Reagan and Bush Subpoenaed by Oliver North
WASHINGTON (AP) _ President Reagan and President-elect Bush were subpoenaed Friday as defense witnesses in the trial of retired Marine Lt. Col. Oliver North in the Iran- Contra affair, CBS, NBC and ABC reported.
Bush aides confirmed Bush had received a subpoena Friday, but press secretary Sheila Tate said she had no other details. She said a statement would be forthccoming from Bush’s legal counsel. (1852EST) ..............................................................................
President Reagan and President-elect Bush were subpoenaed Friday as defense witnesses in the trial of retired Marine Lt. Col. Oliver North in the Iran- Contra affair.
″We did receive it,″ Justice Department spokesman Loye Miller said. ″There’s one for the president and one for the vice president. We received it at mid-afternoon.″ The subpoenas were received by Robert Ross, the executive assistant to Attorney General Dick Thornburgh, Miller said.
A statement released by the White House press office in Palm Springs, Calif., where Reagan is on vacation, said, ″The Justice Department has received a subpoena seeking the president’s testimony at the criminal trial of Oliver North. The subpoena also seeks the discovery of certain personal records of the president. The subpoena was not an unanticipated development.
″It raises significant legal and constitutional questions which are currently being reviewed by the Department of Justice and counsel to the president,″ the statement said. ″It would be unprecedented for a president to appear as a witness at a criminal trial and it’s premature to speculate on the final decision that will ultimately be taken, but historical precedent suggests any relevant information could be provided through written questions and answers.″
The Washington Post reported in Saturday editions that unidentified White House and Justice Department officials said they will fight the subpoenas.
The newspaper also cited an unidentified White House official as saying Reagan viewed the subpoena effort as an attempt to pressure him into granting a pardon to North before he leaves office. The official said Reagan had not changed his view that the legal process should run its course.
Roman Popadiuk, a White House spokesman, said Reagan had known since Wednesday that it was likely he would be subpoenaed. White House chief of staff Kenneth Duberstein told Reagan on Friday morning that the subpoena would be delivered during the afternoon, Popadiuk said.
Bush aides confirmed that the president-elect had received a subpoena Friday.
Bush press secretary Sheila Tate said Bush legal counsel Boyden Gray informed the vice president Friday morning that the subpoena would be delivered that afternoon, and she did not know Bush’s reaction.
She said he was going ahead with his weekend of relaxation at Camp David, Md., and planned no meetings to discuss the trial matter. Gray, she said, did have conferences on the matter Friday, but she said she could give no further details.
″The receipt of this is not an unanticipated development, but it is unprecedented,″ said Bush press aide Kristin Taylor.
Bush will take office Jan. 20 and thus will be president when the North trial begins Jan. 31.
North, a former White House aide, is facing conspiracy and theft charges in the Iran-Contra affair.
He is charged with conspiring with former national security adviser John Poindexter and arms dealers Albert Hakim and retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Richard Secord to illegally divert more than $12 million in U.S.-Iran arms- sales profits to the Nicaraguan rebels.
National security concerns have placed in jeopardy North’s trial on the major conspiracy and theft charges, which involve extensive use of classified material.
North’s attorney, Brendan Sullivan, appearing on ABC News, did not go into any detail on why Reagan and Bush were subpoenaed.
″What I do say is this: As you know, a defense lawyer has an obligation to issue a subpoena for every person who has relevant information about a matter in court,″ Sullivan said. ″The president himself has indicated he has relevant information.″
Attorneys for the vice president, the White House and the Justice Department were looking into the ″constitutional legal issues″ raised by the subpoenas, Taylor said.
In 1973, President Nixon received a subpoena to turn over White House tape recordings of conversations with top aides in connection with the Watergate scandal. Although Nixon was not required to testify, the Supreme Court ruled that Nixon had to release the tapes.
Tate said she could not say whether Bush’s attorneys would fight the subpoena.
″What they’re saying is that it’s unprecedented to do that,″ she said in reference to potential Bush testimony.
The issue of how much he knew about North’s activities with the Contras and the diversion of funds from Iran was the subject of contradictory testimony during congressional hearings into the Iran-Contra matter.
The subpoena could force Bush to disclose information that he previously has refused to divulge.
Bush repeatedly has refused to say what he discussed with Reagan regarding matters involved in the Iran-Contra affair, other than that he had reservations about U.S. sales of arms to Iran.
The congressional Iran-Contra investigating committees concluded last year that there was no evidence Bush knew of the diversion plan.
Bush also said he did not know of North’s secret operation to supply the Contras during the congressional ban on aid, although his national security adviser Donald Gregg was well informed on the matter, and Bush met three times with Felix Rodriguez, one of the key figures helping North in the operation.
Questions also were raised about Bush’s statement that he did not know of the arms-for-hostages nature of the dealings with Iran until late 1986, when his chief of staff indicated that Israeli operative Amiram Nir briefed Bush on this aspect in May of 1986.
Bush has said he was told about the Israeli side of the operation, not the American activity in the same vein.