The judge at Oliver North's Iran-Contra trial decided to consider an issue Friday that could force a dismissal of the case against the former White House aide - the handling of state secrets in the courtroom.
U.S. District Judge Gerhard Gesell summoned lawyers to his courtroom for arguments on a defense motion to dismiss the case. North's lawyers contend the amount and kind of classified information at issue is violating their client's right to a fair trial.It was unlikely Gesell would grant the defense request two weeks into North's 12-count felony trial. But he might review guidelines he has drafted since September to deal with secrets at trial, and that could delay the case.
Gesell has said he will not tolerate what he calls a "cuckoo-clock trial" - during which constant interruptions force him to break up the proceedings with closed hearings on what classified information can be released.
But the judge has expressed distaste with further delays, saying this week, "This case can never be tried again if it isn't tried now."
Gesell sent the jury home for the weekend Thursday after testimony from two people deeply involved in North's private airlift to the Nicaraguan Contra rebels - former CIA operative Rafael Quintero and retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Richard Gadd.
In a related development, Robert McFarlane, the national security adviser between 1983 and 1985, was to be sentenced Friday for withholding information from Congress. He faces a maximum four years in prison and $400,000 in fines.
McFarlane pleaded guilty to the charges in March 1988 in exchange for a light sentence because he will testify against North, his former staff assistant at the National Security Council.
North is charged with lying to Congress, obstructing a presidential inquiry, destroying official documents, tax fraud and accepting an illegal gift. If convicted on all counts, he faces 60 years in prison and $3 million in fines.