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Iran-Contra special prosecutor has died

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.

His death was confirmed Thursday by two former aides, Guy Struve and Mary Belcher.

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 WasLAhington 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.

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