Utah Attorney General David L. Wilkinson says Independent Counsel Lawrence Walsh will have to look elsewhere for help in prosecuting Lt. Col. Oliver North and other defendants in the Iran-Contra scandal.
Wilkinson said Tuesday he's turning a cold shoulder to Walsh's request that attorneys general across the country help fend off legal challenges in the Iran-Contra case."I just think that the office of independent counsel is highly questionable as to constitutionality," Wilkinson told the Deseret News. "I think they are just pawns of Congress. And I'm not going to give them the time of day."
Other attorneys general have met the March 15 letter, mailed by Walsh associate Jeffrey Toobin, with more enthusiasm and have instructed staff attorneys to give whatever help they can on the question of immunity, which will be key to the defense claims in the case.
But Wilkinson told Walsh, in effect, to do his own homework.
"If they were to send me a request authorized by the Department of Justice, then I might go along," he said. But Wilkinson said his "sympathies are with the executive branch, not the legislative branch."
He said there is a constitutional dispute over the existence of the independent counsels, which were created by Congress under the 1978 Ethics in Government Act. The U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments on April 26 on a lower court decision that struck down the constitutionality of the special prosecutors.
Wilkinson said the questions raised by the existence of an independent counsel are similar to separation of powers problems in Utah. He cited legislative intent language attempting to tie the hands of executive branch officials as one example. He also cited the House of Representatives' decision to seat Reps. Janet Rose and Mont Evans both public employees. Wilkinson has challenged that decision as a violation of the separation of powers doctrine, but so far without success.
"It's my most chronic problem," Wilkinson said. "The Legislature is always encroaching on the power of the executive branch."
Not everyone was as perturbed as Wilkinson about the letter. The Associated Press reports that LeRoy Zimmerman, the GOP attorney general in Pennsylvania, has directed his staff to "pass along any information or experiences which would be helpful" to Walsh's people, according to Bob Gentzel, his spokesman.
But Wilkinson also said Utah doesn't have that much to offer anyway. He said Utah's immunity statutes grant blanket inoculation from all prosecution in exchange for cooperation. In contrast, the federal immunity statute is much more limited.
"We have a transactional immunity, so we couldn't give them much help," Wilkinson said.
Three of the four men charged with conspiracy in the Iran-Contra case were given immunity from prosecution when they testified before the congressional committees last summer. They were former White House aides John M. Poindexter, North and businessman Albert Hakim. Only Richard V. Secord, Hakim's partner, did not receive immunity.
Immunity grants mean that Walsh cannot use any information from the congressional hearings in court, and he must prove that his information was gathered independently.