Democratic Senator Mitchell's avuncular dressing-down of Oliver North--together with Republican Senator Cohen's incisive probing of holes-in-convoluted testimony--earned these Solons from Maine standout status during the Iran-contra hearings. Recounting the hearings as a ""lesson in democracy,"" Cohen and Mitchell now pull no punches in this compelling post-mortem. Maintaining that the ""full story"" of the Iran-contra affair has not been told, the authors set out to show how the hearings were ""profoundly affected"" by the ""private discussions and decisions"" taking place behind Committee doors. Those decisions put the Committee at a serious disadvantage from the start, the authors contend--in a volume that is part rogues'-gallery portrait, part deft critique. Given the Committee's unwieldly size (26 members), its partisan makeup, its media ineptness (leaving it to be perceived as ""hostile, belligerent, pompous, patronizing, or unpatriotic""), its abbreviated deadline, and its decision (a ""tactical mistake"") to begin a complicated story by focusing on the funding of the contras rather than on arms-for-hostages, it's not surprising that the Committee failed to convey to the American people the gravity of the threat to constitutional government posed by the specter of a self-sustaining covert capability. Cohen and Mitchell examine the consequences of that failure. Recounting the parade of witnesses, the authors illuminate their testimony by elaborating the backstage machinations that allowed a Richard Secord and Oliver North to flaunt their venality and zealotry--and to emerge from the hearings larger than life. An absorbing, essential account of a debacle-become-fiasco.