Saving the Reagan Presidency
Trust Is the Coin of the Realm
Publication Year: 2005
Published by: Texas A&M University Press
Title Page, Copyright Page
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As president of the United States, Ronald Reagan is likely to be well remembered by historians for at least two successes. One of those is tugging his country in a conservative direction. This he achieved initially by rhetoric and tax cuts, then by tolerating substantial federal deficits, which had the effect of limiting congressional appetites for...
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I want to express appreciation to Mary Lenn Dixon of Texas A&M University Press for her coordination of this book’s publication and for taking great interest in my work. Thank you also to Stephanie George and Carol Hoke. For several reasons I am especially happy to have Texas A&M as a publisher. It is an honor to be part of a Presidential...
Introduction: Crisis of the Reagan Presidency
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On an ominous November 3, 1986, a Lebanese periodical, Al-Shiraa, announced that the United States had sold weapons to Iran. The story spread like wildfire in the American press; one shocking headline read, “Reagan Trades Arms for Hostages.” After three days of deadly White House silence, the president denied...
1. A Philosophy of Government
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Before plunging further into this study of a presidential crisis, the reader deserves a word about my background and why I came to write this memoir of presidential tragedy and eventual presidential triumph. I believe that explaining my previous experience in Washington may help the reader understand my particular...
2. Summons from the President
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The national security advisor, Vice Adm. John Poindexter, sat a few steps away from the Oval Office. The big question was whether he had told the president about Lt. Col. Oliver North’s illegal diversion of funds from the arms sales to the Iranians in the Middle East to the contras in Central America. Swept away in the confusion and...
3. The Leader of the Alliance
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On my Pan Am flight to Washington, I thought about the president under whom I would be serving. A dozen years earlier, I had first chatted with the tall, dark-haired governor of California at a reception at the American Embassy in Paris. He was on a delegation trip to Europe. I did not see Governor Reagan again until early...
4. The Prime Minister
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If, in the drama unfolding before me, President Reagan was the leading man, Chief of Staff Don Regan was the runner-up and, some even thought, his stand-in. Soon after the Iran-contra affair broke, Regan became a principal target for journalists, editorial writers, and especially congressional Republicans. The press had...
5. Covert Master Strategist
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CIA head Casey would play an important but complicated and controversial role in the Iran-contra events. By the time I reported for duty in Washington, he was incapacitated from a seizure that had occurred at the agency headquarters. The cause was lymphoma, a form of cancer that had spread to the lining of the...
6. The Nightingales Sing
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An Annapolis graduate turned journalist, Robert Timberg wrote a fascinating book about five famous fellow Annapolis graduates and the impact of their Vietnam War experiences on their futures. In the Iran-contra saga, the three graduates of concern are Oliver North, Robert McFarlane, and John Poindexter; the other...
7. The Darkest Hour
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On Saturday, January 3, 1987, I took up temporary residence at the University Club on Sixteenth Street, about four blocks from the White House. St. John’s Episcopal Church, a yellow-colored building with white columns, the famous “church of the presidents,” was just north of Lafayette Park between the club and the...
8. The President Himself
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Throughout my public career, I had dealt with the media, but never before had I been the personal object of massive attention by networks and journalists. I had had a slight taste seventeen years earlier, the day after I became assistant secretary of state for congressional relations. Minority leader Hugh Scott phoned...
9. Winter Snowstorms
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By late December, 1986, before my arrival, the early FBI investigations had identified three thousand documents in the White House and various departments and agencies relevant to the investigations by the independent counsel. In such a short time span, that was an impressive accomplishment. For me, the newcomer, there...
10. The First Lady
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In late January, the Washington Post, CBS’s 60 Minutes, and other media outlets carried a rash of stories increasingly critical of the president. Secretary of State Shultz’s three-hour closed-door testimony to the House Foreign Affairs Committee made both the president and Bill Casey look bad, and the testimony was...
