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tv   Dateline  MSNBC  September 15, 2018 10:00pm-11:01pm PDT

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nomination forward even as new questions about the nominee continue to emerge. i fully expect this particular story about kavanagh to continue to develop through the weekend. republicans wane to vote as soon as next wednesday or thursday. it's hard to see how that happens
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>> investigating.
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>> democracy is strong enough to fight for itself against the rules of ideology. >> publicly, reagan testified he couldn't name any subversives in the industry. privately, the actor sometimes referred to as t ten provided information to the fbi about suspected communists. >> reagan was a product of the cold war and saw the war as divided between the block loyal to washington and another block loyal to moscow. >> hello, in the traditional motion picture, the ending is a happy one. i can make no such promise for the picture you are going to
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watch. >> the policy had been to contain communism. >> vice admiral point dexter played a pivot role. a group that shared the president's deeply held beliefs. also on the team, a hard nosed military, oliver north. code name the hammer. >> he was loyal to the president. and loyal to me. and one of the finest staff officers that has ever worked for me. >> colonel north grew up in a
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military family in up state new york. after graduating from annapolis in 1968, he was sent directly to vietnam. >> captain oliver north has been awarded the civil star and a bronze star and also recipient to two purple hearts. >> everybody whoever encountered him said he was a warrior's warrior. >> did you ever yourself witness the mistreatment. >> i never witnessed a single ear being cut off, a single round being fired at a man without a rifle. or a single civilian being
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maltreated. is that specific, sir. >> reagan saw him as almost a character stepping off a movie scene. the real life hero. and reagan was taken by him. >> i vowed it would never happen again. >> that promise would be put to the test. when america's new president guided by the hatred of communism found a threat close to home. a tiny country in central america, nicaragua. you're turning onto the street
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>> ronald reagan was the target of an assassination atemp by john hinckley junior. after 13 days reagan was released. >> what are you going to do when you get home? >> sit down. >> mr. speaker, the president of the united states. >> four weeks after the a assassination attempt, the president received a hero's welcome. physically, he was weakens, but politically, stronger than ever. the reagan agenda would proceed unobstructed. >> in nicaragua, the rebellion continues. >> the year before reagan's election, socialist revolution
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air government overthrew. the rebels called themselves the sandinistas. >> reagan saw this as an attempt as international communism to spread its reach into central america which he saw as a direct threat to the united states. >> shortly after taking power, the sandinista in partnership with cuba, the soviet union. >> the argument that president reagan made again and again, the dominoes will fall. >> nick raragua is just as clos. >> there was scant popular
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support for another major military action just six years removed from the debacle that was vietnam. instead reagan launched a covert operation in nicaragua run by the cia. and kept largely secret from the eyes and ears of congress. by early 1982, the cia had set up training camps at military bases around the u.s. >> you are about to begin an intense training program as your country strives to obtain peace. >> we wanted to appear that this was the nicaraguan people that were uprising against the sandinista government. >> these right-wing counter revolutionaries became known as the contras. >> this was the biggest cia paramilitary program in the history of the cia at that
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point. >> reagan's covert war became national news. >> two american congressmen no doubt america is involved in a war with the government there. >> the contra's tactics were alarming. >> it became quite brutal. in many ways a war against civilian. >> if there were people they thought were involved with the sandinista government she would shoot them. they were essentially terrorists . >> but before the contra's culture of death and intimidation reached the public, many in congress were finding
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their voice. >> we most not appropriate one more penny to wage a war that has sent central america into an arms camp. >> in october of 1984, a bill was brought to the house floor. >> the democrats who controlled the congress passed legislation forbidding the administration from taking action. >> the president of the united states did not shrug his shoulder and say i did not like this law, but it is the law of the land and i have to obey it. he did the opposite. ronald reagan's famous directive was keep the contras alive, body and soul >> the so the president asked us to figure out a way to continue to support the contras without
