Santa Barbara, Calif. — President Reagan says the criminal justice system should resolve whether former aide Oliver North violated the law in the Iran-contra affair, and he has no intention of trying to stop Colonel North's trial, Reagan's spokesman says. Spokesman Marlin Fitzwater, in statements that seemed to rule out a presidential pardon in advance of North's trial, said Tuesday that the White House role currently is merely ``to review classified information that has been designated by the prosecution and by the defense'' for possible use in the trial.
Asked to comment on suggestions by US Judge Gerhard Gesell that Mr. Reagan should consider exercising his constitutional authority to thwart North's trial if Reagan feels national security would be compromised, Mr. Fitzwater replied, ``We don't have any direct role.''
Reagan for months has said he would not discuss with reporters the option of granting a pardon to North and has said it would be inappropriate to comment while the legal process was under way.
On Monday, when asked whether he was drawing near a decision on a possible pardon, the President said much the same thing. ``No, no,'' he replied. ``And I don't think it could be any time to make such a decision while it's still before the courts.''
But when pressed during a White House briefing on whether a pardon was being considered, Fitzwater said repeatedly, ``We aren't discussing pardons.''
Fitzwater repeated that ``on previous occasions'' the White House has said that Reagan's position was that ``he believes the legal process should be allowed to take its course.''
Judge Gesell on Tuesday ordered closed hearings to begin Nov. 30 on North's objections to deleting sensitive references from secret documents that prosecutors want to use as evidence against him.
The hearings, Gesell said, will continue as long as necessary to review the deletions from 350 classified documents.