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A federal judge Monday dismissed the case against Oliver North at the request of the special prosecutor. It was a climactic finish to the lengthy criminal proceedings against the star defendant in the Iran-Contra affair, and North said he was "totally exonerated."

North hugged his attorney, his family and friends in the courtroom after U.S. District Judge Gerhard Gesell granted the prosecutor's request. "This terminates the case," the judge said.Special prosecutor Lawrence Walsh said in court papers that "the government is not likely, in the unique circumstances here presented, to be able to sustain a successful outcome" in the case.

A federal appeals court had ordered Gesell to determine whether testimony at North's trial was influenced by his forced testimony to Congress. Former national security adviser Robert McFarlane dealt a heavy blow last week to the bid to reinstate North's convictions when he said his own statements at the trial were colored by North's immunized testimony.

Walsh said Monday he had concluded "that the expenditure of additional prosecutorial, defense and judicial resources in this case is not warranted."

"We felt it was in the interest of justice to move to dismiss these counts," Walsh told reporters afterward.

An exultant North said he was "totally exonerated, completely. I don't have another word for it. I've had my last hearing forever, I hope."

President Bush called it "a good decision" and said, "A long period of suffering for his (North's) family and him is over. It sounds like the system worked very well."

North was convicted of destroying documents, accepting an illegal gratuity and aiding the obstruction of Congress. The destruction of documents conviction was overturned outright in July 1990 by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, while the two others were set aside.

A federal appeals court set aside the convictions, saying prosecutors had to demonstrate in court that North's 1987 testimony to Congress, given under a grant of immunity, wasn't used against him at his criminal trial.

Gesell opened hearings last week in the government's bid to reinstate the convictions.

McFarlane stunned prosecutors at the hearing by saying his testimony at North's criminal trial was influenced by North's nationally televised appearances to Congress.

"I urged them (Congress) not to grant immunity," Walsh told reporters Monday. "This is a very serious warning that immunity is not to be granted lightly."

House Speaker Thomas Foley, D-Wash., said he did not believe Congress erred in deciding to hold its own Iran-Contra inquiry.

"Would I have suppressed the (congressional) investigation in order to guarantee effective prosecution of Col. North?" Foley said. "No."

Senate Republican Leader Bob Dole of Kansas said it is time to close the Iran-Contra investigation.

"What have American taxpayers received for their $50 million?" Dole asked. "A lot of press releases. A lot of rumor and innuendo. But little in terms of justice. Every conviction won by Mr. Walsh has been overturned or is likely to be overturned," he said.

Walsh would not comment on how Monday's dismissal might affect his case against former national security adviser John Poindexter, who is appealing his April 1990 conviction on five felonies, including conspiracy and obstruction of Congress.

Poindexter's attorneys also contend that his trial was tainted by his forced testimony under immunity to Congress. A federal appeals court heard arguments in February and has not yet ruled.

Keith Jones, Poindexter's attorney, said Monday's action is "a hopeful sign." The issue of immunized testimony is "one of the issues in our case, but only one of many other issues" before the appellate court, Jones said.