Pardons by Bush said to kill Iran-contra probe, but he hires lawyer anyway

December 31, 1992|By Newsday

WASHINGTON -- After assessing the effect of Presiden Bush's Christmas Eve pardons with his staff, special Iran-contra prosecutor Lawrence Walsh concluded that he could go no further with his investigations or prosecutions, according to a source close to Mr. Walsh.

Nevertheless, Mr. Bush has hired Griffin Bell, President Carter's attorney general, to represent him in matters arising from the Iran-contra inquiry, the White House announced yesterday.

Mr. Bell, a former federal judge who is now an Atlanta lawyer, is to deal first with Mr. Walsh's continuing pressure for access to Mr. Bush's 1986 notes about high-level White House meetings ** during the unfolding scandal.

The source said yesterday the notes are being sought to help Mr. Walsh write his final report, which is to be completed in about three months, and to prepare for congressional hearings. In addition, the source added, Mr. Walsh may seek to interview Mr. Bush, "if the president agrees."

But as for prosecutions, the source said, "after a lot of meetings and discussion, we just didn't see a lot there. The pardons put us out of the game."

The White House has said the administration would make the notes public if Mr. Walsh's office would turn over a transcript of Mr. Bush's five-hour Iran-contra deposition in 1988. Such grand jury testimony is normally secret.

"We are going to continue to consider the president's request," said Mr. Walsh's spokeswoman, Mary Belcher. She also said that the notes should have been produced in response to the special prosecutor's request for relevant documents in 1987. Mr. Walsh discovered the notes' existence only Dec. 11.

But Mr. Walsh has ruled out suggestions that he compel former Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger to testify before a grand jury about what Mr. Bush knew. Mr. Weinberger's trial on charges of withholding evidence, scheduled to start next Tuesday, was forestalled by Mr. Bush's pardon.

Thus, although Mr. Walsh has not announced the results of his two days of staff strategy sessions, which ended yesterday, the source said, "He is inclined to go no further with the investigation."

Mr. Bush defended his pardons yesterday in the White House Rose Garden. Asked if his action gave the appearance that some government officials are above the law, he said with an edge in his voice, "No, it should not give any such appearance.

"Nobody is above the law and I believe when people break the law that's a bad thing. I have read some stupid comment to the contrary."

Mr. Walsh, a Republican who was appointed special prosecutor six years ago as the Iran-contra affair was breaking, has criticized Mr. Bush for the pardons and suggested they were issued to protect the president from further disclosures about his role in the secret scheme to sell arms to Iran in exchange for freedom for U.S. hostages in Lebanon, while using the profits to supply arms illegally to Nicaraguan rebels.

Mr. Walsh, who has been criticized for the broad scope of his inquiry as well as its $31 million cost, is expected to recommend that any new law should provide restrictions on the scope and duration of investigations, the source said. In addition, Mr. Walsh hopes Congress will find a way to give a special prosecutor access to classified information.

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