Oliver L. North testified Wednesday "I don't know for a fact" that former national security adviser John M. Poindexter tore up a politically embarrassing policy statement that depicted the Reagan administration's Iran initiative as a straight arms-for-hostages deal.
North said his memory of the event was colored by the fact that Poindexter acknowledged in congressional testimony in 1987 that he had destroyed the presidential document, known as a "finding," on Nov. 20, 1986, amid public scrutiny of the administration's arms sales to Iran.The former national security council aide testified at a pretrial hearing where Poindexter's lawyer, Richard Beckler, tried to demonstrate that North was tainted by Poindexter's immunized testimony to Congress and therefore should not testify as a government witness.
Under a 1972 Supreme Court ruling, the government may make no use of a defendant's testimony compelled under a limited grant of immunity. That includes testimony given by other witnesses who may have been influenced by the immunized statements.
The presidential finding "could have been any sheet of paper but for the fact that" Poindexter "confirmed it" in his immunized congressional testimony, North told Beckler.
"I don't know for a fact . . . that the document destroyed that morning was the finding," North said later when questioned by Iran-Contra prosecutor Michael Bromwich.
North testified at his own trial last April that he watched Poindexter rip up the document as then-Attorney General Edwin Meese III began focusing on a November 1985 CIA-assisted shipment of Hawk anti-aircraft missiles to Iran.
Wednesday, however, North said that he hadn't actually read the document at the time Poindexter destroyed it.
The destruction of the finding relates to four of the criminal charges against Poindexter, who is accused of falsely telling Congress that he didn't learn of the missile shipment to Iran until January 1986.
The finding, signed by President Reagan in December 1985, was drafted because of the CIA-assisted shipment the previous month.
Poindexter is scheduled to go on trial Jan. 22 on charges of conspiracy, two counts of obstructing Congress and two counts of making false statements in the Iran-Contra scandal.
On Tuesday, North said he was unable to remember details of meetings with his ex-boss, even though the now-convicted Reagan aide testified about those meetings at his own trial.
"It's difficult to get answers out of this witness," declared U.S. District Court Judge Harold Greene, who said he would give prosecutors the "widest latitude" in interrogating North.
Questioned for five hours Tuesday by Iran-Contra prosecutor Dan Webb, North repeatedly was shown transcripts of the testimony he gave last April in which he referred to contacts with Poindexter.