WASHINGTON — THE Iran-contra scandal could offer up three politically embarrassing criminal trials in this election year, including that of former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger.
The Central Intelligence Agency's role in the Reagan administration's worst scandal will be laid out in detail if prosecutions go forward against two former high-ranking CIA officials.
One of them, Clair George, the spy agency's retired operations chief, is scheduled to go on trial next month. No trial date has been set for Duane Clarridge, a former chief of the CIA's European Division who allegedly hid his knowledge of a Nov. 25, 1985 shipment of Hawk missiles to Iran - the same shipment involved in the Weinberger case.
Mr. Weinberger's indictment Tuesday on five felony charges of lying and obstruction adds a new dimension to what prosecutors allege has been a high-level coverup.
Weinberger is accused of concealing the existence of 1,700 pages of personal notes that allegedly contradict his congressional testimony of five years ago. He told Congress he knew nothing in 1985 about arms sales to Iran and was unaware of Saudi Arabian financial assistance to the Nicaraguan Contra rebels.
The federal grand jury indictment claims Weinberger knew a lot about both.
His notes also say he was told in November 1985 that President Reagan had authorized a shipment of Hawk missiles to Iran, according to the indictment. The notes also show that a few days after that shipment, Weinberger told Reagan that such arms deliveries were illegal, the indictment added.
The indictment also claims Weinberger lied to FBI agents and Iran-contra prosecutors when he allegedly told them he rarely took notes. Prosecutor Craig Gillen said his office discovered Weinberger's notes from 1985 and 1986 in the Library of Congress.
Weinberger left government in 1987 and now is publisher of Forbes magazine.
The former defense secretary said he will fight the charges, calling the indictment "a grotesque distortion of the prosecutorial power" by independent counsel Lawrence Walsh.
The White House wishes the scandal would just go away. President Bush has complained repeatedly about the cost of Walsh's office - it has spent $35 million to date - and the duration of the probe - five and half years so far.