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using the cia. and without using appropriated funds. >> their solution was the nsc. the national security counsel. they believed a precise reading of the law left the nsc exempt from restrictions. we decided the nsc could take over the contra program. >> the political of military affairs was the hammer. lieutenant colonel oliver north. >> they appointed oliver north to be the ops manager for the entire contra war. >> he believed as passionately as ronald reagan in the cause of the contras. >> olie north and others saw this as a great, great crusade. out of sight, down in the
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basement in the white house, they were conducting a secret war under the most bizarre terms. >> nicaragua, somehow became the holy war. ♪ ooh, heaven is a place on earth ♪ uhp. i didn't believe it. again. ♪ ooh, baby, do you know what that's worth? ♪ i want to believe it. [ claps hands ]
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a huge victory for ronald reagan. about to enter his second term as president of the united states. >> you ain't seen nothing yet. >> in 1984, ronald reagan's second landslide was bigger than his first. winning 49 states. largest electoral vote in history. >> unemployment rate was lower than it was when president reagan first took office. >> the recession was over and
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employment was on the rise and america was reclaiming her role as a beacon of progress and prosperity. the international stage was less than settled. and reagan's war in nicaragua continued. >> i spoken recently of the freedom fighters. you know who they are fighting and i am we cannot turn away from them. >> acting as the point of reagan's nicaraguan's spear, oliver north. north's clandestine operation was called the enterprise >> the enterprise was the entire network that he created to supplant the cia in running the contra war. >> since congress cut funding for the contras, the enterprise
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had to find funds outside the government or shut down. >> the constitution is clear that the power of the purse resides with congress. >> but that doesn't restrict the president or an administration from supporting private programs to carry out aspects of foreign policy that they feel are important. >> and in this case, when congress closed the purse and said no more money for the contra war, the reagan administration decided to look for other purses anywhere they could find them. >> oliver north was an enormously attractive personality, he worked nonstop. >> he worked quietly but fiercely and didn't care about whatever legal or red tape obstacles might be in the way. >> north sought funding from
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regul reagan's wealthiest political donors. >> make sure there was chocolate on the bed. >> the enterprise raked in millions from foreign governments. >> got $32 million from the saudis. $2 million from taiwan. >> to manage the contributions and supply arms to the contras, north enlisted retired general richard sea cort. >> he was an arms dealer. he was clearly out to make a profit. >> dick developed a logistic pipeline that moved military equipment and other resources to the contras in nicaragua. >> it was an octopus of a covert operation network. >> the war in nicaragua wasn't the only global concern pressing
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the administration. >> reagan was embroiled in his own middle east hostage crisis. in lebanon, seven americas were being held by an organization known as hezbollah. >> it emerges pretty much as a proxy of iran. if you are talking about hezbollah, you are talking about iran. >> reagan like everybody else remembered clearly how the earlier hostage crisis spelled the end of carter's presidency. >> president reagan was anxious to figure out a way to get the hostages back. >> so the question becomes if you want to get the hostages out, do you deal with hezbollah, or deal with iran. >> u.s. relations with iran remained polarized since the
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ayatoll ayatollah came to power. >> we were looking for ways to secretly open a dialogue with the iranian government. >> one of america's closest allies, israel suggested a plan to free the hostages and renew relations with iran. >> iran was in the middle of tough terrible war with iraq. and they desperately needed weapons. >> since the u.s. could not be seen selling arms to iran, israel, offered to act as the middle man. the prospect of opening a dialogue with iran and the ayatollah interceding with hezbollah to free the hostages intrigued the white house. the scheme had a serious downside, it was against the law. the sale of arms to sponsors of
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terrorism is prohibited. >> the law is explicit and says you can't do it indirectly. it is the same as doing it directly. >> the president of the united states. >> the plan also ran against reagan's own stated policy. >> america will never make concessions to terrorists. to do would only invite more terrorism. >> however, in the gray world in which we live, it is sometimes necessary to have a public position and a secret position that may be slightly different. >> two powerful voices on reagan's national security team, secretary of state george
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schultz. >> schultz was blistering his opposition to this. contrary to the policy. clearly, not only were we dealing with terrorist, we were trying to trade. >> reagan faced a stark choice. honor his policy and the law by rejecting the plan. or take a dangerous step that might free the hostages, but in so doing, violate his oath of office. fact is, every insurance company hopes you drive safely. but allstate actually helps you drive safely... with drivewise. it lets you know when you go too fast... ...and brake too hard. with feedback to help you drive safer. giving you the power to actually lower your cost. unfortunately, it can't do anything about that.