11. The Prosecutor: Judge Walsh
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In the Iran-contra investigations the key player was seventy-five-year-old Judge Lawrence Walsh. Ironically—to me at least—he was Reagan’s age. A Republican deputy attorney general under Bill Rogers during the Eisenhower administration, he had won his spurs under Gov. Thomas Dewey fighting crime as part of the...
12. A New Initiative Attempted
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The snowy winter wonderland lasted into early February, and much was going well for my group and me. First, we were working effectively with the Tower Board. Second, we were rapidly broadening and deepening our contact with the Congress. Names on my calendar included Representatives Fascell, Cheney, Hyde, Derwinski, and Stokes...
13. Conflicting Memories
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On February 17, 1987, we learned that the Los Angeles Times was about to break a story about how the president had dramatically contradicted himself before the first and second Tower Board meetings. At the first meeting, he told the panel he had given prior approval to the 1985 Israeli arms shipment to Iran, and then at...
14. Tower Board Report
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On February 25, my fifty-second day, with thirty-eight to go, the Tower Board report was printed. Chairman Tower called me, a Texan talking to a Tennessean, as he put it again. Still unnerved by and angry at the suspicions of staff manipulation, Tower said that he and other board members did not want Regan’s staff...
15. The Departure of Don Regan
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Three days earlier, on February 23, the president had finally but very gently suggested to Don Regan that it might be good for him to resign before the Tower Board report was released. “You can’t do that to me, Mr. President,” Regan responded. “If I go before that report is out, you throw me to the wolves. I deserve...
16. Howard Baker Arrives
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When President Reagan tried to phone Howard Baker, who was vacationing in Florida, to ask him to be his new chief of staff, he reached Baker’s wife, Joy. She explained that Howard was at the zoo with his grandchildren. “Well, tell him I need him because we’ve got a zoo up here,” quipped the president. Baker later...
17. The Gipper on Top
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Now, for the first time, I felt I was free to speak publicly because at last we no longer stood on shifting sands but on the firm ground of the Tower Board report. I came out of the closet and accepted all invitations to talk shows—Good Morning America, Face the Nation, CNN, and others. I proudly defended the...
18. My Departure
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March 31, the eighty-sixth day of my tenure dawned clear but, for springtime, exceptionally cold. At 1:30 I took my staff of fourteen to the Oval Office for a farewell party with President Reagan. For most, it was the first time they had been in this historic room. After introducing each by name, on behalf of us all I thanked...
19. The Continuing Curse of Iran-Contra
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Despite the bipartisan welcome with which the new Baker White House staff was received on the Hill and in the media, the curse of the Iran-contra scandal would not be lifted. There remained the ongoing investigations, ensuring that no new cover-up occurred in the executive branch and attempting to maintain bipartisan...
20. Watergate, the Clinton Affair, and Iran-Contra
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It may be instructive to end this story of the Reagan presidential crisis with a comparison of the crises of Richard Milhouse Nixon and William Jefferson Clinton. The legendary biographer in the Roman Empire, Plutarch, notes the instructional value of studying parallel lives to better learn about the character of leaders under the...
21. The Reagan Presidency in History
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What then is Ronald Reagan’s place in the long history of the American presidency? Reagan’s own assessment is interesting and revealing: “I never thought of myself as a great man, just a man committed to great ideas.” Preeminent presidential scholars have given us their thoughts, but I add mine as one who saw him...
APPENDIX A: Comparative Charges: Watergate, Iran-Contra, Clinton Impeachment
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As to the legal charges against Nixon in the articles of impeachment, Article I states that Nixon had “prevented, obstructed, and impeded the administration of justice”; Article II, that he had “repeatedly engaged in conduct violating the constitutional rights of citizens, impairing the due and proper administration of...
APPENDIX B: “The Tower Report and Due Process”
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The Tower Special Review Board report commissioned by President Reagan will be presented to him at 10 this morning. While neither the president nor I will have seen the report before then, it promises to be one of the most extraordinary reports to have emerged from either the executive branch or...
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Page Count: 272
Illustrations: 15 b&w photos.
Publication Year: 2005
Series Title: Joseph V. Hughes Jr. and Holly O. Hughes Series on the Presidency and Leadership