A furious Robert McFarlane admitted Tuesday that on the day before he attempted suicide in 1987, he sent letters to Congress with "dead wrong" information about outside donations to the Nicaraguan rebels.
Trial prosecuter John Keker, questioning McFarlane in the fourth week of Oliver North's Iran-Contra trial, confronted McFarlane with a letter he wrote to Rep. Lee Hamilton, D-Ind.The use of the letter provoked a fiery outburst from the usually stoic McFarlane, who raised his voice to say, "I wanted to acknowledge my participation in third-country fund-raising, and I wanted it on the record."
McFarlane, the former national security adviser and a key government witness, then began undergoing cross-examination by defense lawyer Brendan Sullivan.
The reference to the letter arose because Keker had questioned McFarlane repeatedly about $32 million given to the rebels by Saudi Arabia in 1984 and 1985, a donation the government still strives to keep secret - the name of the donor cannot be used at North's trial.
Even as the Iran-Contra scandal was unraveling in early 1987, McFarlane wrote letters to three lawmakers in an effort to explain his actions. All three letters were dated Feb. 8, 1987, the day before McFarlane tried to kill himself with an overdose of the prescription tranquilizer Valium.
The letter to Hamilton said a "foreign official" offered to give $5 million of his own money to the Contras, and McFarlane told the foreign official where to send the donation. In fact, the money came from Saudi government funds and the total was $32 million.
"Isn't that complete nonsense?" Keker said.
"It is not!" McFarlane replied. "If I tried to sit down, in my state, the day before I tried to take my life, and tried to parse every last dime, it probably would have come out differently. . . . I'm dead wrong."
Monday, McFarlane could not be deterred from the same sorrowful refrain - "I was wrong" or, "I did the wrong thing" - when he described how he and North wrote letters in 1985 to Congress denying North was involved in secret efforts to arm the Nicaraguan Contra rebels.
Those letters were sent at a time when U.S. aid to the Contras was banned but while North was managing a private airlift, arranging arms deals and soliciting huge donations from rich American conservatives for the rebels.
McFarlane, sentenced March 3 for withholding information from Congress in those letters, acknowledged North never told him about the private assistance the National Security Council aide was orchestrating for the rebels. But McFarlane repeatedly insisted he was responsible, as North's superior.
Keker was using McFarlane's testimony to prove North lied by flatly telling lawmakers in the letters he was not involved in the secret efforts.