Oliver North testified Monday that former President Reagan and then-Attorney General Edwin Meese III concealed U.S. involvement in a possibly illegal 1985 arms shipment to Iran.
The former White House aide said that in a meeting on Nov. 12, 1986, "clearly the president . . . had made a decision not to disclose" the November 1985 shipment of Hawk missiles from Israel to Iran.At a news conference on Nov. 19 - a week after that meeting - Reagan said "there were no other shipments which the United States condoned" besides the ones in 1986.
Concluding three days of questioning by his own lawyers, North also testified that he assumed Reagan had known of the diversion of Iran arms sale funds to the Contra rebels in Nicaragua.
North said he had the approval of his boss, then-national security adviser John Poindexter, for the diversion, and "I believed that I had it from the president of the United States."
When the attorney general announced on Nov. 25, 1986, that a criminal investigation would be undertaken, "it was probably one of the most shocking things I had ever heard," North testified.
North also testified that he never believed any of the secret work he did for the Nicaraguan Contra rebels or for the freedom of American hostages in Lebanon was illegal.
Prosecutor John Keker opened his cross-examination by reminding North he was not charged with violating a congressional ban on aid to the Contras or with any crime solely because of his efforts to free the U.S. captives.
"Do you know what you are on trial for?" Keker asked.
"Well," North replied, pausing studiously, "it's 12 counts of various charges; I don't recall specifically."
Keker then listed the particular accusations against North - among them lying to Congress, tax fraud and accepting an illegal gift - and each time asked the witness if he remembered the charge. The defendant quietly responded, "Yes."
The questions began after defense lawyer Brendan Sullivan, concluding his own examination, drew from his client repeated references to the claim that North had authorization from the top level of Reagan's administration for all his actions.
North said he didn't think anything he did was unlawful because the things he was hiding "I was told, could not, should not be revealed. I felt like a pawn in a chess game being played by giants," he testified.