Everyone knows that Oliver North escaped the Iran-Contra affair conviction free, even though many people believed that he was, in fact, guilty.
What specifically, in fact and theory, was he guilty of, assuming the basic story as accepted today is 100% accurate?
I know the basic story and that he supposedly wasn’t supposed to have done what he is widely accepted as doing. What were the specific laws that he violated when he performed those naughty acts? (e.g. “3 counts of Aggravated Mopery with Intent to Creep in the Second Degree, Criminal Code S 53.332.3, Felony, each count with a penalty of up to 10 years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine”)
He was indicted on sixteen felony counts, and, on May 4, 1989, he was initially convicted of three: accepting an illegal gratuity; aiding and abetting in the obstruction of a congressional inquiry; and ordering the destruction of documents via his secretary, Fawn Hall. He was sentenced, by U.S. District Judge Gerhard A. Gesell on July 5, 1989, to a three-year suspended prison term, two years’ probation, $150,000 in fines, and 1,200 hours community service.
Those were essentially supporting crimes. The primary law North broke was the Boland Amendment to the Defense Appropriations Act 411-0. This law said it was illegal for the United States government to provide aid to the Contras for them to use in attempting to overthrow the Nicaraguan government.
North, by his own admission, was acting on behalf of the American government to give money to the Contras for that purpose. So he was clearly breaking the law. His defense was essentially that he didn’t think it was a good law and he was just following orders.
As I recall, the Boland amendment made the actions illegal, but did not provide any penalties for violators. Some lawyers (and not just ones working for the Administration) questioned whether, thereby, the law had any practical applicability. Hence the subordinate charges.
Even without penalties the law did have practical applications. It sounds obvious but the law made it illegal - and that’s an important issue. Many other laws and regulations are invoked by the performance of an illegal act.
For example, let’s say one law makes it illegal to bring cigarettes into a federal office building but this law carries no penalties. This seems pointless. But now suppose a second law exists which makes it a crime for a federal employee to knowingly break the law while he’s on duty and this law carries a penalty of up to six months in prison.
Either of these laws by itself does nothing. But now put the two laws together. A federal employee who brings cigarettes to work can now be convicted of breaking the law by bringing cigarettes to work.
I haven’t looked through all the relevant laws involved but I imagine the same principle applied to North. Many of the things he did wouldn’t have been illegal except that he did them in furtherance of illegally sending aid to the Contras.