The judge in the trial of Oliver North said Wednesday he was considering a contempt-of-court citation against an ABC News correspondent who presented excerpts of North's immunized testimony to Congress on television Tuesday night.
U.S. District Judge Gerhard A. Gesell suggested the action "appears to be a deliberate effort to obstruct" the selection "of a jury in this case."Gesell said that on the broadcast, ABC correspondent Tim O'Brien "took pains" to tell viewers that if they looked at his broadcast of excerpts of testimony North gave Congress in 1987 under immunity, they would not have to serve on the jury.
Gesell said he has "not made up my mind" as to whether the incident provides an "appropriate basis for a contempt action."
"I really am quite puzzled by it," ABC's Washington bureau chief, George Watson, said of the judge's statement. "Tim O'Brien reported fairly and accurately what has been said in public, in public testimony by Col. North. And last night we and other news organizations reported that in explaining the case and how it came to trial.
"Our only deliberate effort is to accurately and fairly report on the trial of Col. North," Watson said.
The judge's comments underscored the difficulty of selecting a jury at North's trial.
The judge disqualified a woman who was employed at a Sears, Roebuck store in Washington from being a potential juror in the North case because she worked in the basement where dozens of TV sets were turned on when North was testifying to Congress in July 1987.
Later in the morning, Gesell added four other people to the pool of potential jurors, bringing the total to 11 of the 50 the judge wants to have from which to choose.
Meanwhile, North's lawyers say any jury in the Iran-Contra case should be kept in isolation for the entire time the fired White House aide is on trial, which could be for five months. A request to sequester the jury was made by Brendan Sullivan on Tuesday, the opening day of North's trial.