Lawrence E. Walsh

  • Born: January 8, 1912
  • Died: March 19, 2014
  • Location: Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

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Former federal judge and diplomat Lawrence E. Walsh responds to questions at his home, Sunday, Dec. 14, 1986 in Oklahoma City. Walsh told members of the media he has no official word that he's been selected as the independent counsel to probe the Iranian arms sale.

Iran-Contra prosecutor dies at 102

PETE YOST, The Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — Lawrence E. Walsh, the special prosecutor who spent six years investigating misconduct by President Ronald Reagan administration officials in the Iran-Contra affair, has died. He was 102.

He died Wednesday at his home in Oklahoma City following a brief illness, according to his family.

In a distinguished legal career, Walsh was a highly successful Wall Street lawyer who served as a federal judge, president of the American Bar Association and as the No. 2 official at the Justice Department in the Eisenhower administration.

But the highest profile work of his life was as a court-appointed independent counsel in the Iran-Contra controversy, when he relentlessly pursued evidence of wrongdoing in an investigation that cost $47 million. Walsh's detractors said the investigation was a clear case of prosecutorial abuse.

The drama of Iran-Contra paled in comparison with the Watergate scandal that brought down President Richard M. Nixon. But both scandals were Washington spectacles: a political collision of the executive and legislative branches of government, televised congressional hearings, a presidency in peril, an alleged criminal cover-up and a series of criminal prosecutions that were, in the Iran-Contra affair, all overseen by Walsh.

"I found myself at the center of a constitutional maelstrom," Walsh recalled in his 1997 book, "Firewall: The Iran-Contra Conspiracy and Cover-up."

"While struggling to learn the truth and unravel a willful cover-up that extended all the way to the Oval Office, my staff and I had to fend off attacks from members of Congress and the president's Cabinet and to break through the barriers erected by the national security community," Walsh wrote.

Iran-Contra had its roots in two covert operations directed from the Reagan White House. In both, Congress was kept in the dark.

The first operation was the secret supplying of weapons to rebels in Central America who were seeking to overthrow the leftist government of Nicaragua. At the time, Congress had barred the CIA and the Pentagon from providing military aid to the Contra rebels.

The second operation was the secret sale of anti-tank missiles and spare parts for Hawk anti-aircraft missiles to Iran in an effort to free U.S. hostages held in Lebanon. Iran, which at the time was fighting a war with Iraq, was thought to possess some influence over the abductors.

The White House linked the two operations by secretly diverting millions of dollars from the Iran arms sales into buying guns for the rebels in Central America.

A political firestorm erupted when the diversion was exposed in late 1986. That left the Reagan administration with little choice but to call for a criminal investigation by a wholly independent prosecutor. A panel of three federal appeals judges chose Walsh.

Eleven people pleaded guilty or were convicted by juries in Iran-Contra. But the two biggest courtroom victories for Walsh's prosecutors — convictions of national security adviser John Poindexter and former Marine Lt. Col. Oliver North — were overturned on appeal.

Over Walsh's strenuous objections, Congress had granted North and Poindexter limited immunity from prosecution in exchange for both men's testimony in nationally televised hearings. The congressional immunity deals eventually spelled the death knell for both criminal cases.

The biggest case of all, that of Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, never came to trial because President George H.W. Bush pardoned the defendant and five other Iran-Contra figures on Christmas Eve of 1992, two weeks before Weinberger's trial was to start.

The pardons infuriated Walsh.

"The Iran-contra cover-up, which has continued for more than six years, has now been completed," Walsh said at the time.

The pardons demonstrated that "powerful people with powerful allies can commit serious crimes in high office — deliberately abusing the public trust without consequence," he said.

In the end, the Iran-Contra probe cost $47 million and resulted in just one person being sent to prison — a retired CIA officer who helped deliver weapons to the Contras.

Walsh was born in 1912 in the Canadian province of Nova Scotia. His family moved to New York City when he was a small child. He graduated from Columbia University in 1932 and earned his law degree there in 1935.

