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Template:Infobox Officeholder Elliott Abrams (born January 24, 1948) is an American lawyer and policy analyst who served in foreign policy positions for two Republican U.S. Presidents, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. He is currently a senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.[1]

During the Reagan administration, Abrams gained notoriety for his involvement in controversial foreign policy decisions regarding Nicaragua and El Salvador. During Bush's first term, he served as Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director on the National Security Council for Near East and North African Affairs. At the start of Bush's second term, Abrams was promoted to be his Deputy National Security Advisor for Global Democracy Strategy, in charge of promoting Bush's strategy of advancing democracy abroad. His appointment by Bush was controversial due to his conviction in 1991 on two misdemeanor counts of unlawfully withholding information from Congress during the Iran-Contra Affair investigation.

Early years

Abrams was born into a Jewish-American family in New York. His father was an immigration lawyer. He attended Harvard College in the late 1960s and was a roommate of Steven Kelman, founder of the Young People's Socialist League campus chapter. Together they penned an article on the 1969 Harvard strike for The New Leader, “The Contented Revolutionists.”.[2] Abrams received his bachelor of arts from Harvard College in 1969, a master’s degree in international relations from the London School of Economics in 1970, and his J.D. from Harvard Law School in 1973.

He practiced law in New York in the summers for his father, and then at Breed, Abbott and Morgan from 1973 to 1975 and with Verner, Liipfert, Bernhard and McPherson from 1979 to 1981.

Abrams worked as an assistant counsel on the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations in 1975, then worked as a staffer on Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson’s brief campaign for the 1976 Democratic Party presidential nomination. From 1977 through 1979, he served as special counsel and ultimately as chief of staff for the then-new senator Daniel Moynihan.

Through Senator Moynihan, Abrams was introduced to Rachel Decter, the stepdaughter of Moynihan’s friend Norman Podhoretz, editor of Commentary Magazine. They were married in 1980. The couple has three children: Jacob, Sarah, and Joseph.[3]

Assistant Secretary of State, 1980s

Abrams first came to national prominence when he served as Reagan's Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs in the early 1980s and later as Assistant Secretary for Inter-American Affairs. His nomination to Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs was unanimously approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on November 17, 1981.[4] Abrams was Reagan's second choice for the position; his first nominee, Ernest W. Lefever, had been rejected by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on June 5, 1981.[4]

During this time, Abrams clashed regularly with church groups and human rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch.[5][6] and Amnesty International, over the Reagan administration's foreign policies. They accused him of covering up atrocities committed by the military forces of US-backed governments, such as those in El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala, and the rebel Contras in Nicaragua.

El Salvador

In early 1982, when reports of the El Mozote massacre of civilians by the military in El Salvador began appearing in U.S. media, Abrams told a Senate committee that the reports of hundreds of deaths at El Mozote "were not credible," and that "it appears to be an incident that is at least being significantly misused, at the very best, by the guerrillas."[7] The massacre had come at a time when the Reagan administration was attempting to bolster the human rights image of the Salvadoran military. Abrams implied that reports of a massacre were simply FMLN propaganda and denounced U.S. investigative reports of the massacre as misleading. In March 1993, the Salvadoran Truth Commission reported that 5,000 civilians were “deliberately and systematically” executed in El Mozote in December 1981 by forces affiliated with the Salvadoran state.[8] Also in 1993, documentation emerged suggesting that some Reagan administration officials could have known about El Mozote and other human rights violations from the beginning.[9] However, in July 1993, an investigation commissioned by Clinton secretary of state Warren Christopher into the State department’s "activities and conduct" with regard to human rights in El Salvador during the Reagan years found that, despite the department's mistakes handling El Mozote, its personnel “performed creditably and occasionally with personal bravery in advancing human rights in El Salvador.”[10] Abrams himself claimed that Washington’s policy in El Salvador was a ”fabulous achievement.”[11]


