Former national-security adviser John Poindexter testified yesterday that he purposely hid White House aid for the contras from Congress. But he denied that he had conspired in a broader cover-up of possibly illegal actions taken in the Iran-contra affair. In addition, Admiral Poindexter admitted that his own word was the only evidence supporting his assertion that President Reagan was never told that profits from Iranian arms sales were diverted to the contra fighters.
Asked if he had ever made a note of his decision to shield the President, so as to leave a paper trail, Poindexter said ``No, I never wrote that down.''
On a day of testimony punctuated by constant bickering between congressional investigators and Richard Beckler, Poindexter's attorney, the former National Security Council (NSC) chief freely admitted that he and his staff considered Congress an institution best kept in the dark about certain activities. After a session in which Lt. Col. Oliver North had managed to mislead members of Congress about the extent of his activities in support of the contras, Poindexter dispatched a computer note to North that said ``well done.''
``Our objective all along was to withhold information'' from lawmakers, Poindexter said yesterday.
He said that there was nothing illegal about this. He claimed that the Boland amendment restricting US government aid to the contras never applied to the NSC staff. Colonel North, among others, has said the same thing.
Poindexter denied, however, that he had attempted to cover up US involvement in Israeli arms shipments to Iran in late 1985. Acquiescence of US government officials in these deliveries may have been illegal.
He maintained that he had destroyed a 1985 intelligence ``finding'' because its implications of a strictly arms-for-hostages swap with Iran were politically embarrassing. The finding was not tossed into his office burn bag because it revealed early involvement with the Israeli actions, he said.
He also denied that he had wittingly conspired to make misleading references to the Israeli shipments in draft chronologies of the Iran-contra affair drawn up in November 1986, after it became public knowledge. These so-called ``gilded'' chronologies refer to Israeli shipments of oil-drilling parts, not weapons.
At the time, Poindexter said, he knew the drilling-parts reference was false, but he was still ``fuzzy'' on what had actually happened in 1985 deals with Iran. So he urged that the chronologies simply say US involvement in these actions was not yet fully established, according to his testimony.
Poindexter admitted in testimony yesterday that he did not at first let out the whole story last November when Attorney General Edwin Meese III began conducting an inquiry into the Iran-contra affair.
He told Mr. Meese only that he had generally been aware of the diversion of money to the contras, and that he was ready to resign.
The next day, Meese told him it was time to leave. Poindexter tendered his resignation at his regular morning security briefing of the President.
``The President said he had great regret and that this was in the tradition of a naval officer accepting responsiblity,'' Poindexter said.
The former security adviser said one of his own biggest regrets in the affair was that he did not pay more attention to North's plea for security for his family, after he received terrorist threats. When no government help seemed forthcoming, North accepted a security system paid for by retired Air Force Gen. Richard Secord.