North set to testify as Round 3 of Iran-contra hearings begins. Rich details expected to emerge as cast of characters expands
A mysterious man with an eye patch. A priest who may not have been what he seemed.Skip to next paragraph
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A damaging memo missed during a ``shredding party.''
And a President who says there is no ``smoking gun.''
These are some of the elements of the Iran-Contra affair that will come into sharper focus during the next round of hearings, due to begin tomorrow.
A behind-the-scenes tug-of-war is underway regarding the testimony of Oliver North, the former National Security Council aide who apparently spearheaded the secret arms sales to Iran and the diversion of funds to the contras.
CBS News reported Saturday that Colonel North demanded that a limit be placed on the number of hours he testifies in public before the joint committees. Another condition called for an agreement that North not be recalled once he has testified, CBS reported.
Six weeks of testimony have produced remarkable disclosures about the secret policies that spawned the Iran-contra affair.
The third phase will explore the Reagan administration's secret weapons sales to Iran in exchange for US hostages.
This phase is shaping up as the most intriguing and, potentially, the most explosive. In addition to Colonel North, Michael Ledeen, former National Security Council consultant, is scheduled to appear. Mr. Ledeen acted as an intermediary with Israeli government in establishing contacts between the White House and Iranian officials.
Others expected to testify include: former national-security adviser John M. Poindexter, Secretary of State George Shultz, Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, Attorney General Edwin Meese and the former White House chief of staff, Donald Regan.
The key question overarching the hearings is the extent of President Reagan's knowledge of - and involvement in - the affair. That has largely pivoted on a single issue: Did the President know that profits from the Iran arms sales were being diverted to provide weapons for the contras, at a time when Congress had banned US financial support for them?
The White House has attempted to establish this as the most important, if not only measure of President Reagan's culpability in the Iran-Contra affair.
Whether Congress will permit the use of such a narrow gauge remains to be seen. White House staff say the President has nothing to worry about. That's why Mr. Reagan, on Capitol Hill last week, said there was no ``smoking gun'' that would prove he knew of the diversion.
A memo has been introduced into evidence, however, which outlines the diversion. It was written by North, apparently for his boss, Admiral Poindexter to present to the President.
A copy of the memo was found in North's White House safe, missed during a November, 1986 ``shredding party'' that took place in North's office. North's former secretary, Fawn Hall, testified that a 1-foot tall stack of documents was shredded just prior to the start of a Justice Department investigation into the Iranian arms sales.
There is no indication, however, that the President ever saw the memorandum.
Both North and Poindexter have been granted limited immunity from prosecution. North had so far refused to testify, either publicly or privately, about his role. Some members of the congressional committees investigating the affair are pushing for North to be cited for contempt of Congress.
Poindexter has already testified in private. In public, he will, of course, be closely questioned on whether he ever briefed the President on the contents of the memorandum.
One Democrat on the joint House-Senate committee says that future testimony will indicate widespread ``lying'' about the extent of high-level knowledge of the funds diversion. He would not elaborate.
Coming weeks are also expected to fill in some of the rich details of the convoluted story that has emerged so far.
There is, for example, the man in the eye patch - identified in testimony as ``Mr. Olmstead.'' According to the testimony by Ms. Hall, he may have been a man named William Haskell, an employee of the H.&R. Block tax concern. Hall testified he was a ``friend'' of North.
``Mr. Olmstead'' also turned up in Costa Rica ``three or four times,'' according to testimony by Tomas Castillo, a former CIA operative in Central America. Olmstead, according to Mr. Castillo, purchased the land for a ``secret'' airfield in Costa Rica used to resupply the contras with equipment and weaponry. Apart from two cryptic references, little more has come to light on ``Mr. Olmstead.''
Another similarly quizzical figure is ``Father'' Tom Dowling, a man dressed in Roman Catholic clerical garb who sometimes appeared in North's offices.
North arranged for the ``Father'' to testify before Congress on the situation in Central America. Dowling, however, is in fact an associate of contra leader Adolfo Calero, and, according to a number of sources, is not a priest. But, according to Hall, North arranged for Dowling to have his picture taken with the President.
Yet another unanswered question concerns a photo album of pictures of the planes, airstrip and crew members employed in the contra resupply operation.
North borrowed it, hinting that he wanted to show it to the President. The album was later found in North's office. Federal investigators have dusted it for fingerprints. No one has yet revealed whose fingerprints were found.