Circle 055: William Cohen, George Mitchell, and Judy Jarvis, Iran Contra Affair, September 9, 1988

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They have been called the "classiest delegation in Congress," and Maine's two U.S. Senators, Democrat George Mitchell and Republican William S. Cohen, proved worthy of the title, opening the New England Circle discussion in early September with witty repartee and good-natured jostling over their partisan differences.

Humor and partisanship were set aside, however, as the Senators discussed their work on the Congressional panel investigating the U.S. sale of arms to Iran and the diversion of funds to Nicaragua's Contras. They recently co-authored a book on the subject, "Men of Zeal: A Candid Inside Story Of The Iran-Contra Hearings," published by Viking.

Probing questions from Moderator Judy Jarvis and Circle members brought out their harshest criticism of President Reagan's action in the affair, their view that President George Bush (then Vice President) knew all about the operation and how the panel's mandate limited a fuller investigation of the scandal.

The Senators saw the perpetrators of the Iran-Contra dealings as well intentioned but overzealous. Most dangerous, said Senator Cohen, was the way they tried to circumvent lawful oversight of their activities by stockpiling excess profits from the deal. With these funds - now frozen in a Swiss bank account - they would have been able to fund future covert operations without informing Congress, or even the President.

"Democracy is inefficient," added Senator Mitchell, "but the difficulty of getting things done prevents power from concentrating in the wrong hands."

By Stephen Morgan (Books and Travel Editor, The Boston Herald)


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