Marine Commandant Testifies Casey, Kirkpatrick Intervened
WASHINGTON (AP) _ The former head of the Marine Corps testified today that he reluctantly extended Oliver North’s tour at the National Security Council after high administration officials persuaded him that North’s work was too important for him to leave.
Former Marine Corps Commander Paul X. Kelley testified at North’s trial that in spring 1984 ″there were a number of people″ who intervened in the North matter, including CIA Director William Casey and United Nations Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick. They urged that North be permitted to remain at the NSC.
Also today, the Supreme Court refused to scuttle North’s Iran-Contra trial or block the trials of two of his co-defendants.
The court, without comment, rejected arguments aimed at dismissing the case because of testimony the defendants gave to a congressional committee.
Contacts with Casey and Kirkpatrick followed a plea from Robert McFarlane, then National Security Council adviser, that North was engaged in ″extremely important work″ and should stay on, said Kelley.
The former Marine commandant said he was concerned that a delay in returning to the corps would hurt North’s military career, but he acquisced to the request.
While Kelley was on the witness stand, prosecutor John Keker presented a series of messages between North and McFarlane showing that North did not want to return to the Marine Corps base at Camp Lejeune to command a battalion.
A major private contributor to the Contra cause, Mrs. Ellen Garwood, testified that North never asked her for money and that at no time did she make out a check in his presence. She said that a $75,000 check she wrote to a fund-raising organization was drafted after she left a briefing by North in his office.
″He said, ‘this is a desperate situation for the freedom fighters. I’m not asking you for money. As a member of the government and the National Security Council I cannot ask for money’,″ said Mrs. Garwood, an Austin, Texas, heiress who has said previously that her contributions to the Contra cause totaled $2.2 million.
On Sept. 12, 1985, Mrs. Garwood said, she wrote out a check for $32,000 after a briefing from North at a Dallas airport.
″While Colonel North was present, did (fund raiser Carl) Channell ask you for money that night?″ asked defense counsel Brendan Sullivan.
″No, he never did that,″ she said. ″Colonel North wouldn’t have allowed it.″
Kelley became the first witness for the defense, following a six-week presentation by the prosecution, which formally concluded its case today.
Kelley said that in February 1985 McFarlane asked in a breakfast meeting McFarlane had requested that North’s NSC tour be extended again.
″I was not favorably disposed″ to grant the extension, but again did so, said Kelley.
By February 1985, North was deeply involved in a secret effort to ship arms to the Contras. Congress had banned military aid to the Nicaraguan rebels as of October 1984.
A third request to extend North’s tour came in the spring of 1986 and was granted through the ″normal channels,″ said Kelley.
North had sought to call President Reagan as his first witness, but the judge in the case said Friday there was not any evidence to bolster a claim that Reagan had authorized North to commit illegal activities.
North lawyer Barry Simon jumped Friday on the prosecution’s weak points, citing uncertainty by McFarlane about whether North wrote a key draft of a letter to Congress.
The September 1985 letter to then-U.S. Rep. Michael Barnes denied North was assisting the Contras and resulted in a charge against him of making false statements to Congress.
U.S. District Judge Gerhard A. Gesell reserved the right to set aside a verdict on another charge on grounds the alleged crime might not have been committed in Washington, D.C., but rather in adjacent Virginia.
The charge accuses North of accepting a security system free of charge from co-defendant Richard Secord, whom North had enlisted to run arms to the Contras.
Proving the charge is complicated by the testimony of former CIA employee Glenn Robinette, who testified he sent backdated bills to North demanding payment for the security system without being asked. Robinette said he engaged in a cover-up after getting a phone call from North pointing out that he hadn’t sent him a bill.
Robinette had been paid months before by Secord and North didn’t contact Robinette about the matter until a week or so after being fired from his National Security Council staff job in the Iran-Contra affair. The attorney general had announced when North was fired that a criminal investigation would be conducted.
At Friday’s hearing, the judge mused whether Robinette was on ″a frolic of his own or CIA bias or what″ when he launched a cover-up without being specifically asked to do so.
Gesell dashed North’s hopes that he could call Reagan as a witness in an attempt to bolster the defense’s central contention, that if North told lies, he was authorized to do so.