Walsh says Bush pardons validate findings of probe In wide-ranging interview, prosecutor lashes out at Preident's 'arrogance' but foresees no more criminal charges

December 28, 1992|By Lyle Denniston | Lyle Denniston,Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- Independent counsel Lawrence E. Wals heaped new scorn yesterday on President Bush over his Christmas Eve pardons, saying that the action confirmed the significance of what investigators have found out about a high-level cover-up of the Iran-contra scandal.

Mr. Walsh, in an hourlong, wide-ranging telephone interview, said that the pardons have backfired because they "give a validity to our work that we were struggling to establish. . . . It shows that what we have is of sufficient significance that he [Mr. Bush] wanted to shut it off."

He said that his own staff thinks that the president blocked the coming Iran-contra trial of former Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger in order to avoid being summoned to the witness stand himself. But Mr. Walsh discounts that as the prime motive, saying that the real reason was worse than that.

"What he did was so much more disgraceful than having to face cross-examination in court in the presence of a judge," the prosecutor said. "He not only displayed an arrogance in taking the case away from the courts, but also an unbelievable insensitivity [to public appearances] in protecting his own confederates [in the scandal]."

Many of Mr. Walsh's comments appeared aimed at drawing public attention back to the issue of the pardons. For the past few days, the focus of controversy had shifted to a new legal dispute between the prosecutor and the president over access to a personal diary that Mr. Bush kept in the late stages of the 1985-1986 arms-for-hostages deal making with Iran but that he did not start turning over to prosecutors until this month.

Mr. Walsh, in fact, sought to play down the significance of the fight over the diary. At this stage, he said, "I'll be surprised if we have to add another chapter" to the six-year investigation just to focus on the diary's contents and their potential meaning.

As of now, he said, he has not revised the conclusion he reached three months ago that there would be no further criminal charges in the case. Asked if he felt his work was approaching its end, he said: "We're at the end."

Interviewed from his Oklahoma City home, Mr. Walsh said that he would return to Washington today or tomorrow to review what to do in the wake of the pardons that spared Mr. Weinberger from going to trial in the potentially most explosive proceedings yet in the Walsh investigation.

Armed with personal notes that Mr. Weinberger had taken, some of which show that Mr. Bush was more aware of the arms-for-hostages scandal than he had ever acknowledged, Mr. Walsh's prosecution team was preparing to use the Weinberger case to prove its claim that former President Ronald Reagan, then-Vice President Bush and a host of other high Reagan administration officials joined in a massive plot to keep details of the scandal secret from Congress and the public.

Yesterday, Mr. Walsh placed a considerably higher value on the Weinberger notes than on anything he and his staff have yet found in the Bush diary. "The Weinberger notes were things taken down contemporaneously" with actual events, he said.

"Bush's stuff is of a different quality," he said. "It is stuff he wrote at the end of the day. . . . I don't see any new opening" in the probe because of that material. But, he added, "Obviously, we're going to have to take a look at it, to parse it out. We can't just walk away from [the diary]."

He said he had made no plans about what to do regarding the diary. He dismissed as "speculation" a report in yesterday's Washington Post that he wanted to question Mr. Bush personally. He said he had no such plan at this point.

Turning back repeatedly during the conversation to Thursday's pardon of Mr. Weinberger and five other key officials charged with crime for their roles in the scandal, Mr. Walsh called that action "terrible" and "grossly wrong." At one point, he remarked: "I think it can never be explained."

He added: "It is hard for me to find words adequate to condemn what he did. He has exposed himself to a serious appearance of unethical conduct; that is not the way I visualize President Bush. I don't think of Bush as a person who would act without integrity."

Thinking about the pardons in the middle of the night this weekend, Mr. Walsh said with irony in his voice, "I thought: 'This ++ is Dole's revenge for 1988' " -- a reference to the fact that Sen. Bob Dole, R-Kan., was a key supporter of the pardons and was defeated by Mr. Bush when both sought the presidency four years ago. "He [Mr. Dole] has led the president into disgrace. . . . He has really disserved the president."

When the prosecutor mused on what he thought were the real reasons for the pardons, he focused on his suspicions that Mr. Bush acted out of a desire to shut off coming revelations of a

White House-led cover-up.

"First, the pardon is an exposure of him that we never would have got without a very long trial," he said. "Second, it is confirmation of the significance of what we've found."

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