The former chairman of the House intelligence committee testified at Oliver L. North's trial Thursday that he knew nothing of Reagan administration efforts to obtain aid for the Nicaraguan rebels from other countries until after the Iran-Contra affair became public.
New details of the administration's efforts to solicit assistance from foreign nations in return for increased U.S. military and economic aid emerged during defense cross-examination of Rep. Lee Hamilton, D-Ind.Defense lawyer Brendan V. Sullivan Jr. asked Hamilton if he knew that the administration arranged for an Asian nation to sell missiles to the Contras, asked an Asian country to supply communications equipment and obtained aircraft from a Central American nation to train rebel pilots.
None of these countries was identified, but Hamilton told Sullivan he was not told of these and other administration efforts to solicit the Contra aid while direct U.S. military assistance was banned by Congress between 1984 and 1986.
"My recollection is that my knowledge of the events came subsequent to the time frame," Hamilton said.
The defense is trying to blunt charges that North, a former White House aide, lied to Congress about his efforts to assist the Contras by showing that the Reagan administration didn't tell lawmakers about its broad efforts to help the rebels by soliciting foreign donations after Congress shut off U.S. aid in 1984.
Hamilton said he didn't know then that Secretary of State George P. Shultz had asked an Asian country to provide communications equipment to the Contras because the rebels' devices were antiquated.
He also said he wasn't told that that Shultz and then-national security adviser John M. Poindexter knew of a plan by a Central American nation to provide aircraft to help train Contra fighter pilots.
Sullivan asked if Hamilton was told that Poindexter's predecessor as national security adviser, Robert McFarlane, authorized North to contact "a senior military official of an Asian country" to arrange "the sale of missiles to the resistance."
Hamilton said he couldn't recall being told this. He also said he was not told that Gen. John W. Vessey Jr., then-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also met with the Asian official to arrange the sale.
On re-direct examination, Hamilton insisted that he did not have to check the denials North and McFarlane made to him of news reports the National Security Council staff was helping the Contras in defiance of the congressional ban on such aid.
"Why did you rely in 1985 to the word of national security adviser McFarlane?" asked prosecutor John W. Keker.
"McFarlane was a top security adviser to the president of the United States. Upon whom can I rely if I can't rely on the president's top adviser?" Hamilton replied.
North, a retired Marine lieutenant colonel, is charged with 12 felonies arising from the Iran-Contra affair that could result in 60 years imprisonment if he is convicted.