In the fall of 1986, the Senate and House convened special committees to investigate covert sales of U.S. arms to Iran and the diversion of proceeds to fund rebel groups in Nicaragua. The televised hearings gripped the nation.

A special division of the D.C. Circuit (the Special Division for the Purpose of Appointing Independent Counsels) appointed Lawrence Walsh to investigate under the 1978 Independent Counsel Act.

The resulting investigation focused on National Security Advisor Robert McFarlane and White House aides Lt. Col. Oliver North and Admiral John Poindexter. McFarlane pleaded guilty to withholding information from Congress.

Iran Contra
Iran Contra Document

Highly publicized trials before Judges Gesell and Greene of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia resulted in convictions for, among other things, obstructing congressional investigations and destroying or altering documents.

North’s and Poindexter’s convictions were later overturned.

A third defendant, Clair E. George, Chief of the CIA’s Division of Covert Operations, was convicted of perjury, but he received a pardon from President George H.W. Bush before he could be sentenced.