Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, is becoming the main cheerleader pushing for President Reagan to pardon Oliver North for his involvement in the Iran-Contra scandal.
With news last week that the prosecution would move to dismiss the major charges against North, Hatch began stepping up his weeks-old call for a presidential pardon of North on remaining charges - and has been quoted on national TV networks and major national newspapers and wire services.A federal judge Monday temporarily declined to dismiss two key charges against North, insisting that the administration must formally declare that it blocked the release of classified documents needed for the case. Independent prosecutor Lawrence Walsh indicated he would submit a letter from Attorney General Dick Thornburgh and supporting material, clearing the way for trial to proceed on 12 remaining charges.
Hatch last week told the Deseret News that if Reagan were not "gutless" he would have pardoned North long ago.
Hatch repeated his views to a national TV audience again Monday night on the MacNeil/Lehrer Newshour on PBS - where he also had a live face-off some members of Congress who oppose his views.
Hatch described the 12 remaining charges against North as "Mickey Mouse" and said they have little to do with diversion of funds that the special prosecutor was originally appointed to investigate.
"It's ridiculous to have to go through all this since nobody would have brought the case to begin with on these charges. I think the president ought to end the charade, he ought to bite the bullet and he ought to grant a pardon in this case, which is his right to do.
"And I think the rest of the country, about everybody, would say, `Oh my gosh, it's about time. We're tired of this, it should be over, it's gone on too long and it's just being used for political purposes by some members of Congress anyway.' "
About charges that North lied to Congress, Hatch said, "(In) none of those statements, none of those letters and, again, none of those counts, was Oliver North under oath. He did not do anything under oath. And here he's going to be hung by 30 prosecutors, 50 investigators and another 50 support staff at an expenditure of $13 million so far."
But Rep. Louis Stokes, D-Ohio, who with Hatch was on the congressional committee that investigated the Iran-Contra affair, criticized Hatch.
"I have a problem with any member of Congress calling these `Mickey Mouse' charges," he said. "Lying to Congress is serious."
Stokes added, "A pardon of Oliver North would make a total mockery of the judicial system in this country. I think it would lead to anarchy because a person sitting in a prison somewhere would wonder why he is there and Oliver North isn't."
Rep. Pat Shroeder, D-Colo., a former presidential candidate, also attacked Hatch, saying a pardon would simply "say some people don't have to comply with the law."
But Rep. Henry Hyde, R-Ill., was on Hatch's side, saying a pardon would send "a message of compassion, a message that enough is enough" and would allow the country to move on, like after Jimmy Carter "pardoned the draft dodgers who went to Canada and Sweden."