WASHINGTON -- A special prosecutor told Congress yesterday he is still trying to find out whether "officials at the highest level" of the Reagan administration took part in a criminal cover-up of the Iran-contra affair.
Independent counsel Lawrence E. Walsh, indicating that he has not yet ruled out criminal charges against other top officials, named no names of others at risk as he sent a new report to Capitol Hill on his long, expensive probe.
Mr. Walsh has apparently been pressing his investigation closer and closer to the Oval Office of former President Ronald Reagan, and there have been indications that he is looking directly at what Mr. Reagan may have done, as well as the specific role of President Bush -- then vice president.
The new report, his third to Congress, said that the probe "should be completed this summer."
Parts of the report had a some what defensive tone, apparently in reaction to the sharp new criticism that his efforts have drawn from lawmakers and from the White House in recent days. He described himself as "sensitive to concerns expressed by members of Congress and others as to the length and the resulting cost of this investigation" -- 5 1/2 years, and $31.4 million so far.
Mary Belcher, the special prosecutor's spokeswoman, said the report was prepared because "we are attempting to clear the air" about the reasons for the length and cost of the investigation. She said there had been "lots of speculation" and "questions raised -- particularly on Capitol Hill" about the investigation.
Part of the new criticism of Mr. Walsh, Ms. Belcher noted, had come in the wake of last week's new criminal charges against former Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger -- the highest officer in the Reagan administration yet charged.
The charges against him fit a pattern established by Mr. Walsh, focusing on alleged attempts to "obstruct" official inquiries into the scandal that arose over swapping U.S. arms for hostages, and diverting secret arms sale profits to the "contras" in Nicaragua.
The most significant facet of the new Walsh report were indications that his office has obtained many key documents that he had started seeking five years ago, from a wide array of government agencies -- including the office of then-Vice President Bush.
In the past two years, Mr. Walsh said, he had gone well beyond "merely a clean-up chore" with his investigation, resulting in "a significant shift in our understanding of which administration officials had knowledge of Iran-contra, who participated in its cover-up, and which areas required far more scrutiny that we previously believed."
The basic law under which special prosecutors like Mr. Walsh are appointed is due to expire late this year. While he has said he favors that law and wants Congress to extend it, Ms. Belcher said that his latest report to Congress was unrelated to the issue of extending that law.