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From Rural Fields to Battlefields Part 4: Capitol Hill

This blog is part four in a five-part series about Clark Hall by 2019 National History Academy student Dominique Castanheira. 

Part 4: Capitol Hill

Clark Hall traded in organized crime for congressional inquiries in 1986. But he found that crimes committed in the white, marble buildings of Capitol Hill were no less dangerous than those in the streets of Las Vegas. For soon he was the Chief Investigator for the “House Select Committee to Investigate Covert Arms Transaction with Iran,” also known as the Iran–Contra affair.

“Working on Iran-Contra taught me that one person aided and abetted by others can put this country at constitutional risk,” Mr. Hall said. “One person, Oliver North, a Marine Corps Lieutenant Colonel, decided upon himself to make decisions on behalf of the administration to engage in illegal acts. And no one stopped him. So one person can create great havoc for a representative democracy that has a constitution at its foundation. Everything that Oliver North did was anti-constitutional. He behaved not only irresponsibly but criminally.”

Clark Hall as the Chief Investigator during Iran-Contra (Courtesy Clark Hall)

The Iran-Contra affair occurred during the second term of the Reagan Administration. The head of the National Security Council (NSC), Robert C. McFarlane, illegally sold arms to Iran in the hopes of securing the release of a number of American citizens. In addition to this first illegal transaction, the NSC gave a portion of the money obtained from Iran to the Contras. The Contras were right-wing terrorist groups battling the Marxist-oriented Sandinista regime of Nicaragua. Lieutenant Colonial Oliver North, a NSC staff member, led these monetary transfers.

“It was a pleasure to go after Oliver North, even though he was a Marine Corps officer at the time. He was endangering our country and creating a constitutional crisis by violating the Boland Amendment, which made it illegal to give assistance to the Contras battling against the Sandinistas. He made that decision to violate a constitutional mandate, and he got others to help him and the administration to cover for him. But we exposed and investigated that case, and I had the privilege of being the Chief Investigator,” Mr. Hall said.

Iran-Contra had introduced Clark Hall to the world of congressional inquiries, and the work showed no signs of slowing down. He would later become the lead investigator of the Senate Ethics Committee during the “Keating Five Savings and Loan Probe,” where he interviewed more than a dozen United States Senators and their staffs.

“For the Keating Five, you had Senators engaged in conduct that was clearly a conflict of interest,” Mr. Hall said. “They received junkets, airplane rides, and stock considerations to cause them to advantage a private entity, the Charles Keating savings and loan empire, over the interest of those people who were defrauded. These guys made a conscious decision to take political campaign contributions from Charles Keating. And that made it not only unlawful, but it also made it reprehensible. These senators were protecting themselves and advantaging themselves. There’s nothing that outrages me more than to undertake some action that benefits you at the expense of others.”

Clark Hall’s father had acted with honor and fairness in Mississippi when he gave money to those who knocked on his door in the dead of night. Mr. Hall desired to conduct his work with the same ideals. But Capitol Hill, he found, did not share these standards.

“When I was up on the Hill, I searched out the facts, put them all together in a report or an oral briefing, and I presented the facts. It was what I did for the FBI, but one was a strictly factual Department of Justice environment, and the other was a political environment. On the Hill, they would take my facts, and more often than not, the facts didn’t matter. Some Committee Chairman would try to skew that which I found. So then I would find myself up there meeting with staff. And I would say ‘You cannot do this, I will not have this. My report is my report, and if I’m asked a question by a member of the press, I’m going to tell the truth.’ And so they knew not to mess around with our investigations. Because we wouldn’t stand for it,” Mr. Hall said.

Indeed, a member of the press interviewed him for a story. Little did Clark Hall know that by agreeing to meet with Deborah Whittier Fitts personally, he would soon be meeting the love of his life.

“When Deborah first called me from Connecticut, she was a reporter for the Westerly Rhode Island Sun newspaper,” Mr. Hall said. “And she was also a reporter for the Civil War News. She wrote a story about something that I was doing for the Civil War News. So she came to Virginia, she interviewed me, and we became a couple almost immediately. I had the most wonderful years of my life with her.”

With Deborah by his side, Clark Hall transitioned to the next stage of his career. He had conducted Department of Justice investigations and congressional investigations. On his fiftieth birthday, he retired from government service to try his hand at investigations in the private sector.