HOUSE PANEL TAKES A LOOK AT MENA
By Rowan Scarborough
(Washington Times National Weekly Edition, Jan. 22-28, 1996)
The House banking committee is investigating suspicions of
criminal activities at Arkansas' Mena Airport, trying to separate
fact from fiction in a list of accusations about drug dealing,
gun running and government cover-ups during the 1980s.
The inquiry is a spinoff of the panel's extensive Whitewater
probe, during which Arkansas sources repeatedly urged
congressional staffers to explore dealings said to have occurred
at the municipal airport while Bill Clinton was governor and
Ronald Reagan was president.
Rep. Jim Leach, Iowa Republican and chairman of the committee,
agreed in November. He issued a memo to committee members saying
staffers would try to determine whether money from Barry Seal, a
drug dealer, was laundered by businesses in and near the secluded
airport in the Ouachita Mountains 130 miles southwest of Little
The memo outlining Mr. Leach's intentions was disclosed by
Insight magazine in its Jan. 29 issue.
Mr. Leach's task is daunting, considering the breadth of the
rumors buzzing around Seal, a convicted cocaine dealer and
flamboyant aviator. Seal will be no help in sifting the truth.
Columbian drug kings had him slain near his home in Baton Rouge,
La., in 1986 after he became a Drug Enforcement Administration
"This is one of the most complex, tangled tales that we've come
across ever," says a committee investigator and Whitewater
watcher. "Our objective is to investigate this, and to either
prove or disprove the allegations that are floating around Mena.
The chairman sees as much virtue in laying these rumors to rest
as in exposing a scandal."
It has been alleged that Seal used Mena as a base to ferry
cocaine, launder money and supply the Nicaraguan Contras -- all
while working for the DEA, the Reagan White House and the CIA.
A banking committee staffer said Jan. 17 that at this point the
panel's inquiry is confined to one issue. "This is a money-
laundering investigation," the aide said. "It may lead into other
things. We have no interest in replowing old Iran-Contra ground."
The laundering was uncovered by an Internal Revenue Service
official, William Duncan, and an Arkansas state policeman,
Russell Welch. They believe there is enough evidence to bring
charges against Seal's associates but claim they were stymied by
federal authorities who wanted to keep a lid on clandestine
activities at Mena.
The House panel has requested documents from the IRS, the CIA and
the DEA but has not yet chosen to subpoena witnesses, the aide
said Jan. 17. Investigators have interviewed Mr. Duncan, Mr.
Welch and Bill Alexander, a former Democratic congressman from
Arkansas who has sought a federal inquiry for years, beginning
when he was a member of the House.
"I feel that the people of Arkansas and the people of the nation
deserve to know the facts about the illegal drug trafficking and
blatant money laundering that took place at Mena, Ark., during
the 1980s," said Mr. Alexander, who practices law now in McLean,
Va. and in Jonesboro, Ark.