 campaign got underway.

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djf
on January 25, 2016 at 06:37:09 am

[…] I think it’s a farfetched scenario myself. An ex-prosecutor friend tells me that a crime would require criminal intent. Then there’s the question of the timing. Somebody’s going to bring serious charges against one of the two major parties’ leading presidential hopeful in an election year? Conservatives whose carotid veins are popping after reading that sentence would do well to remember a time when they excoriated a prosecutor who brought suspiciously timed indictments of Republicans. Google Lawrence Walsh. […]

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Image of Is Bloomberg Betting Hillary Gets Indicted? – The Daily Beast | The BS Junction
Is Bloomberg Betting Hillary Gets Indicted? – The Daily Beast | The BS Junction
on January 26, 2016 at 09:01:22 am

[…] I think it’s a farfetched scenario myself. An ex-prosecutor friend tells me that a crime would require criminal intent. Then there’s the question of the timing. Somebody’s going to bring serious charges against one of the two major parties’ leading presidential hopeful in an election year? Conservatives whose carotid veins are popping after reading that sentence would do well to remember a time when they excoriated a prosecutor who brought suspiciously timed indictments of Republicans. Google Lawrence Walsh. […]

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Image of “Is Bloomberg Betting Hillary Gets Indicted?”: Conservatives, Well, They At Least Hope It’s Going To Happen « mykeystrokes.com
“Is Bloomberg Betting Hillary Gets Indicted?”: Conservatives, Well, They At Least Hope It’s Going To Happen « mykeystrokes.com
on April 16, 2016 at 23:26:22 pm

Funny thing is, democrats always say they nominated Lawrence Walsh because he was a republican!

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Image of M Aiyer
M Aiyer
on October 28, 2016 at 22:12:16 pm

[…] it turned out, Walsh also had no basis to issue the indictment. What he appeared to have is an obsession with demonstrating that Bush 41 knew about Iran-Contra when he was Vice President under Ronald […]

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Image of BizzyBlog
BizzyBlog
on October 29, 2016 at 15:02:07 pm

[…] in 1992 under a dubious indictment of Caspar Weinberger, Bush’s Defense Secretary. That indictment was filed on the Friday before the election and stopped a surging Bush from overtaking […]

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Image of Former Clinton Campaign Manager: 'Huma, Clinton and Weiner Are In Serious Trouble' - National Insider Politics
Former Clinton Campaign Manager: 'Huma, Clinton and Weiner Are In Serious Trouble' - National Insider Politics
on October 30, 2016 at 10:37:37 am

[…] the Presidential election of 1992. Larry Tribe, the Special Prosecutor in the Iran-Contra affair, abused his power when re-indicted former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger on October 30, the Friday before the […]

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Law & Liberty welcomes civil and lively discussion of its articles. Abusive comments will not be tolerated. We reserve the right to delete comments - or ban users - without notification or explanation.