WASHINGTON — Former White House National Security Adviser Robert C. McFarlane, a top aide to President Ronald Reagan who pleaded guilty to charges of his role in an illegal arms trade for hostages known as the Iran-Contra affair, has died. He was 84.
McFarlane, who lived in Washington, died Thursday of complications from a previous illness at a Michigan hospital where he was visiting relatives, according to a family statement.
“As his family, we would like to share our deep sadness at the loss of our beloved husband, father and grandfather, and take note of his profound impact on our lives,” the family said in a statement. “While recognized as a strategic political thinker, we remember him for his warmth, wisdom, deep faith in God and dedication to serving others.”
McFarlane, a former Marine lieutenant colonel and a veteran of the combat in Vietnam, resigned from his White House position in December 1985. Western hostages in the Middle East and pass the proceeds to the counter-rebels in Nicaragua for their fight against the Marxist Sandinista government.
He played a key role in the affair, leading the secret delegation to Tehran, then and now an American adversary, to liaise with so-called moderate Iranians who were thought to be influencing kidnappers of American hostages. He brought a cake and a Reagan-signed Bible.
The plan began to unfold after a cargo plane carrying a CIA-controlled weapon shipment was shot down by the Sandinistas in Nicaragua in October 1986, eventually becoming one of the biggest modern political scandals.
McFarlane was rushed to a Washington-area hospital in February 1987 after taking an overdose of Valium the day before he was due to testify before a presidential commission investigating the affair.
He pleaded guilty in March 1988 to four violations of withholding information from Congress. His lawyer said he was unfairly selected because, unlike other key figures in the affair, he testified voluntarily before investigative panels. He also admitted his role.
“I did indeed withhold information from Congress,” he told reporters at the time. “I strongly believe that my actions were motivated in every way by what I believed to be in the interest of United States foreign policy.”
He was pardoned by President George HW Bush, along with five other figures from the scandal.
McFarlane, a career Marine known to his friends as “Bud,” had risen to the rank of lieutenant colonel and to positions in the Nixon and Ford administrations. He served as Special Assistant for National Security to Richard M. Nixon and Gerald R. Ford during their presidencies.
During the Carter administration, he served on the Republican staff of the Senate Armed Services Committee. He returned to the executive branch with the election of Reagan, where he served as an adviser to the State Department until moving to the White House in January 1982 as a deputy to National Security Adviser William Clark. He was appointed to the highest national security position in 1983.
A graduate of the US Naval Academy, McFarlane was the son of a former Democratic Congressman from Texas, William Doddridge McFarlane, who served from 1932 to 1938. He leaves behind his wife, 63, two daughters and a son.