Attorney General Edwin Meese III, while continuing to defend his actions, conceded in congressional testimony that his efforts last November to uncover the facts surrounding the Iran-contra affair disclosed major inconsistencies - inconsistencies that have yet to be resolved. Mr. Meese also cast doubt on the testimony of one of the key figures in the Iran-contra affair, Lt. Col. Oliver North.
Meese indicated that he did not believe Colonel North's claim that former Central Intelligence Agency Director William Casey was fully aware of the diversion of profits from secret Iranian arms sales to the contra rebels fighting to overthrow the government of Nicaragua.
Meese also denied that he had given North advance warning of the public disclosure of the Iran-contra affair. There has been testimony in the hearings that North received such warning and that it gave him time to destroy key documents in the investigation.
Meese also argued that it was possible that the documents North shredded did not bear directly on the Iran-contra affair.
But Meese also condemned ``the destruction of any government documents ... in an effort to deceive.
Meese doggedly defended his actions, but some members of the Iran-contra panel expressed skepticism about the way Meese conducted his probe.
Democratic Sen. George Mitchell of Maine said he found some of Meese's actions ``hard to accept.''
And the Republican senator from Maine, William Cohen, stressed that Meese's actions indicated that personal friends of the President - as Meese is - have no business being the chief law-enforcement officer of the United States.
``You and the attorneys general before you wear too many hats,'' Senator Cohen said.
And, he added, ``It's not always clear which hat is being worn.''
Meese disagreed, arguing, ``Regardless of who was involved, from the President on down, I'm going to enforce the law with integrity and impartiality.''
Meese has come under criticism from many of the committee members, who argue that he failed to dig deeply enough during his initial probe of the Iran-contra affair - a probe that led to the first public disclosure of the diversion of profits to the contras.
But Meese repeatedly countered that he had done the best job possible under the circumstances.
He admitted, however, that his initial probe uncovered a number of inconsistencies, especially in the accounts of North and former national-security advisers John Poindexter and Robert McFarlane.
Reluctantly, Meese conceded that he must have been lied to during his investigation.
``I don't condone under any circumstances anyone lying. ... There's no reason, excuse, or justification for it whatsoever,'' Meese said.
During his testimony Wednesday, Meese ventured an opinion that the funds generated from the Iranian arms sales belong to the US government, not to the ``enterprise'' set up by North, retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Richard Secord, and businessman Albert Hakim.
Mr. Hakim is claiming that some $7 million in profits from the arms sales, now in a Swiss bank, belong to him.
Meese said questions over how the profits were generated - and to whom they belong - are what prompted a full criminal investigation by the Justice Department.