Independent Counsel Vows Vigorous But Fair Iran-Contra Probe
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) _ Independent counsel Lawrence E. Walsh, vowing to investigate the Iran- Contra affair ″vigorously but fairly,″ said Sunday he will not be deterred by the popularity of any targets of the probe.
″The popularity of persons involved is no more appropriate as a consideration than would be their unpopularity,″ Walsh said in an apparent reference to former National Security Council aide Oliver North.
″High office, well-intended policies or popular policies do not place anyone above the law,″ Walsh added at a breakfast meeting at the American Bar Association conference in San Francisco.
He said if his investigation ″establishes probable cause to believe that crimes have been committed″ he will seek indictments of ″those believed to be responsible.″
″Only in this way can the rule of law be upheld. Otherwise it is frustrated,″ Walsh said. ″I can assure you that the investigation will be pursued vigorously but fairly.″
Walsh also said he is confident that those granted limited immunity to testify before Congress will not be able to use that protection to escape criminal prosecution.
He disclosed that his investigators have interviewed more than 1,000 witnesses and reviewed hundreds of thousands of documents while the grand jury handling the case has met two or three days a week since Jan. 28.
Public opinion polls show that North, a leading target of the Iran-Contra probe, won widespread public support during his testimony before the congressional committees investigating the affair.
A Los Angeles Times survey indicated nearly one half of 2,300 people questioned nation-wide believe North, a Marine lieutenant colonel, is innocent of any crime. Television network polls showed that most Americans believe North told the truth in his congressional testimony.
At a news conference, Walsh acknowledged that North’s testimony before the congressional committees had impressed many Americans. ″I am aware it made an impact and my impression is, it was popular,″ Walsh said, but he again said that made no difference in his investigation.
Earlier, in stern remarks that quoted from the Bible, the Constitution and U.S. historical figures, Walsh suggested truth was the primary victim in the Iran-Contra affair.
″To the extent that the facts are withheld or distorted, our system of democracy cannot work,″ Walsh said. ″To the extent that concealment and deception play any part in the relationship between the three branches of government, the rule of law and our constitutional structure of government are alike subverted.″
″Democracy is premised upon the belief that the people as a whole can make wiser and better decisions than any aristocracy or elite,″ he said.
Walsh reportedly is considering seeking indictments on charges the United States was defrauded by the misappropriation of profits from the Iranian arms sales to support the Nicaraguan Contras. Other possible charges include lying to Congress, obstructing justice and destroying government property.
North was assigned to the NSC staff under Robert McFarlane and John Poindexter. Poindexter also has said he is a target of Walsh’s investigation.
Walsh said that the congressional Iran-Contra hearings posed ″the most serious external threat to the outcome of our investigation″ because key figures were granted limited immunity from prosecution.
Testimony from the hearings - or leads developed from the testimony - may not be used to prosecute those granted such immunity.
Walsh and his staff have taken extraordinary precautions to assure that they do not learn of the testimony and to show that their evidence was acquired independently.
Walsh said he is confident ″the rigorous insulation procedures employed in this case will be upheld by the courts.″
″We keep a wall between those who are exposed (to the testimony) and those who are not,″ he added at the news conference. He said that a lawyer who watched the hearings is stationed in Richmond, Va., and that when Walsh or his staff confer with that lawyer, he ″listens, he doesn’t talk.″
Walsh told the ABA group that there was a lighter side to his efforts to screen out hearing testimony.
He recalled that his wife, Mary, had overheard someone at a beauty parlor ordering a ″Betsy North hairstyle.″ Before Mrs. Walsh told her husband, she had warned him, ″I don’t know if I should tell you this.″
Walsh also said his daughter, Sara, had watched North’s testimony and commented to him on the apparent favorable reception North received.
Walsh said his daughter told him, ″I never realized how hard your job was.″