WASHINGTON — Escalating a bitter war of words, newly pardoned Caspar Weinberger is accusing the Iran-contra special prosecutor of trying to force him to falsely implicate Ronald Reagan in exchange for lenient treatment.
"Yes, he was trying to coerce false testimony," Mr. Weinberger said Sunday in a strong attack on special counsel Lawrence Walsh after Weinberger's Christmas Eve pardon by President Bush.
Mr. Walsh, who has said he was turning his investigation's focus to Mr. Bush after the pardon, disputed Weinberger's assertion.
"Walsh did not ask Caspar Weinberger to incriminate anyone," said Mary Belcher, spokeswoman for Walsh. "False testimony is the last thing a prosecutor wants. All he asked Weinberger for was the truth."
Just a day earlier, Walsh's assistant, James Brosnahan, suggested Bush may have granted pardons to avoid being a witness at Weinberger's trial.
Bush, vacationing in Texas, declined Sunday to answer reporters' questions on the Iran-Contra affair.
Appearing on ABC's "This Week With David Brinkley," Weinberger acknowledged errors and misstatements in his Iran-contra testimony to Congress.
But he said he lacked criminal intent, and he charged that Walsh had pursued his indictment only after Weinberger refused to cooperate in the prosecution of higher-ups in the scandal over arms-for-hostages exchanges with Iran during the Reagan administration.
"Cooperation meant giving them the testimony that they wanted that would enable them to implicate President Reagan," Weinberger said.
"When they couldn't get that, then they went after me with five felony counts, all of which they would have been perfectly willing to drop if I had, quote, `cooperated' with them. And I wasn't going to cooperate with them," he said.
Weinberger disputed the suggestion that Bush pardoned him to cover his own tracks.
He acknowledged that his notes indicate Bush, then the vice president, favored an exchange of 4,000 TOW missiles for hostages during a Jan. 7, 1986 meeting in the Oval Office. But he said the issue was not arms-for-hostages because President Reagan later asserted part of his motive was to improve relations with Iran.