Walsh is survived by five children — Barbara Marie Walsh, Janet Maxine Walsh, Sara Porter Walsh, Dale Edward Walsh and Elizabeth Porter Walsh — as well as four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

His wife, Mary Porter Walsh, died in 2012.

The family said there would be a funeral service in Oklahoma City early next week and a memorial service in New York City at a later date.


Condolence & Memory Journal

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Posted by Claudio - b4sDeWYBLb, CA - 3UVuTlyp   August 08, 2015

I found this photo of Lawrence and Idi Amin Dada from 1975. The picture was taken at a dinner to honor Ugandans who had IQs over 65. Amin loved Lawrence because he showed Amin how to waste millions of dollars without even trying. Amin was quoted once praising Lawrence for his ability to waste tax money. Amin said, "this man has showed Amin how to waste money and time on useless trials and trinkets. He helped to make Uganda even more useless than ever." Lawrence showed us all how ineffective he truly was at the Iran contra trials. What an embarrassment to have Ronald Reagan who was suffering from Alzheimer's at the time outwit Lawrence. It was like watching a retarded person debate with a person who had frontal lobe damage.

Posted by Ellen Mcmellen - Salamander - Useless govt. employees   June 22, 2014

He should have represented Zimmerman no one could waste taxpayer money like he could.

Posted by David    April 04, 2014

At one whitehouse dinner he looked right in my eyes and said, " I have never heard ladybird sneeze.". I always remembered how spot on he was with that comment.

Posted by Michael Radcliffe - Lisbon, CT - Co-workers   March 27, 2014

I wish to extend my deepest sympathy to Barbara and Janet on the passing of their father. I remember him from his days as Deputy Attorney General.The family lived in our neighborhood and shared many happy memories of that time. No matter how busy he was, Mr. Walsh always had time for his family and his support of Barb's and Janet's activities. Please keep the happy memories of a life well lived.

Posted by Fran Markwith - Port Republic, MD - Friend   March 25, 2014

To Barbie Walsh. I was sorry to hear of the passing of your father. He was always so kind to your friends when we were kids and I always thought of him as such a fine, kind man. Liz Climenko and I are still in touch and were remembering riding and horse show times with you. We haven't forgotten that your father got us tickets to the Madison Square Garden show. Please accept my condolences. Susan Mullen Chayet

Posted by Susan Chayet - Weston, CT - Friend   March 24, 2014

He wasted millions in taxpayer dollars to come up with nothing. What a maroon.

Posted by Minke    March 21, 2014


Family Album

Three members of the Moreland commission who will make a study of New York state laws controlling sale and distribution of alcoholic beverages in the state are sworn on March 1, 1963 at office of New York state governor Nelson Rockefeller, at 22 west 55th street, New York. From left are Caroline E. Simon, secretary of state, administering Oath, Governor Rockefeller, Lawrence E. Walsh. Chairman of the commission; William C. Warren, and Manly Fleischmann. Latter three are the commission members.
Former federal judge and diplomat Lawrence E. Walsh responds to questions at his home, Sunday, Dec. 14, 1986 in Oklahoma City. Walsh told members of the media he has no official word that he's been selected as the independent counsel to probe the Iranian arms sale.
Independent counsel Lawrence E. Walsh, shown arriving at U.S. District court on Wednesday, Nov. 18, 1987 in Washington, tells reporters that he expects to complete his investigation of the Iran-Contra affair in the near future.

Community Photos

He should have represented Zimmerman no one could waste taxpayer money like he could.
I found this photo of Lawrence and Idi Amin Dada from 1975. The picture was taken at a dinner to honor Ugandans who had IQs over 65. Amin loved Lawrence because he showed Amin how to waste millions of dollars without even trying. Amin was quoted once praising Lawrence for his ability to waste tax money. Amin said, "this man has showed Amin how to waste money and time on useless trials and trinkets. He helped to make Uganda even more useless than ever." Lawrence showed us all how ineffective he truly was at the Iran contra trials. What an embarrassment to have Ronald Reagan who was suffering from Alzheimer's at the time outwit Lawrence. It was like watching a retarded person debate with a person who had frontal lobe damage.