The United States cannot afford governmental paralysis while it sorts out the events of the Iran initiative. The president and Congress must move expeditiously to get the facts and take corrective action, which should include clearing the decks of the national security policy officials who gave the president poor advice. The president and Congress should make all future decisions about the investigation with a single, paramount national objective: to restore the confidence of the American people in the integrity of their government as quickly as possible.
As a result of the president's directive to executive agencies to come forth with what they know and the investigative efforts of Congress and the media, a good record now exists on the process employed in formulating and implementing the Iran initiative. A good record also exists on the flow of arms to Iran from the United States and from a third country with the approval or knowledge of the United States. However, the record is by no means adequate on the flow of funds from Iran to pay for the arms.
Somebody made lots of money with arms made available by the United States. Congress, the president and the American people want to know who. It appears that one person holds the key to the lock on information about disposition of funds paid by Iranians for U.S. arms: Lt. Col. Oliver North. The attorney general said on Nov. 24 that North was the only person in the U.S. government who knew precisely about funds from the Iran arms transfers being transferred to the contras. North testified under oath: "I share your desire to put this issue to rest quickly and fully; and to further that end, I want to be able to provide a full exposition of the facts as I know them on this matter." He then invoked the Fifth Amendment right every American possesses to decline to give self-incriminating testimony.
Either of the two special investigating committees that the House and the Senate will establish in four weeks can, by two-thirds vote, approve an application to U.S. District Court for an order that requires North to testify, but which will protect him against use of that testimony and information derived from it in any subsequent criminal prosecution of him. It should be the committees' first priority. Assuming that the attorney general (or the independent counsel in his place) does not exercise statutory authority to delay by 20 days issuance of the court order granting immunity, the congressional initiative to obtain immunity for North would guarantee that the American people would have the full story by the end of next month. Without that grant of immunity, proceedings may drag on for a year or more, and the American people may never get the full story.
If Congress does not move as quickly as possible to get the full story by getting North's testimony, paralysis of government may set in. It cannot function effectively if the American people perceive that they do not know the truth. Foreign countries will not deal with a U.S. government that they perceive to be weakened by a drawn-out domestic political crisis. That crisis can be avoided by acting immediately to secure the truth by granting immunity to North for his testimony. The United States has much to lose if the Congress fails to seek the truth from Colonel North.
The writer, a Republican representative from Michigan, is ranking minority member of the Foreign Affairs Committee.