Informal Exchange With Reporters on the Iran Arms and Contra Aid Controversy in New York, New York

May 3, 1987

Q. Mr. President, do you still want to make the Sandinistas cry uncle?

The President. I want them to try free elections.

Q. Do you think they're likely to do that? Are they going to give up what they've got because you want democracy in Central America, sir?

The President. Bill [Bill Plante, CBS News], we're on a different subject. But you know what our purpose is there, and I'll be talking about it in this speech. I want you to listen very carefully to the speech.

Q. Senator Inouye says you knew about the money -- to raise money for the contra military aid. Is that right or not?

The President. No.

Q. They said you knew about outside funding.

Q. Mr. President, Lewis Tambs said he took orders from the White House to help the contras illegally.

The President. Let me just say one thing because of the questions you have been asked and the answers I gave. With regard to whether private individuals were giving money to support the contras, yes, I was aware that there were people doing that. But there was nothing in the nature of a solicitation by the administration, to my knowledge, of anyone to do that.

Q. Sir, were you aware that they were giving money for military aid?

The President. All I knew was that there were people that were raising money to be of help to the contras just as people have done that for other causes in other countries.

Q. But even for military aid, sir?

The President. I had no detailed information. I did know -- and the people I met with, I met with to thank because they had raised money to put commercials on television urging the Congress to support the contras.

Q. Senator Inouye seemed to suggest today that maybe you knew more than that.

The President. No, as the program went on -- I listened to him very carefully -- he made it plain what he was actually saying: that no, I did not have knowledge of things of that kind. What he had said in the first place was that I was not off some place on an island not paying any attention.

Note: The President spoke at 4:35 p.m. while touring the renovation project on Ellis Island.