WASHINGTON -- More than five years after he began, the independent prosecutor investigating the Iran-contra affair says he is ending his inquiry into the worst scandal of Ronald Reagan's presidency and has no plans to seek further indictments.
The announcement by the prosecutor, Lawrence E. Walsh, seemed to bring the investigation, which has cost some $32 million, to a conclusion and ended speculation about whether he would try to make a criminal case against several senior officials in the Reagan administration, including former Attorney General Edwin Meese III and former Secretary of State George P. Shultz.
But the Walsh investigation, like several congressional inquiries and a presidential review, did not answer the tantalizing political question at the heart of the Iran-contra affair: whether President Reagan and Vice President George Bush were aggressive participants, or bystanders, in the decisions that led to the arms sales to Iran and the weapons pipeline to Central America after Congress cut off aid to the Nicaraguan rebels, or contras, in 1984.
In announcing his decision to shut down the investigation, Mr. Walsh said in a letter to George E. MacKinnon, the federal judge who appointed him, "My office has completed its active investigation into the Iran-contra matters."
Mr. Walsh said his action would not affect pending cases against Caspar W. Weinberger, a former defense secretary in the Reagan administration, and two former officials at the CIA, Duane R. Clarridge, a senior covert operations officer, and Clair E. George, once the third-ranking official at the agency. George's trial last month ended with the jury unable to reach a verdict but favoring acquittal.
Mr. Walsh, whose investigation has fallen dormant before only to revive, cautioned that the coming trials could conceivably unearth new evidence that could cause him to resume the inquiry. But, he added in his letter, "We do not expect to present any further matters to the grand jury, in absence of some new development before we close our offices."
Mr. Walsh appeared to be on the verge of his decision for weeks but acted yesterday after he concluded there was no point in prolonging the final phase of the inquiry, which had focused on possible wrongdoing by senior Reagan administration officials.
The investigation resulted in the indictment of Mr. Weinberger but did not uncover concrete evidence of a conspiracy to cover )) up Mr. Reagan's knowledge of the earliest secret arms shipments to Tehran in 1985. In August, Mr. Walsh wrote to Mr. Reagan, saying he was not suspected of any wrongdoing in the affair.
"We had it just about done, and there were a couple of things hanging, and we got to the last thing we had to cover this morning," Mr. Walsh said in a telephone interview after he sent the letter to Judge MacKinnon, a member of the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, and a similar one to Attorney General William P. Barr.
Mr. Walsh said he was satisfied that that investigation had "covered the areas that were assigned to us to cover. There's no further action for us to take at this time."
After 11 completed prosecutions, resulting in eight convictions or guilty pleas, Mr. Walsh's half-decade pursuit of Reagan officials remains the subject of intense debate. His critics have grown bolder since the convictions in his two most celebrated cases, against John M. Poindexter, the national security adviser, and Oliver L. North, a National Security Council aide, collapsed in under appeals.
Mr. Reagan's supporters have harshly criticized the inquiry as an unsupervised witch hunt by a prosecutor obsessed by phantom conspiracies that make criminals out of loyal Reagan aides who carried out the president's policies.