Iran-Contra prosecutor Lawrence Walsh says Oliver North is trying to turn his trial from a criminal to a political one and should not be allowed to use politics to win a six-month delay.
Walsh urged U.S. District Judge Gerhard Gesell on Monday to reject North's motion for a delay until after the presidential election."Having failed in several attempts to avoid completely the trial of this case, while proclaiming his innocence in speeches, the defendant Oliver L. North is now grasping at the criminal defendant's maneuver of last resort - delay," Walsh said.
"This trial in particular should not be held hostage to a media which the defendant himself has strenuously sought to inflame," Walsh said in a brief filed with U.S. District Judge Gerhard Gesell.
The prosecutor included 15 newspaper clippings reporting North's recent speeches about his case and in support of Republican congressional candidates. He quoted North's own statement after his indictment last March: "I have now been caught in a bitter dispute between the Congress and the president over the control of foreign policy. ... It is a shame that the new battleground for such a fight will be a courtroom."
Delaying the trial would give court approval to "North's transparent attempt to transform this trial from a criminal into a political one," Walsh argued.
A retired Marine Corps lieutenant colonel and former White House aide, North is the first of four defendants scheduled to be tried on charges including a conspiracy to defraud the United States by illegally diverting profits from U.S.-Iran arms sales to the Nicaraguan Contra rebels.
Last Wednesday, one of North's attorneys, Barry Simon, told the court that "no fair-minded person could argue that this trial should be started seven weeks prior to the presidential election. The intense publicity generated during the final seven weeks of a presidential campaign would deny (North) a fair trial."
But Walsh said, "To the extent that North's trial may become a political issue in the upcoming elections, North bears at least a substantial measure of responsibility, and therefore has little credibility in complaining." Walsh said North has made many pretrial speeches and statements "in which he had claimed that the charges should be evaluated in a political context."
Walsh said North's trial could begin Sept. 20 as planned with an impartial jury despite the presidential campaign and urged Gesell to reject North's motion for a six-month delay, which Walsh said was filed "simply as a stalling tactic."
Walsh said courts in the District of Columbia are well trained by their experience with Watergate and other political scandals to conduct trials in cases which receive a lot of publicity.