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>> claiming 11 lives and left thousands without power. expected to bring more heavy rain into the region sunday before it heads north. >> 26-year-old man is dead after attacked by a shark in cape cod
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on saturday. the unidentified victim was pronounced dead at a local hospital. the first fatal shark attack in the states since 1936. now, back to "this happened." >> in august of 1985, americans were held hostage by mill tants in the middle east. a crisis darkly similar to the one that playings tgues the pre of carter. >> sell arms. >> a risky proposal that was also illegal. >> i told him we should try to keep it secret as long as we could. but i thought in the end, the
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benefits that we might achieve outweighed the risk. the president said, i don't think i could ever forgive myself if we didn't try to get the hostages back. >> ronald hagreagan would make decision that would change the course of his presidency. the secret sale of arms to iran would go forward. to oversee the program, reagan turned to a trusted hand. lieutenant colonel olive north. north became the lynch pin between the two covert operations. >> at an operational level, north was ever where. >> north oversaw two secret deliveries to iran. >> at that .1 hostage was
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released. >> i am policed to inform you benjam benjam benjam benjamin weir has now been released. >> north knew where to spend the windfall. his other secret effort, the enterprise. >> olie recommended we use the iranian money to help fund the contra program. and i thought that made a lot of sense and agreed with him. >> flush with new funds, the contra war expanded through 1986. and the death toll rose into the tens of thousands.
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but reagan's secret war was about to implode. >> my name is gene, and i come from with sconsin. >> an american transport plane carrying military supplies to the contra was shot down in the mountains. >> there was one survivor, an american. >> continuing to insist that eugene hassenfus is a cia agent. >> they dragged him in front of world television cameras where he told his account of working for the cia. >> two cuban nationalized americans that worked for the
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cia. >> became increasingly clear that this was an operation being run by the white house while they lied about it to the public and congress. >> the people involved were not from any u.s. government agency, cia included. >> the reagan administration lies. >> it just didn't work. there was too much of a trail of money and documentation that very quickly led back to the white house. >> the scandal dominated the news for the next month. then another seemingly unrelated revelation gained national attention. >> it is taking shape as one of the most controversial foreign policy. >> it was a bombshell. >> reagan's first response was to deny any connection to it. >> a charge has been made that
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the united states has shipped weapons to iran. the united states undercut its allies and secretly violated. those charges are utterly false. >> he ob fuss skates and misrepresents what he notes. >> a lot of the american people just simply don't believe you. >> there was pandemonium. >> top officials of the reagan white house go into complete cover up mode. i mean destruction of evidence. >> north scrambled to destroy all documentation of his clandestine efforts. >> oliver north decides he was
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going to have what he called a shredding party. >> his assistant fawn hall stayed at his side. >> she helped north with his famous so-called shredding party. >> falsifying documents to make it seem like things didn't happen. enlists fawn hall to ferret them out of the white house. >> one document survived. and it detailed the entire plan to divert profits from the iran missile sales to the contra war. >> november 25th is when it came together as a major scandal. >> the president is in the hall waiting for his cue to come out here. >> somebody said you have got to
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turn on the television and listen to this press conference. >> last friday after becoming concerned whether my national security operators had provided me with security or complete factual record, i ordered a review and this report led me to, this action raises serious actions of improprietiaire. >> i thought the simplest thing was to resign. in hindsight, i made a huge mistake. i should have stayed. the president had nobody to back
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him up. >> colonel oliver north has been released of his duties. >> in order to feed the lions of the press, designating two scapegoats. >> blame north, blame point dexter. >> did you make a mistake in sending arms to teheran. >> no. and i am not taking any more questions and i am going to ask attorney general to brief you on what we presently know what we found out. >> is anybody else going to be let go. >> no one was let go, they chose to go. >> the most damaging detail had yet to be released. attorney general had stepped to the podium. >> certain moneys received in
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the transaction were taken and made available to the forces in central america which are opposing the sandinista government there. >> the hyphen in iran contra was revealed to the world. >> good evening, the iran affair is now a scandal. >> money from the controversial iran deal was secretly funneled. >> who was the blitherring idiot that this would help the united states. >> it is imperative that the president under take to appoint a special prosecutor. >> a lot of people had a sense this was watergate two. this is a president out of control breaking the law. >> the iran-contra scandal
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launched six years of committee hearings, investigations and criminal trials. no one including the president was spared the closest scrutiny. >> this was high crime and misdemeanor. fear this would lead to impeachment.
