Senator Cohen to Admiral Poindexter

I THINK it's important millions of Americans have had a chance to view you and assess who you are, and found you to be a dedicated and patriotic individual who believed he was acting out of the best interests of his country. Your calm demeanor and delivery have struck a number of people as sort of summer lightning, a distant sort of innocuous illumination, but some of your words have had a profound impact on me, and I want to discuss it briefly because I think the use of language is as important in politics as it is in literature, because it helps define what our values are.

I find it troubling when you say that ``I withheld information from Congress but I did not mislead it.''

Or that the administration support for the contras was secret activity but not covert action, or that the United States acquiesced in the initial shipment of TOW weapons but did not authorize it. Or that the transfers of funds for the sale of weapons was a technical implementation, not a substantive decision.

And that we did not trade arms for the hostages, even though Albert Hakim and Gen. Richard Secord arrived at a formula of 1 hostages for 500 TOWs.

Rep. James Courter pointed out that last year we swapped an American journalist, Nicholas Daniloff, for a Soviet spy, but we publicly denied that there was a trade.

If the administration would like to regain the strong support of the American people, and I hope that it will, it has to stop insulting their intelligence and tell them the direct unvarnished truth.

Secondly, there is an environment in the White House that nurtured suspicion and distrust of virtually everyone in and outside the administration. That circle of secrecy was drawn so tightly that at one point you felt only you and Colonel North had knowledge about the diversion of the funds.

Congress has had a role in the creation of this mistrust. As Rep. Richard Cheney and Rep. Henry Hyde have noted on several occasions, we live in a glass house on Capitol Hill, and we must take care before we pick up stones.

Also, our record in keeping the nation's secrets is not as good as we would like to have it, but it's far better than you and others have portrayed it, and, I might add, far better than the administration's own record in keeping those secrets.

Some of us have watched with considerable dismay and frustration administration officials who either have deliberately or inadvertently leaked classified information to the public. Our response has not been: That's it, no more covert operations, because I think we all recognize that they are necessary to promote our interest and protect our security.

By the same token, when members of Congress either deliberately or inadvertently disclose secrets, the administration can't say: ``That's it. No more notice, timely or otherwise. Let's get a private band of black bag specialists who will be unaccountable to anyone except the president, if we decide to tell the president.''

The answer is for Congress to expose those members who leak information, remove them from their positions of trust, and fully apply the rule of law to them.

And the answer for the administration is faithfully to comply with the law and not disingenuously defy it. Briefing four people or eight people on Capitol Hill is not the equivalent of telling all of our details about secrets to the American people.

A final point: A great deal has been said about the strategic location of Iran. No one in this committee or this Congress or the country would deny that it's important. But I'd like to suggest that the most important piece of strategic geography in the free world runs from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue to Capitol Hill.

I know that visitors have been surprised to see all the barricades that have been erected down at the White House and up on the Hill, and I think that these stone barricades are not only safeguards for all of us, but they're also symbols of the dangerous times in which we live.

But I think we have been for too long now, at least for the last several years, perhaps longer, been engaged in constructing an imaginary Maginot line across Constitution Avenue.

If we continue to lie to each other or withhold information or leak information, alter or shred documents or put them in burn bags, if we continue to interrupt the flow of truth and trust between the 16 blocks that separate us, then the loss of Persian Gulf oil is going to become irrelevant, because we will enter into a permanent state of guerrilla warfare.

Somewhere between lies and lives, between compliance and defiance, there's a place for the truth, for national security, and for the bipartisan formulation of a foreign policy. If we care to keep this republic, I don't think we have very much time to find it.

Excerpts from the remarks of Sen. William Cohen (R) of Maine, co-chairman of the Senate Iran-Contra investigating panel, made during Monday's questioning of Rear Adm. John Poindexter.

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