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Reagan Administration Officials Debate How to Support the Contras

Democrats in Congress strongly disagreed with Reagan's support of the rightwing Contras in Nicaragua. To prevent further U.S. intervention in Nicaragua, they passed the Boland Amendments that outlawed federal spending on the conflict. Reagan and high-ranking members of his administration, including the Vice President George H. W. Bush, Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger and National Security Advisor Robert McFarlane, debated ways to circumvent the Boland Amendments. Vice President Bush later organized a deal between the U.S. and Honduras for U.S. aid to the Honduran military in exchange for Honduran support of the Contras.  



June 25, 1984: 2:00--3:00 P.M.: Situation Room

SUBJECT: Central America

PARTICIPANTS [abridged]:

The President

The Vice President

Secretary [of State] George P. Shultz

Secretary [of Defense] Caspar W. Weinberger

C.I.A. [Director] William J. Casey

Ambassador [to the United Nations] Jeane J. Kirkpatrick

Joint Chiefs of Staff General John W. Vessey, Jr. 

[Attorney General] Edwin Meese, III

[National Security Advisor] Robert C. McFarlane



Mr. McFarlane: The purpose of this meeting is to focus on the political, economic, and military situation in Central America...

There seems to be no prospect that the Democratic leadership will provide for any vote on the Nicaraguan program...

Secretary Shultz: ...I would like to get money for the Contras, but another lawyer...said that if we go out and try to get money from third countries, it is an impeachable offense. 

...[The lawyer's] argument is that the US government may raise and spend funds only through an appropriation by the Congress.

Secretary Weinberger: ...[The lawyer] should realize that the United States would not be spending the money for the anti-Sandinista program; it is merely helping the anti-Sandinistas obtain the money from other sources. Therefore, the United States is not, as a government, spending money obtained from other sources.

Mr. Meese: ...I want to emphasize that it's important to tell the Department of Justice that we want them to find the proper and legal basis which will permit the United States to assist in obtaining third party resources for the anti-Sandinistas...

Vice President Bush: How can anyone object to the US encouraging third parties to provide help to the anti-Sandinistas under the finding? The only problem that might come up is if the United States were to promise to give these third parties something in return so that some people could interpret this as some kind of exchange.


Mr. McFarlane: I propose that there be no authority for anyone to seek third party support for the anti-Sandinistas until we have the information we need, and I certainly hope none of this discussion will be made public in any way.

President Reagan: If such a story gets out, we'll all be hanging by our thumbs in front of the White House until we find out who did it.  

Source | National Security Council, "National Security Planning Group Minutes: Subject: Central America, SECRET," 25 June 1984, (Washington, DC: National Archives), available from The National Security Archive, The Iran-Contra Affair 20 Years On,
Creator | National Security Council
Item Type | Government Document
Cite This document | National Security Council, “Reagan Administration Officials Debate How to Support the Contras,” SHEC: Resources for Teachers, accessed September 23, 2023,

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