Attorney General Edwin Meese III yesterday dismissed criticism in the congressional Iran-contra report as "a great job of Monday morning quarterbacking," and said the inquiry had come up with the same facts as his own three-day probe almost a year ago.
Presidential spokesman Marlin Fitzwater also responded yesterday to criticism of President Reagan in the document, saying the president "told the truth on every occasion and on every subject, period." Fitzwater refused to address specific questions about discrepancies in the president's statements concerning a 1985 shipment of Hawk antiaircraft missiles to Iran through Israel.
The majority report singled out Meese for sharp criticism, suggesting he had approved a possibly illegal effort to use private funds to ransom U.S. hostages being held in Lebanon. The report also rebuked Meese for his performance as the president's legal adviser, for his conduct of the inquiry into the Iran arms sales last November, and for delaying the release of information to the investigating panels.
Meese spoke with reporters before addressing an American Bar Association panel here. "There wasn't anything particularly new," he said of the congressional report. He later told the bar association group that the administration tried to get out all the facts of the Iran-contra affair.
"One thing . . . seems to have been forgotten," Meese said. "It was this president who made sure that we found out all the facts. The facts are essentially the same as we announced on Nov. 25, after three days of inquiry."
The congressional report said "a cloud" hangs over Meese's handling of the November 1986 inquiry. It said that after Meese received information from Lt. Col. Oliver L. North of the National Security Council staff on Nov. 23 about the diversion of Iran arms sales proceeds to aid the Nicaraguan contra rebels, Meese stopped having an assistant accompany him during interviews, and limited his questioning of top Reagan aides and Cabinet members to a few minutes.
Asked about this yesterday, Meese said it was "a great job of Monday morning quarterbacking." He also said, "The facts speak for themselves."
Questioned whether he had considered resigning, Meese said, "No, I think that's silly."
Meese declined to respond to charges leveled by the House-Senate Iran-contra investigating committees on the Lebanese hostage ransom operation involving Texas financier H. Ross Perot. "That's a totally different question, and I'm not going to comment," he said.
Fitzwater told reporters that Reagan does not plan to respond to the report anytime soon. He was asked specifically about the discrepancy between Reagan's statement to the Tower board that he did not know of the 1985 Hawk missile shipment, and the report by Secretary of State George P. Shultz that Reagan had acknowledged knowing of the shipment.
According to Shultz, Reagan made this acknowledgment Nov. 19, 1986. However, Reagan told a different story to the Tower board two months later and has never explained why. The congressional report suggests that senior White House officials sought to cover up the Hawk shipment because it was made before Reagan had approved a "finding" or official authorization for such a covert operation.
"The president told the truth about everything to everybody he talked to," Fitzwater said when questioned about this.
"I'm not going to go into any of the specifics," Fitzwater said. "You're welcome to investigate it and look into it in all the information that's available and on the record."