Rehabilitating John Poindexter.

Gossip, speculation, and scuttlebutt about politics.
Feb. 25 2002 6:47 PM

John Poindexter, "Outstanding American"

Ari Fleischer salutes a mendacious former national security adviser.

On Valentine's Day, the Associated Press reported that the Pentagon was rehabilitating John Poindexter, the former national security adviser during the Reagan administration. In 1990, Poindexter was convicted of conspiracy, making false statements to Congress, and obstructing congressional inquiries, all in connection with the Iran-Contra scandal. (Click here to read what special prosecutor Lawrence Walsh's Iran-Contra report had to say about Poindexter, and click here to retrieve some of the 5,000 White House e-mails that Poindexter tried to destroy.) The conviction was subsequently thrown out on a technicality having to do with the immunity Poindexter received for testifying before Congress about Iran-Contra. Poindexter was also the guy whose memo instituting a disinformation campaign against Libya's Col. Muammar Qaddafi caused false information to be fed to the Wall Street Journal that was defended as "authoritative" by Reagan White House spokesman Larry Speakes. That incident occasioned the resignation of State Department spokesman Bernard Kalb. Now Poindexter heads the Pentagon Information Awareness Office. As Slate's Scott Shuger recently pointed out, Poindexter's biography does not inspire confidence about this new assignment.

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Surprisingly, Donald Rumsfeld wasn't asked about his new employee in his Feb. 24 appearances on CBS's Face the Nation and NBC's Meet the Press. Indeed, the White House didn't get asked about Poindexter's new job until today. (Chatterbox chalks this up to the fact that, in terms of complexity, Iran-Contra was the most headache-inducing White House scandal in American history.) Kudos, therefore, to Helen Thomas, the former UPI reporter turned Hearst columnist, for bringing it up. The response, at the daily White House briefing, was classic Ari Fleischer:

Fleischer: I'm not aware of any appointment.
Thomas: Yet.
Fleischer: Let me just say about Adm. Poindexter, Adm. Poindexter is somebody who this administration thinks is an outstanding American and an outstanding citizen who has done a very good job in what he has done for our country, serving in the military.
Thomas: How can you say that, when he told Col. North to lie?
Fleischer: Helen, I think your views on Iran-Contra are well-known, but the president does believe that Adm. Poindexter served—
Thomas: It isn't my view, this is the prosecutor for the United States.
Fleischer: I understand. The president thinks that Adm. Poindexter has served our nation very well.

Thomas can be a blowhard, which may explain why there wasn't any immediate follow-up. But Chatterbox hopes this isn't the last we hear of this. If Poindexter's rehabilitation is allowed to slip through unremarked, it will only be a matter of time before Oliver North is appointed ambassador to Nicaragua.

[Clarification, Feb. 25, 8:15 p.m.: The AP didn't break the story about Poindexter getting a Pentagon job. As best as Chatterbox can make out, John Markoff did in the Feb. 13 New York Times.]

Timothy Noah is a former Slate staffer. His  book about income inequality is The Great Divergence.

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