In November, 1986 an obscure Lebanese weekly newspaper, Al Shiraa, published a report which made a bizarre allegation: that the Reagan Administration, which had vowed never to negotiate with terrorists, had in fact sold arms to Iran in turn for the release of hostages (Johnson, 1991, pp. 295-96)
In the days and weeks that followed, the Reagan Administration and the nation were plunged into the worst national scandal since Watergate: what has come to be known as the Iran-Contra affair. It was revealed that not only had the Administration traded weapons to Iran for hostages, but that profits from the deals had been tunnelled --- in violation of Congressional restrictions --- to the so-called contras fighting to overthrow the Marxist Sandinista government of Nicaragua.
The immediate result was, in large measure, the unravelling of the Reagan Administration. If the President knew about the activities undertaken in his name, a strong argument could be made that he had committed an impeachable offense. His ironic defense was that he did not know, and the defense was a credible one because Ronald Reagan had already compiled a long record of being poorly informed about both public affairs in general and the actions of his own Administration in particular. He was forced to endure a sort of public spanking in the form of the socalled Tower Commission report (formally the President's Special Review Board, composed of former Senators John Tower and Ed Muskie, and long-time Republican national-security figure Brent Scowcroft), which sharply criticized what was euphemistically called the President's "personal management style" ("Tower Commission," 1987, pp. 79-80).
The Tower Commission report did not satisfy critics, however, and a special congressional hearing was called in the summer of 1987, in what seemed likely to be a near-replay of the Watergate hearings of the early 1970s. In yet a further ironic twist, however, the Iran-C...