Iran/Contra Prosecutor Lawrence Walsh Dies At 102

Lawrence Walsh, a former Deputy Attorney General and Federal District Court Judge who was named as the Independent Counsel charged with investigating the Iran/Contra affair in the late 1980s, has died at the age of 102:

Lawrence E. Walsh, a former federal judge and a mainstay of the American legal establishment who as an independent counsel exposed the lawbreaking in the Reagan administration that gave rise to the Iran-contra scandal, died on Wednesday at his home in Oklahoma City. He was 102.

His family confirmed the death.

Few American lawyers have had as long and varied a career in both the public and private spheres as Mr. Walsh. Besides sitting on the federal bench, he was a prosecutor, corporate litigator, counsel to Gov. Thomas E. Dewey of New York, deputy attorney general under President Dwight D. Eisenhower and a negotiator at the Paris peace talks during the Vietnam War.

But it was the Iran-contra scandal that put him in the public eye as never before. Appointed in 1986 by the judiciary as an independent counsel, Mr. Walsh, a lifelong Republican and an early supporter of President Ronald Reagan, came out of retirement at age 75 to unravel a complicated affair that reached from the White House to Tehran to counterrevolutionary strongholds in the mountains of Nicaragua.

At the heart of it were the clandestine efforts of Reagan administration officials to sell arms to Iran, ostensibly to help secure the release of Western hostages in the Middle East, and then use the profits to give covert support to Nicaraguan rebel forces, which were trying to topple the Marxist rulers there known as Sandinistas. Congress had prohibited aid to the rebels, known as contras.

Mr. Walsh spent more than six years and about $37 million on the investigation, the duration and expense of which became ammunition for his critics. They portrayed him as a modern-day Inspector Javert, a relentless, stiff-necked prosecutor who had applied to a highly political event the kind of law-enforcement template he used when he was a rackets-busting district attorney in New York.

His supporters, however, saw him as a model of rectitude, as a public servant trying to uphold the rule of law and demonstrate that even powerful government officials were not above it.

Walsh ended up getting several convictions out of the Iran/Contra affair, including former White House National Security aide Lt. Colonel Oliver North, who had become the face of the scandal even more than the President himself thanks to the Congressional hearings on the matter which were televised nationwide in the summer of 1987. Several of those convictions were overturned, including North’s, were ultimately overturned however due to the fact that Courts could not determine that the evidence adduced at trial did not come from the immunized testimony of North and others at the hearing.

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Roger That says:

    From the article comparing Walsh to Javert:

    All that Walsh had left were various vague charges of obstructing justice and withholding information from Congress.

    At bottom, the charges were never criminal; they were entirely political: President Reagan, said his Democratic foes, had used his presidential powers in defiance of Congress.

    In 1986 he had taken matters into his own hands in an effort to enlist Iran`s help in freeing American hostages held in Lebanon.

    He had arranged for Israel to sell certain U.S. missiles to Iran, and he had diverted proceeds to the aid of the freedom fighters in Nicaragua.

    That was the substance of the whole affair.

    That awful Inspector Walsh, trying to prevent a poor guy from feeding his starving family by selling weapons to our friends enemies friends the Iranians and funneling the money to “freedom-fighters” in Nicaragua. For a White House that publicly claimed “no negotiations, no concessions” with terrorists, their actions were 180 degrees away from that; selling weapons to terrorists in order to 1) funnel money to other terrorists and 2) assist in negotiations with hostage-taking terrorists, who ultimately kidnapped MORE Americans after that.

  2. @Roger That:

    You left out that the other terrorists use the money to murder US citizens like Ben Linder.

  3. MarkedMan says:

    You might be able to trace the start of the Fox-ification of the right in this country to the Ollie North campaign for the Senate in VA. I was in the area and I remember very clearly that his dripping patriotism went down very well with a certain segment of the population. His speeches were received with wide eyed wonder. But this was back to Pre-Palin days when politicians took questions from real reporters and actual citizens and so inevitably he would be asked about lying to Congress under oath. And for a week or two he gave the answer he gave at his trial “I lied to Congress because i had to, because I was upholding a higher truth, blah, blah, blah”. But that didn’t play so well with the black/white view of future tea-partiers. So one day he simply changed his story. “I never lied to Congress.” And his supporters just accepted it. What about the videotape? What about the fact that a few days before he was admitting it to them? “Librul Media hates our freedom!” I think that was the birth of the idea of Fox News. Ailes realized that if you could appeal to a narrow enough slice you would never need to worry about truth or facts again.

  4. Rob in CT says:

    “I was provided with additional input that was radically different from the truth. I assisted in furthering that version.” – Oliver North

    Sounds a bit like a certain Mr. Clapper, really. Differences in the details, of course.