Charge against Weinberger is thrown out

September 30, 1992|By Lyle Denniston | Lyle Denniston,Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- A federal judge threw out yesterday the broadest criminal charge against former Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger in the last major case growing out of the Iran-contra scandal.

U.S. District Judge Thomas F. Hogan nullified a charge that Mr. Weinberger obstructed Congress' attempt to investigate the scandal, by allegedly concealing his own diary and notes about the affair and its aftermath.

The ruling was a significant victory for the 75-year-old former Pentagon chief, the highest ranking member of the Reagan administration to face criminal charges because of the scandal. "All I would say is that we are obviously pleased," said his lawyer, Robert S. Bennett.

Judge Hogan decided to leave intact four other charges, due to be put to a jury at a trial set for Jan. 5, accusing Mr. Weinberger of specific points of lying to House and Senate committees and to the staff of the special independent Iran-contra prosecutor, Lawrence E. Walsh.

In another part of his 17-page ruling, Judge Hogan mildly criticized Mr. Walsh and his staff for writing the indictment against Mr. Weinberger in sweeping terms that "insinuates" that there was a high-ranking plot to commit crimes, and that Mr. Weinberger was a part of it. The judge said he would rule later on whether to let the jury read or hear such suggestions; he noted there was no conspiracy charge in the case.

In dismissing the first and most significant part of the prosecution case, Judge Hogan said that there was no evidence that Mr. Weinberger violated the law that makes it a crime to obstruct Congress.

Relying upon a federal appeals court ruling that nullified one of the verdicts against former President Reagan's national security adviser, John M. Poindexter, Judge Hogan said that it would not be enough to support an obstruction charge if Mr. Weinberger had merely lied to Congress about his private notes.

He would also have had to influence someone else to resist release of the diary, the judge declared. He said there was no evidence of that.

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