WASHINGTON--The nation's daytime summer fireworks, the Iran-Contra hearings, came to a quiet end after a 41-day run yesterday, with none of the 29 witnesses having tied President Reagan directly to the use of arms-sales profits for the guerrillas fighting in Nicaragua.
"The president has indeed been telling the truth," said Rep. Richard Cheney (R-Wyo.), the vice chairman of the House committee. However, Republicans joined Democrats in a final round of speeches denouncing the secrecy and deception that brought the Reagan administration its greatest embarrassment.
"The story has now been told," said Daniel K. Inouye (D-Hawaii), chairman of the Senate committee. He made it a chilling story of a flawed policy "kept alive by a secret White House junta despite repeated warnings and signs of failure."
Reagan will deliver a speech on the Iran-Contra affair next week, on a day still unspecified, but spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said the president does not intend to "go into every detail" about the testimony which was spread over three months of hearings.
"It's the overall issues involved that the president wants to address," Fitzwater said.
The rare collaboration of committees from the House and Senate will continue the rest of the month. First, they will hear testimony from three CIA officials behind closed doors, then they will draft a report on the affair.
In the meantime, independent counsel Lawrence Walsh continues his separate investigation into the possibility of criminal prosecution of some of the affair's main figures. Nine of the public witnesses at the hearings testified under grants of immunity, meaning their words cannot be used against them in a future prosecution.
While there were extraordinary revelations fromsome of the key witnesses in the nationallytelevised hearings--principally former NationalSecurity Adviser John M. Poindexter and his aide,Lt. Col. Oliver North--the basic story of thecomplicated affair remained unchanged after thehearings began on May 5:
Arms had been supplied to Iran--with Reagan'sbelated assent--in hopes ofbettering relations and obtaining that country'shelp in gaining the release of American hostagesheld in Lebanon; profits were made on the sale byprivate citizens recruited by North; without thepresident's knowledge a portion of those profitswent to buy weapons for the rebels fightingNicaragua's communist government.
The hearings, said Inouye, produced a vision of"a secret government, directed principally byNational Security Council staffers, accountable tonot a single elected official, includingapparently the president himself--a shadowygovernment with its own air force, its own navy,its own, fund-raising mechanism, and the abilityto pursue its own ideas of national interest, freefrom all checks and balances and the law itself."
Sen. Warren Rudman (R-N.H.) said that "wecannot promote democracy abroad while underminingit at home, and that is what these men did."
"There was too much secrecy and deception,"said Rep. Lee Hamilton (D-Ind.), chairman of theHouse investigating committee. "The president didnot know what his own staff was doing; staff didnot keep senior officials informed; policies wereoften contradictory."
The committee leaders offered their ownsummations after the final public witness, DefenseSecretary Caspar Weinberger, testified that "theinterests of the United States were damagedoverall" by Reagan's decision to make secret armssales to Iran.
Weinberger and Secretary of State George Shultzboth said they fought hard against that policy butfailed to convince the president. Weinberger saidthe way to avoid such damage in the future is "notto embark on a policy of this kind."
Rudman said selling arms to Iran in hopes of abetter relationship "was an act of folly."
He praised the president for his "totalcooperation" with the inquiry and said "the onlyU.S. officials who knew of the diversion wereAdmiral Poindexter, Colonel North and possiblyDirector Casey." William L. Casey, the director ofthe CIA, died in May.
Rudman singled out Poindexter for specialcondemnation.
"It is clear that Admiral Poindexter attemptedto deny the State Department, the DefenseDepartment and White House staff the informationnecessary to enable them to engage in a review,"he said. "With the exception of AdmiralPoindexter, every high-level U.S. official whotestified stated that Admiral Poindexter did nothave the authority to approve the diversion; thatthe diversion was improper and possibly illegaland that the president would not have approved ofthe diversion had he been consulted."
Rudman said that when the possibility ofexposure arose last November, the NSC staffattempted a cover-up, which "included shredding ofofficial documents, lying to the attorney generaland his representatives and withholdinginformation from the president."
Of North and Poindexter, who garnered strongsupport around the country when they testified,Rudman said their actions "cannot be justified bypassion, patriotism, appropriate concern over theexpansion of communism in Central America andlegitimate display and the policies enacted byCongress."
Other lawmakers also took a dim view of theaffair.
"Democracy cannot withstand the damages ofpolicies that are based on lies and deceit," saidSen. Paul Sarbanes (D-Md.). He said there wereindividuals prepared to act "outside theconstitutional process to achieve their ends, andof course that path leads to the subverting ofdemocracy."
Said Sen. William Cohen (R-Maine):
"A central lesson is that democracy must beprotected against its friends as well as itsenemies and that the law may be equally violatedwhen people act out of patriotic passion and zealas when they act with contempt and calculateddisrespect and disregard for the politicalprocess."
A committee source, speaking only on conditionof not being named, said the cost of thehearings--excluding such expenses as security,utilities and remodeling of office space in theCapitol complex--would probably reach $3 millionto $4 million by the time the panels' work iscompleted