The Iran-Contra judge put aside until later a defense request to dismiss the case against Oliver North and pushed the trial Wednesday through final questioning of North's courier to the Nicaraguan rebels.
But U.S. District Judge Gerhard Gesell said the clash over the secrecy issue, which prompted a defense demand Tuesday that charges against North be dismissed, heralded dangers that could end the prosecution of the former White House aide.Gesell stopped the trial Tuesday during cross-examination of Robert Owen, the private courier to the anti-Sandinistas Contras, but allowed his testimony to be completed Wednesday.
The government then called retired Army Maj. Gen. John Singlaub, who raised money and brokered arms deals for the rebels who were trying to overthrow Nicaragua's Sandinista government.
Singlaub said he met with North several times in 1984 and offered to help the Contras support themselves. Singlaub testified that the White House aide said he could not approve such actions but, "As long as Colonel North did not indicate to me that I was doing something dumb, I took his silence" as consent.
At that point, probably Thursday, Gesell said he wants to hear more arguments on whether the case can go forward without the kinds of interruptions that brought the proceedings to a halt this week.
"This case can never be tried again if it isn't tried now," said the judge at a three-hour hearing Tuesday, the sixth day of North's trial.
Gesell expressed concerns about the jury, which was empaneled Feb. 4 and has heard only three days of evidence.
"The longer the jury is not in that box, the more difficult it is to revivify the case," he said. "I get very worried about bringing citizens to the jury box and then not giving them something to chew on."
North, a retired Marine lieutenant colonel, managed the secret U.S. arms deals with Iran and the diversion of sales profits to the rebels, which was part of a clandestine operation to keep the Contras armed and fed between 1984 and 1986, when U.S. aid to the CIA-formed force was banned.