Oliver North's former White House boss testified Friday that James A. Baker III suggested to then-President Reagan in 1984 he could be impeached for allowing solicitation of money from other countries for the Nicaraguan Contras.
The suggestion by Baker, Reagan's chief of staff and President Bush's secretary of state, was strongly countered by others in a meeting with Reagan. They concluded that Baker was wrong, former national security adviser Robert McFarlane testified.Still, Reagan said "we'll all be hanging by our thumbs" if word got out that McFarlane or other administration officials were indeed seeking help from abroad at a time that Congress had forbidden direct U.S. aid to the Contras, according to minutes of the meeting read into the court record.
McFarlane, testifying at North's trial, said Reagan knew in 1984 that arrangements had been made to get $1 million a month from Saudi Arabia for the the U.S.-backed rebels in Nicaragua.
"I told the president, I told Adm. (John) Poindexter, Colonel North knew of it," McFarlane said.
However, he testified later in the day that he himself had been unaware of various North activities that have been described by other witnesses in the trial and earlier in congressional hearings.
For example, McFarlane said he didn't know that North was involved in private fund-raising from wealthy donors, that it was North who decided how the money would be spent, or that North was instrumental in setting up a southern front for the guerrillas fighting the Nicaraguan government.
McFarlane testified he instructed North to do everything he could to keep the rebels functioning after the United States cut off official aid in 1984.
McFarlane's face reddened at the start of his testimony when he was asked by chief prosecutor John Keker, "Did you try to commit suicide?"
"Yes," said McFarlane, looking at the jury, "On Feb. 9, 1987." That was shortly before release of a White House-ordered report on the Iran-Contra affair and the beginning of congressional hearings.