When Congress shut down funding for the Contras' efforts to overthrow Nicaragua's Sandinista government with the 1982 Boland Amendment, members of the Reagan administration began looking for other avenues for funding the group.[12] Congress opened a couple of such avenues when it modified the Boland Amendment for fiscal year 1986 by approving $27 million in direct aid to the Contras and allowing the administration to legally solicit funds for the Contras from foreign governments.[13] Neither the direct aid, nor any foreign contributions, could be used to purchase weapons.[13] Guided by the new provisions of the modified Boland Amendment, Abrams flew to London in August 1986 and met secretly with Bruneian defense minister General Ibnu to solicit a $10-million contribution from the Sultan of Brunei.[14][15] Ultimately, the Contras never received this money because a clerical error in Oliver North's office (a mistyped account number) sent the Bruneian money to the wrong Swiss bank account.[15]

Iran-Contra affair

During investigation of the Iran-Contra Affair, Lawrence Walsh, the Independent Counsel tasked with investigating the case, prepared multiple felony counts against Abrams but never indicted him.[15] Instead, Abrams entered into a plea agreement with Walsh. Abrams pled guilty to two misdemeanors of withholding information from Congress.[16] He was sentenced to a $50 fine, probation for two years, and 100 hours of community service. However, Abrams was pardoned by President George H. W. Bush, in December 1992 (as he was leaving office following his loss in that year in the U.S. presidential election). On February 5, 1997, the D.C. Court of Appeals publicly censured Abrams for giving false testimony on three occasions before congressional committees. Although a majority of the court voted to impose a public censure, three judges in the majority would have imposed a suspension of six months, and a fourth judge would have followed the recommendation of the Board on Professional Responsibility that Abrams be suspended for a year.

Special Assistant to President Bush

President George W. Bush appointed Abrams to the post of special assistant to the president and senior director for democracy, human rights, and international operations at the National Security Council on June 25, 2001.[17] Abrams was appointed special assistant to the President and the NSC’s senior director for Near East and North African Affairs on December 2, 2002.[18] Some human rights groups and commentators considered his White House appointment controversial due to his conviction in the Iran-Contra Affair investigation and his role in overseeing the Reagan administration’s foreign policy in Latin America.[19][20]

2002 Venezuelan coup

The Observer has claimed that Abrams had advance knowledge of, and "gave a nod to," the Venezuelan coup attempt of 2002 against Hugo Chávez.[21] However, a review by the State Department’s inspector general made the following conclusion: “Our government’s opposition to the use of undemocratic or unconstitutional means to remove President Chávez was repeated over and over again during the relevant period by key policymakers and spokespersons in Washington and by our representatives in Caracas in both public and private forums. And, far from working to foment his overthrow, the United States alerted President Chávez to coup plots and warned him of an assassination threat that was deemed to be credible.”[22]

Advisor for Global Democracy Strategy

On February 2, 2005, President George W. Bush appointed Abrams deputy national security adviser for Global Democracy Strategy.[23] In his new position, Abrams became responsible for overseeing the National Security Council’s directorate of Democracy, Human Rights, and International Organization Affairs and its directorate of Near East and North African Affairs.[23]

Abrams accompanied Condoleezza Rice as a primary adviser on her visits to the Middle East in late July 2006 in the course of discussions relating to the 2006 Israel-Lebanon conflict.[24]

Affiliation history

Institutional affiliations

Editorial affiliations

Public service

  • U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom: Chairman, 2000–2001; Commissioner, 1999–2001
  • Inter-American Foundation: nominated as member of Board of Directors for the 1985–90 term



  • Democracy How Direct?: Views from the Founding Era and the Polling Era. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.. 2002. pp. 144. ISBN 0-7425-2318-7.
  • Abrams, Elliott and Johnson, James Turner, ed. (June 1998). Close Calls: Intervention, Terrorism, Missile Defense, and "Just War" Today. Ethics and Public Policy Center. pp. 389. ISBN 0-89633-187-3.
  • Abrams, Elliott and Kagan, Donald, ed. (April 1998). Honor Among Nations: Intangible Interests and Foreign Policy. Ethics & Public Policy Center. pp. 112. ISBN 0-89633-188-1.
  • Security and Sacrifice: Isolation, Intervention, and American Foreign Policy. Hudson Institute. January 1995. pp. 152. ISBN 1-55813-049-7.
  • Shield and Sword: Neutrality and Engagement in American Foreign Policy. The Free Press. 1995. pp. 256. ISBN 0-02-900165-X.
  • Undue Process A Story of How Political Differences are Turned into Crimes. Free Press. October 1992. pp. 320. ISBN 0-02-900167-6.


