The judge in the Iran-Contra case summoned government and defense lawyers to a Tuesday hearing to discuss an administration plan for handling state secrets at the trial of Oliver North even as the defense tried to show former President Ronald Reagan's role in the matter.
North's lawyers filed papers Monday accusing Reagan and at least five other top officials in his administration of offering unspecified favors to countries in exchange for financial aid to the Nicaraguan Contra rebels.Attorneys for the ex-White House aide alleged the Reagan administration kept the activities secret.
The lawyers said if the judge presiding over North's trial refuses them the right to introduce classified information, he should stipulate that Reagan and the others were deeply involved in the Iran-Contra affair.
Besides Reagan, others named in the defense documents were: Robert McFarlane, former national security adviser; George Shultz, former secretary of state; Caspar Weinberger, former defense secretary; retired Army Gen. John Vesey, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and William Casey, the CIA director who died May 6, 1987.
The defense papers were filed in response to a government plan for handling state secrets at North's trial. The judge sent jurors home Monday while he weighed whether the plan by independent prosecutor Lawrence Walsh and Attorney General Dick Thornburgh would prevent a fair trial.
In papers released Monday, North's lawyers told Gesell the proposal would jeopardize a fair trial.
But Walsh and the Justice Department said their plan - which could slow or even force an end to the trial - would better protect classified information than guidelines Gesell has drafted.
Assistant Attorney General Edward Dennis in a court brief supporting the proposal, said it is unlikely such a revision in trial prodedures "will disrupt the trial in any way" and any disruptions will be caused by North's attempt to introduce previously unidentified classified information.
"With imagination, careful use of alternatives to disclosure and a measure of commonsense, there can be a fair trial for the parties and adequate protection of vital national secrets," Dennis wrote.
White House spokesmen Marlin Fitzwater Tuesday said the decision to imppose release of secret documents dates back to the Reagan administration.
"The (last) administration's decision was dictated by intelligence rewiews that took place in July," Fitzwater told reporters. "the legal track that the attortney general is prececing is not something new, but one that has been under way for several months."
Asked if Bush maintains that release of the information would endanger national security, Fitzwater said, "Those judgments were made several months ago."
Fearful that North's lawyers will expose U.S. secrets at trial, the administration won a stay from the Supreme Court, halting the proceedings until the matter is settled.
If Gesell rejects the proposal the stay remains effective until Friday. If he agrees, the Justice Department promised to ask Chief Justice William Rehnquist to lift the stay and let the trial begin.