A second grand jury in the Iran-contra affair is conducting what appears to be an investigation of possible perjury by witnesses questioned by Congress or a first grand jury in the case. The new grand jury has viewed videotaped recordings of testimony given to the House and Senate committees that investigated the arms-for-hostages deals, sources said.
Lawrence Walsh, the independent counsel who is prosecuting the case, took measures to isolate his staff and the original grand jury from news coverage of the congressional hearings.
He wanted to avoid defense accusations that he relied on evidence given to Congress under limited grants of immunity in bringing charges against former White House aide Oliver North and others.
The new grand jury, however, would be free to compare the different versions of testimony by many witnesses who appeared on Capitol Hill and before the original grand jury. The new investigation is being headed by K. Chris Todd, one of the few members of Mr. Walsh's staff who was exposed to the congressional testimony.
Because grand jury proceedings are secret, it is unclear who might be suspected of giving false testimony, either to Congress or the original Iran-contra grand jury.
Under the law, a prosecutor cannot take the testimony of a witness receiving limited immunity and use it as evidence against that person, unless the individual lied.
Besides cases of perjury, immunized testimony can also be used as evidence of crimes committed by other people - raising the possibility the new grand jury is using the congressional testimony to follow leads.
The second grand jury has been meeting regularly - two or three times weekly - since the middle of last month, said the sources. So far, no witnesses have testified in person, indicating prosecutors are still laying the groundwork for the investigation by playing the tapes of the hearings.
Besides Colonel North, former national security adviser John Poindexter, and arms dealer Albert Hakim received limited immunity from prosecution for their testimony. They, along with arms dealer Richard Secord, were indicted earlier this year by the first grand jury.