  • The Influence of Faith. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc. 2001. pp. 256. ISBN 0-7425-0762-9.
  • Abrams, Elliott, ed. (June 2004). International Religious Freedom (2001): Annual Report: Submitted by the U.S. Department of State. Diane Pub Co. pp. 210. ISBN 0-7567-1338-2.
  • Abrams, Elliott and Dalin, David, ed. (February 1999). Secularism, Spirituality, and the Future of American Jewry. Ethics & Public Policy Center. ISBN 0-89633-190-3.
  • Faith or Fear: How Jews Can Survive in a Christian America. Free Press. June 1997. pp. 256. ISBN 0-684-82511-2.


  1. "Elliott Abrams Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies". The Cfr Think Tank Experts. Council on Foreign Relations. 2009.
  2. Steven Kelman (2006). "This Boy’s Politics". The New Leader 89 (1/2): 21–23.
  3. Elliott Abrams - Undue Process, p. 80.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Bite, Vita (November 24, 1982). "Human Rights and U.S. Foreign Policy: Issue Brief IB81125". Congressiokal Researce Service Major Issues System (Library of Congress): 5–6.
  5. Dobbs, Michael (May 27, 2003). "Back in Political Forefront: Iran-Contra Figure Plays Key Role on Mideast". Washington Post. p. A01. According to the Washington Post article, in a 1984 appearance on the program Nightline, Abrams clashed with Aryeh Neier, the Executive Director of Human Rights Watch.
  6. Neier, Aryeh (November 2, 2006). The Attack on Human Rights Watch. 53. The New York Review of Books.
  7. Danner, Mark (December 3, 1993). "The Truth of El Mozote". The New Yorker. pp. 4, 50-50.
  8. Whitfield, Teresa (1994). Paying the Price: Ignacio Ellacuría and the Murdered Jesuits of El Salvador. Philadelphia: Temple University Press. p. 389. ISBN 1566392535.
  9. Krauss, Clifford (March 21, 1993). "How U.S. Actions Helped Hide Salvador Human Rights Abuses". New York Times.
  10. Whitfield, Teresa (1994-11-09). Paying the Price. Temple University Press. pp. 389–390. ISBN 9781566392532.
  11. Corn, David (June 1, 2001). "Elliott Abrams: It’s Back!". The Nation.
  12. National Security Council internal memorandum, "Options and Legislative Strategy for Renewing Aid to the Nicaraguan Resistance". January 31, 1985. Declassified under FOIA
  13. 13.0 13.1 Special to the New York Times (July 10, 1987). "Iran-Contra Hearings; Boland Amendments: What They Provided". New York Times.
  14. Abrams, Elliott (1993). Undue Process: A Story of How Political Differences Are Turned into Crimes. The Free Press. pp. 89. ISBN 0-02-900167-6.
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 Walsh, Lawrence E. (August 4, 1993). "Final Report of the Independent Counsel For Iran/Contra Matters Vol. I: Investigations and Prosecutions". Chapter 25. U. S. Court of Appeal for the District of Columbia.
  16. Walsh, Lawrence E. (August 4, 1993). "Final Report of the Independent Counsel For Iran/Contra Matters Vol. I: Investigations and Prosecutions". Summary of Prosecutions. U. S. Court of Appeal for the District of Columbia.
  17. Press release (June 28, 2001). "Statement by the Press Secretary". The White House.
  18. Press release (December 2, 2002). "Statement by the Press Secretary". The White House.
  19. Cooper, Linda; Hodge, Jim (August 10, 2001,). "Appointees Spark Controversy". National Catholic Reporter.
  20. "Editorial: Appointments Insult Human Rights Cause". National Catholic Reporter. August 1, 2001.
  21. Vulliamy, Ed (April 21, 2002). "Venezuela coup linked to Bush team". The Observer.,6903,688071,00.html.
  22. Broadcasting Board of Governors Office of Inspector General (July 2002). "A Review of U.S. Policy Toward Venezuela November 2001 - April 2002". U. S. Department of State. p. 37.
  23. 23.0 23.1 Press Release (February 2, 2005). "Personnel Announcement". The White House.
  24. Cooper, Helene (August 10, 2006). "Rice’s Hurdles on Middle East Begin at Home". New York Times.
  25. International Advisory Board of NGO Monitor

External links

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