The judge in Oliver North's Iran-Contra trial Monday sent the jury home and scheduled a hearing for Tuesday on a proposed agreement for additional national security safeguards that could allow the case to go forward.
U.S. District Judge Gerhard A. Gesell indicated he is in no hurry to rush to trial, referring to the administrative stay issued at the Justice Department's request Sunday by Chief Justice William Rehnquist.The full Supreme Court on Friday is to consider the Justice Department's request to delay the trial.
"You're still jurors in this case, of course," Gesell told the panel. "You will be advised as soon as the court knows whether the case is allowed to go forward or not. I regret the inconvenience this will cause you."
Hours after Rehnquist issued the stay, the Justice Department announced it had reached an agreement with independent counsel Lawrence Walsh to seek additional controls from Gesell designed to protect the government against disclosure of sensitive national security material by North, a former White House aide.
The Justice Department said it will ask that Rehnquist's stay be vacated immediately if Gesell approves the agreement.
Gesell scheduled arguments on the agreement for 1:30 p.m. Tuesday. He told the jurors to "call in tomorrow after 4" to see whether they are to be given a reporting time for court.
The judge and lawyers for North and the independent counsel's office, which is handling the prosecution, then went into a closed session to discuss an undisclosed matter touching on national security.
Meanwhile, Sens. David L. Boren, D-Okla., and William Cohen, R-Maine, chairman and vice chairman respectively of the Senate Intelligence Committee, invited Attorney General Dick Thornburgh to testify Feb. 21 about "concerns apparent" in the North case involving classified information.
Boren and Cohen, along with Sens. Joseph Biden, D-Del., and Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell, D-Maine, on Jan. 6 said Thornburgh should explain in his regular six-month report to Congress under the Classified Information Procedures Act why the two central charges in the North case were being dropped.> "In light of recent events," the intelligence committee "wishes to expedite its inquiry," Boren and Cohen said in a letter last Friday to Thornburgh and released Monday. The conspiracy and theft charges against North were formally dismissed Jan. 13 due to concerns by U.S. intelligence agencies that classified documents the prosecution wanted to present were insufficiently censored and if released in court would harm national security.
Walsh and the Justice Department had been in conflict since last Wednesday, when the department began seeking an order that would impose tight restrictions on classified material that North wanted to present at trial.> Gesell rejected the proposal and accepted more moderate controls offered by Walsh, who said he wanted to proceed with the trial immediately. On Thursday, the Justice Department went to court to try to delay the trial.
The department said it had concluded, and that Walsh concurred, that "the trial could not go forward without an additional protective order."> Walsh had initially opposed further restrictions on evidence in the trial, but the department had countered with a threat to invoke the Classified Information Procedures Act, which gives the attorney general broad power to prevent disclosures. Such a move could make any trial of North impossible because his lawyers argue they could not present an adequate defense.