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as the new iran contra revelations flashed across the nation's front pages, a besieged white house descended into virtual lockdown, fending off a press that was demanding every last detail of a scandal that grew almost by the day. >> can you just tell us what the secretary of state -- agrees with your policy or
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disagrees. >> the administration illegally sold weapons to a state sponsor of terrorism and with the profits, secretly funded a right-wing rebellion in nicaragua. >> there was the spector that this is reagan's watergate. reagan will have to leave office. his approval rating crashed. >> and now a joint congressional committee prepared to convene public hearings. senator george mitchell sat on the committee. >> it was by that time obvious that much of what had been said in public by the president, by members of his administration, was untrue. and our objective was to find out and lay out for all americans what had actually happened and let americans make the judgment on it. >> after months of investigation and anticipation, the congressional hearings into the iran contra affair opened this morning.
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>> in a packed room, on live tv, the hearings began in early may, 1987. >> the senate select committee s on secret military assistance on iran and the nicaraguan opposition will come to order. >> the enterprise's money and logistics man, richard seacord was the first to testify. >> am i correct, mr. seacord, that you were engaged in selling arms to the contras for profit? >> that's correct. >> with millions watching, a parade of witnesses began to unpack a story of global intrigue and personal malfeasance, including oliver north's loyal assistant, fawn hall. >> i believe in colonel north and i know it must have been a good reason why he was asking me to do this. and i, i did as i was told. >> dramatic as hall's testimony
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was, tv ratings spiked when the committee called oliver north. >> he's got a full military uniform on, he's got the perfect haircut. he's got this swagger and bravado of a military man. >> do you solemnly swear that in the testimony you are about to give, will be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth so help you god? >> i do. >> please be seated. >> he took the place by storm. >> i came here to tell you the truth. the good, the bad, and the ugly i'm here to tell it all. >> north was well-prepared, occasionally combative witness >> i would have offered the iranians a free trip to disneyland if we had got americans home for it. >> congress is to blame because of the fickle, vacillating, unpredictable, on again/off again policy toward the nicaraguan democratic resistance. >> north has become a hero to many americans who have sent in
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more than 50 delle grams of support. >> sock it to them. one couple even promised to name their next male child oliver. >> he was an actor in a role and he played it magnificently. >> i put great value on the lives of the american hostages. i worked hard to bring back as many as we could. >> a defiant north went even further. he implied the president understood every aspect of his operation, including the diverting of funds from iran to the contras. >> i sought approval of my superiors for every one of my actions. and it is well documented. i assumed that the president was aware of what i was doing and had through my superiors, approved it. i believed that the president had indeed authorized such activity. >> if north's testimony proved
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credible. he almost certainly put reagan's presidency in jeopardy. >> but one key witness remained and his testimony turned the proceedings upside-down. >> still bracing for the testimony of john poin dexter. met with the president every day. sometimes with no one else in the room. >> did you at any time tell the president the fact that proceeds from the iranian arms sale would be used to support the contras? >> the buck stops here with me. i made a very deliberate decision not to ask the so that i could insulate him from the decision and provide some future deniability for the president if it ever leaked out. >> i knew how important the contra program was to the president and i felt sure if i had asked him that he would have
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approved, but i did not ask him. >> are you saying that your decision was not to tell the president so that he would be able to deny that he knew of it? >> that's correct. >> narrator: had the case been made for reagan's plausible deniability? despite poindexter's testimony, many believed the president remained vulnerable to impeachment. when we were dating, we used to get excited about things like concert tickets or a new snowboard. matt: whoo! whoo! jen: but that all changed when we bought a house. matt: voilà! jen: matt started turning into his dad. matt: mm. that's some good mulch. ♪ i'm awake. but it was pretty nifty when jen showed me how easy it was to protect our home and auto with progressive. [ wrapper crinkling ] get this butterscotch out of here. progressive can't protect you from becoming your parents. there's quite a bit of work, 'cause this was all -- this was all stapled. but we can protect your home and auto when you bundle with us.
