Last Word: Judge Walsh's Warning
Iran-contra special prosecutor Lawrence Walsh was a widely
respected Republican of the old school. He had helped Thomas
Dewey break Tammany Hall's corrupt grip on New York City. But
Walsh was also admired by Richard Nixon who wanted Walsh to be
the original Watergate special prosecutor, according to H.R.
So, when the Iran-contra scandal broke wide open in fall 1986, a
senior three-judge federal panel tapped Walsh, known for his
distinguished Republican legal career, to be the special
prosecutor in charge of the complex investigation into
President Reagan's foreign policy mis-adventures.
For the next six years, Walsh oversaw a serious-though-plodding
probe of that scandal, infuriating Republican leaders, such as
Sen. Bob Dole, who favored a tidy cover-up. Walsh's diligence
also led to a behind-the-scenes power play by conservative
federal judges to undercut Walsh's probe and turn the special
prosecutor apparatus into another tool of conservative power.
This legal coup began when hard-line Reagan judges David
Sentelle and Laurence Silberman overturned Walsh's felony
conviction of Oliver North, by a two-to-one vote, in 1990.
Sentelle, a protege of North Carolina's conservative Sen. Jesse
Helms, was also part of the panel that reversed the guilty
verdicts against North's White House boss, Adm. John Poindexter.
When Walsh moved to appeal the North ruling (which was based an
unprecedented application of immunity rules), Walsh was
supported by the Justice Department's career appellate division.
But Walsh was opposed by Bush's solicitor general, none other
than Kenneth Starr.
While the battle over the North case played out, conservative
Chief Justice William Rehnquist was fixing the game at another
level. He replaced the senior panel that traditionally picked
special prosecutors with a new panel run by Sentelle. The
revamped panel was in place when Republican Robert Fiske was
ousted as Whitewater special prosecutor and was replaced by
legal conservative activist Starr.
Indeed, all the conservative judges involved in this seizure of
the special prosecutor apparatus work closely with the far-right
Federalist Society, which has as a principal goal the purging of
liberalism from the federal bench. The Federalist Society is so
far right that it has even attacked the American Bar Association
as "collectivist, radical."
In an interview, Walsh said he found the "dogmatism that seems
to come out of the Federalist group" troubling. Walsh was
especially concerned about the power of the Federalist "clique"
on the federal bench and its new dominance of the special
prosecutor machinery, which has effectively given the Right its
own mini-Justice Department. Because of that, Walsh said he saw
a serious danger in Starr turning the Whitewater probe from the
fair inquiry that Fiske began into "a political weapon."
(c) Copyright 1996 -- Please Do Not Re-Post
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