The chairman of the House panel investigating the Iran-contra affair said yesterday that it is "more of a people problem . . . than a structural problem" and that he does not believe Congress should respond by imposing new restrictions on the executive branch.
"My own sense is that we ought not to try to put into statute, to put into law, a lot of very strict requirements," Rep. Lee H. Hamilton (D-Ind.) said.
Hamilton, appearing on CBS News' "Face the Nation," said Congress' role should be to explain how and why policy went awry and to recommend steps to correct the process.
Hamilton's comments echoed the conclusions of the Tower commission, which eschewed any specific organizational reforms in its Feb. 26 report to President Reagan. The commission said lack of adherence to established procedures rather than faulty procedures was the source of the problem.
Hamilton declined to say whether specific laws were broken, but he said the chaos the inquiry has revealed arose in part from a failure to obey laws scrupulously.
"I've not been impressed by the adherence to the law by a number of actors in these events," he said.
He faulted Reagan for making a number of decisions that "were not crisp and clear" and said the president cannot avoid responsibility for disarray or lawbreaking within his administration.
In a separate appearance yesterday on ABC's "This Week With David Brinkley," Attorney General Edwin Meese III backed away from a statement by Reagan Friday that there was no evidence of lawbreaking by officials involved in the affair.
"I think what the president was talking about was the administration as a whole was not seeking to break the laws, and I think he was probably referring to the Boland amendment, things such as that," Meese said.
While contradictions in the testimony the select committees have gathered over the past months will go unresolved, several clear themes can be extracted, Hamilton said.
The story that emerges from the Iran-contra hearings is one of confused decision-making, blurred lines of authority and lack of accountability in the administration, he said. In trying to carry out foreign policy, he added, the government relied too heavily on private citizens, foreigners and foreign countries.