Iran-Contra Grand Jury Hears From Meese
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Attorney General Edwin Meese III, who has been criticized for his handling of the initial inquiry into Iran-Contra affair, appeared before a federal grand jury investigating the secret weapons deals.
Meese testified for an hour Wednesday before the panel, which met in closed session.
The attorney general left the session to join President Reagan at the White House in announcing his intention to nominate Judge Anthony Kennedy for the Supreme Court. He returned briefly but the grand jury was dismissed because of a rare November blizzard in the nation’s capital.
Meese declined to talk to a reporter after he left the grand jury room with an aide and an FBI agent. Justice Department spokesman Terry Eastland declined to comment on Meese’s behalf, saying: ″I don’t think he wants to say anything.″
Meese had previously appeared five times before another grand jury that is investigating his role in helping Wedtech Corp. obtain a no-bid Army contract. His most recent appearance before that panel was Nov. 4.
Independent counsel Lawrence Walsh has been looking into Meese’s handling of the Nov. 22-23, 1986 inquiry that uncovered the diversion of Iran arms-sale profits to the Contras.
Walsh also has been delving into Meese’s acquiescence to a request by then- national security adviser John Poindexter in late October 1986 to delay an FBI probe into Southern Air Transport.
The investigation had the potential for uncovering National Security Council aide Oliver North’s secret resupply operation of the Contras at a time when military aid to the Contras had been cut off. Southern Air was involved both in the resupply operation and in the administration’s secret arms shipments to Iran.
The attorney general has defended himself against criticism in Congress that during the weekend inquiry a year ago that uncovered the diversion, that he failed to ask pertinent questions, neglected to secure White House documents and stopped taking notes of his private interviews with half a dozen senior administration officials after he found out about the diversion.
The FBI wasn’t called into the case until four days after the diversion was discovered.
On Nov. 23, after Meese interviewed fired National Security Council aide Oliver North about the diversion, North returned to his White House office at 11 p.m. and stayed there for five hours shredding documents.
The diversion had been discovered the morning of Nov. 22, when a top Meese aide, William Bradford Reynolds, discovered a memo in North’s files referring to various uses of proceeds from the Iran arms sales.
The day after Meese met with North about the diversion, the attorney general met alone on the Iran-Contra affair with each of four officials, former national security adviser Robert McFarlane, White House chief of staff Donald Regan, national security adviser John Poindexter and Vice President Bush. Meese, who called the discussions ″casual conversations,″ took no notes in any of the meetings.
On Nov. 25, hours before announcing the diversion to the public, Meese drove to the home of CIA Director William Casey and the attorney general left his notetaker during the weekend inquiry, John Richardson, behind in the car. Meese said he made no notes of that ″quick conversation.″
North’s secretary, Fawn Hall, was still removing documents from North’s NSC files late in the day after the public announcement.
Meese also acknowledged that he neglected to ask Poindexter specifically whether he had told Reagan about the diversion.
Meese decided to launch the weekend inquiry after finding that Casey and others in the administration were contemplating giving Congress misleading information to Congress about earlier arms shipments to Iran in 1985.
He was criticized in Congress for not involving Justice Department officials who had extensive experience conducting criminal investigations.
In a related development, Walsh met on Wednesday with Swiss Justice Minister Elisabeth Koop.
According to spokesman James Wieghart, Walsh thanked the minister for more than 2,000 pages of Swiss bank records on the sale of U.S. arms to Iran and the fate of the money. They were delivered to Walsh’s office Nov. 3.
″I think there’s some material that we’re still looking for,″ Wieghart said. ″It’s no big deal. We’ve got most of what we needed.″