North talks only of bulletproof vests, but he's likely to stay involved in politics

September 17, 1991|By Edwin Chen | Edwin Chen,Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON -- His legal battle is finally over, but Oliver L. North struggles on to arm the good against evil. For the past year, the 47-year-old retired Marine officer has been running a Northern Virginia company that sells bulletproof vests -- but only to police officers.

"I don't want this to turn up on the backs of the wrong people," Mr. North said in an interview yesterday, just hours after a federal judge dismissed the government's case against him. But while speaking enthusiastically about hawking "ballistic protective equipment," Mr. North was unwilling to address any other topic.

"I'm going to look for a better, more appropriate forum to talk about other things," such as the government's prosecution of him in the Iran-contra affair -- or any political ambitions he might harbor, Mr. North said.

For now, he added, he is only interested in "running hard for the toughest office in the land -- husband and father."

Still, the former national security aide in the Reagan White House will have plenty of things to keep him busy.

In addition to heading Guardian Technologies International, Mr. North is president of the Freedom Alliance, a non-profit foundation dedicated to conservative causes that serves as a springboard for his weekly syndicated newspaper column and a daily radio commentary -- in which, for instance, he has backed the nomination of Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court.

Mr. North's associates said they expected him to remain active in both roles -- for economic reasons in the former case and RTC political reasons in the latter.

"The colonel really wants to be involved in public policy," said Mark Merritt, who is Mr. North's special assistant at the alliance.

For his role in the Iran-contra scandal, Mr. North was convicted by a U.S. District Court jury here three years ago for obstructing Congress, destroying government documents and accepting an illegal gratuity. In July 1989, he was sentenced to two years' probation, ordered to perform 1,200 hours in community service and fined $150,000.

The fine was suspended pending appeal, but Mr. North has already performed the community service, spending time in inner-city organizations working against drug use.

Yesterday, the case was dismissed by the trial judge, Gerhard A. Gesell.

"Congratulations, colonel," a U.S. marshal said to Mr. North as Mr. North entered Judge Gesell's high-ceilinged courtroom Monday morning. "Thanks," a smiling but subdued North responded, patting the marshal on the shoulder. "It's a great day," Mr. North said as he followed his beaming wife, Betsy, and two daughters into the courtroom.

Inside, Mr. North sat motionless and ramrod straight on the edge of his chair, his head slightly cocked as if straining to hear every word. The session didn't last five minutes.

"Totaly exonerated," Mr. North said at a news conference outside the courthouse. "Totally. Completely. I don't have another word for it."

The dismissal, he noted, also means full reinstatement as a retired lieutenant colonel in the Marines -- "with full benefits," in the neighborhood of $23,000 a year.

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