This Day in Legal History – May 4th
In November of 1986, a Lebanese newspaper exposed the sale of U.S. weapons to Iran, which North and his successor John Poindexter had orchestrated. Subsequent investigations revealed that the sale had been used to finance the Nicaraguan Contra guerillas in their rebellion against their country’s leftist government. North was called to testify before Congress in July of 1987 and admitted to lying to Congress.
That televised congressional hearing ensured that North’s conviction in the District Court of D.C. did not stand. The Court of Appeals dismissed all three convictions in 1990, citing the immunity to prosecution that Congress had granted him for his public testimony. It being impossible to prove that the court was not influenced by his immunized testimony, the convictions could not stand. The Court of Appeals’ decision also created speculation about the Reagan administration’s culpability in the scandal. Its refusal to declassify documents vital to the proceedings deprived North of a fair trial, ultimately contributing to the dismissal of his convictions.
Background on the Iran-Contra Scandal