Orrin Hatch and Oliver North gave new meaning last week to the popular maxim, "You can fool some of the people all of the time and all of the people some of the time - but you can't fool all of the people all of the time."
With Sen. Hatch's support, Oliver North appeared at the Little America Hotel to discuss ethics and values at a senior citizens conference. Afterward, Sen. Hatch was asked what he would say to people who complained that Oliver North should not have appeared because he is a convicted felon. Hatch's response was priceless. He said, "Jesus Christ was a convicted felon."I don't know about you, but I am offended by the mention of Oliver North's name in the same breath as that of the Savior of the world. Any suggestion that the charges against North were "trumped up" in any sense comparable to those against Jesus Christ is stretching it.
It's been a year since he was convicted, so let's quickly review the case against Oliver North. In the first place, North was part of what the Iran-Contra committee called a "cabal of the zealots," who were determined to systematically deceive Congress.
From 1984 to 1986, as a Marine lieutenant colonel detailed to the National Security Council, North directed a secret policy of assisting the Contra forces trying to overthrow the Sandinista government of Nicaragua.
He routed money, arms, tactical advice and military intelligence to the Contras, even though the Boland Amendment, passed by Congress and signed into law by President Reagan, outlawed all such aid.
Specifically, North was charged with 12 felony counts and in May, 1989, was convicted of three of them. He was exonerated on three charges of lying to Congress, two counts of obstruction of Congress, one count of obstruction of a presidential inquiry, one count of making false statements, one count of converting traveler's checks to personal use and one count of conspiracy to defraud the Treasury and the Internal Revenue Service.
He was convicted on the following three counts:
- Destroying or falsifying government documents, up to three years imprisonment and a $250,000 fine. With the help of his secretary, Fawn Hall, North shredded key documents that would have revealed the step-by-step process by which he carried out the secret shipments of arms to the Contras. North also falsified a chronology of the U.S. policy to sell arms to Iran.
- Receipt of an illegal gratuity, up to two years imprisonment and a $250,000 fine. The so-called gratuity or gift was actually a $13,800 security system for his house. Later, North wrote two back-dated letters to the man who installed the system, giving the impression that North had paid for it.
- Aiding and abetting obstruction of Congress in November, 1986. (The jury did not find North guilty of obstruction of Congress on this charge, but did find him guilty of the subsidiary charge of aiding and abetting, up to five years imprisonment and a $250,000 fine.)
Although it was not a part of the case as tried, North had accumulated $300,000 in cash in his office safe. There was strong evidence that he dipped into the till for his own benefit. The prosecuting attorney presented evidence that North bought an $8,000 van, a $1,400 roof for his house, and a $7,000 thoroughbred horse for his daughter. North admitted having a steel box bolted to the floor of his closet at home in which $15,000 had accumulated over 20 years, part of it from an insurance settlement and part from pocket change emptied into the box every Friday night when he came home from work.
North was also charged with stealing $4,300 in traveler's checks that were supposed to pay for supplies for the Contras. Evidence showed that North did use traveler's checks to pay for groceries, tires, plane tickets, hotel rooms and other personal items. North claimed to be only reimbursing himself, but he had shredded the ledger that could have proved it.
Obviously, Sen. Hatch considers none of this important. He prefers to see North with blinders on, as a red-blooded American patriot. At least when North speaks, he could do it on something besides ethics.