(Calls Weinberger "true American patriot")  (650)
By Dian McDonald
USIA White House Correspondent
Washington -- President Bush December 24 granted pardons to former
Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger and five other individuals for their
conduct related to the Iran-Contra affair.

Bush said Weinberger -- who had been scheduled to go on trial in Washington
January 5 on charges related to Iran-Contra -- was a "true American
patriot," who had served with "distinction" in a series of public positions
since the late 1960s.

"I am pardoning him not just out of compassion or to spare a 75-year-old
patriot the torment of lengthy and costly legal proceedings, but to make it
possible for him to receive the honor he deserves for his extraordinary
1ervice to our country," Bush said in a proclamation granting executive

The president also pardoned five other persons who already had pleaded
guilty or had been indicted or convicted in connection with the Iran-Contra
arms-for-hostages investigation.  They were Elliott Abrams, a former
assistant secretary of state for Inter-American affairs; former National
Security Adviser Robert McFarlane; and Duane Clarridge, Alan Fiers, and
Clair George, all former employees of the Central Intelligence Agency.

Explaining those pardons, Bush said the "common denominator of their
motivation -- whether their actions were right or wrong -- was patriotism."
 They did not profit or seek to profit from their conduct, Bush said,
adding that all five "have already paid a price -- in depleted savings,
lost careers, anguished families -- grossly disproportionate to any
misdeeds or errors of judgment they may have committed."

Asked about the pardons at a news conference in Little Rock, Arkansas, later
in the day, President-elect Clinton said he did not have all the details on
the matter and would withhold comment until he had had a chance to study
the president's statement and related information.

However, Clinton said he was concerned "by any action which sends a signal
that, if you work for the government, you're above the law, or that not
telling the truth to Congress under oath is somehow less serious than not
telling the truth to some other body under oath."

The Iran-Contra affair involved the secret sale of weapons to Iran in
exchange for the release of American hostages held in Lebanon by
pro-Iranian terrorists and the diversion of money from that sale to provide
support for anti-communist resistance fighters in Nicaragua known as the

Weinberger had been charged by independent counsel Lawrence Walsh with four
counts of lying to congressional Iran-Contra investigators in 1987 and to
Walsh's prosecutors in 1990.  His case involved allegations that he had
concealed from congressional investigators his personal notes that detailed
events related to Iran-Contra and which reportedly undermined what
then-President Reagan said about the origins and operations of the covert
arms-for-hostages dealings.  Weinberger had pleaded not guilty and said he
was being unfairly prosecuted.

Although a president has unlimited pardon powers, it is highly unusual to
pardon someone before trial and conviction.  The best-known precedent --
following the Watergate political scandal during the Nixon administration
-- was former President Ford's pardon in 1974 of former President Nixon,
who was never indicted.

Bush said the prosecutions of the persons he was pardoning on Christmas Eve
represent "what I believe is a profoundly troubling development in the
political and legal climate of our country:  the criminalization of policy

The differences should be addressed in "the political arena, without the
Damocles sword of criminality hanging over the heads of some of the
combatants," he said.  "The proper target is the president, not his
subordinates; the proper forum is the voting booth, not the courtroom."

Bush also granted Christmas Eve pardons to 18 other individuals who were not
involved in the Iran-Contra affair.