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♪ we have produced a fair, a balanced and a comprehensive document. >> narrator: six months after the hearings began the iran-contra congressional committee issued its final report. >> the president did not faithfully execute the laws in several respects. >> the president did not know he should have.
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>> you can't engage in illegal activities in direct effort to circumvent a law that is on the books. >> narrator: many republicans disagreed. >> it just kills the majority to have to admit there was no smoking gun. >> i don't see any criminal intent and i certainly don't see any corruption here. >> the parties were at polar opposites. it was the beginning of the situation we now have today. >> narrator: as for president reagan, a booming economy, low unemployment and a nuclear arms summit with the soviet union had combined to lift his national ratings back to their former levels. impeachment became a delicate issue. >> the democratic leadership decided specifically that they were going to steer clear of impeaching the president of the united states. >> the leadership was absolutely not interested in looking like bad guys, like they're going
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after a popular president. >> narrator: despite the illegal missile sales to iran and unlawfully continuing the war in nicaragua, the president was spared retribution. but if reagan was not to be held accountable, who would be? >> there are about 13 charges of obstruction of investigation and false statements. >> narrator: the task fell to an independent counsel. lawrence walsh brought charges against casper weinberger, bud mcfarland, john poindexter, oliver north, richard secord and nine others. fawn hall was not charged. >> nobody really believes that these people intended to be criminals. >> it just wreaks with politics. >> i just have to believe that they're going to be found innocent because i don't think they were guilty of any law breaking or any crime. >> narrator: the court of law disagreed. nearly four years after
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beginning his investigation, the independent counsel won guilty verdicts against north and poindexter. their crimes included destroying federal documents and lying to congress. but in the end, none of it would stick. an appeals court overturned their convictions. >> totally exonerated, fully, completely. i don't have another word for it. help me. >> narrator: the legal aftermath of iran-contra reached well beyond reagan's tenure and deep into that of president george h.w. bush. on christmas eve 1992, president bush, with only weeks left in office, pardoned mcfarland and weinberger. the independent counsel's investigation had lasted six years, seven months and 17 days. no one at the core of reagan's national security team was ever held responsible for committing
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a crime. >> i cannot recall a public proceeding of any kind in my political lifetime that was more thoroughly infected with perjury and false statements than was the iran-contra affair. ♪ should auld acquaintance be for got ♪ >> narrator: in the decades since the iran-contra affair, the legacy of ronald reagan transcended any wrong doing. >> he became an icon. the republicans decided that they were going to turn reagan into essentially what john f. kennedy was for the democrats. >> narrator: the contra war ended in 1990 and today the s d sandinistas rule nicaragua. the last of the original seven american hostages was released in december of 1991. u.s. relations with iran remain
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polarized. >> i will be your senator in the united states senate. >> narrator: oliver north made an unsuccessful bid for a u.s. senate seat in virginia in 1994. he remains on the public stage as an author and media pundit and he's the new president of the national rifle association. and the questions raised by the iran-contra affair about transparency, honesty and accountability to congress and to the public are as vital and relevant as ever. >> whether it is the reagan administration or any administration in the future, what's actually going on? they're telling us these are their goals, their principles, their values, about what are they really doing? >> the president of the united states does not have the right legally, morally or otherwise, to violate the law. as nixon claimed that he did,
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president reagan's defenders argued that he did, but, in fact, neither of them did and never has any president had that power. ♪ i'm craig melvin. >> i'm natalie morales. >> and this is "dateline." her name is pepper. >> i lived a secret life. >> she was kidnapped at age 4. >> we got in the car, and we never went back. >> she spent decades trying to find her way home again, and she finally made it. or so she thought. >> i said, i think i'm rhonda christie, or do you know rhonda patricia christi


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