A clear-minded warrior, a wearied desk jockey. A born-again moralist, a teller of lies. A patriot convicted of crimes against the United States.
A federal jury delivered that last, cruelest cut of all Thursday to the already fractured image of Oliver L. North, pronouncing him both innocent and guilty at the same trial.Guilty, of falsifying and destroying documents, of abetting the obstruction of Congress, of accepting an illegal gratuity.
Not guilty of nine other felony charges linked to his role as action officer in the Iran-Contra affair.
North, portraying himself as a victim of zealous prosecutors, said the tenacity he learned in the Marine Corps and the prayers of his supporters are all he needs to be fully vindicated.
With his wife, Betsy, and his attorney, Brendan Sullivan, at his side North met with reporters about two hours after the jury's verdict. North and Sullivan read statements and took no questions in an art-filled, media-packed conference room at Sullivan's downtown Washington law offices.
"After more than 2 1/2 years and over $40 million of our taxpayers' money spent on investigations, congressional inquisitions and now a special prosecutor who has likened me to Adolf Hitler, we now face months, perhaps years, of fighting the remaining charges," North said.
Special prosecutor John Keker contended in his closing argument to the jury that North followed Hitler's strategy in which the victor never has to reveal whether he was telling the truth.
Keker gave a brief statement in front of the federal courthouse following the verdict, saying it shows that "no man is above the law." He also refused to answer questions.
President Bush now faces the potentially explosive decision of whether to pardon North. At the same time, the president is confronted by congressional investigations into why documents released at North's trial, regarding a possible role by Bush in the Iran-Contra affair, were not provided to Congress in 1987.
Bush publicly denied for the first time Thursday that he tried to obtain Honduran support of U.S.-backed Contra rebels in 1985 while he was Ronald Reagan's vice president.
"There has been much needless, mindless speculation about my word of honor and I have answered it, now definitively," Bush said, his voice rising in anger.
"I can now state declaratively that there was no quid pro quo" on his part to obtain Honduran support for the Contras in exchange for increased U.S. support of Honduras, Bush said.
Speaking forcefully, Bush said, "The word of the president United States, George Bush, is that there was no quid pro quo. The records of the meeting demonstrate there was no quid pro quo."
The White House left unanswered, however, a question being discussed and debated by members of Congress _ whether North would get a presidential pardon.
"The president has not discussed a pardon," said White House press secretary Steve Hart. But in response to a question, Hart said he had no idea whether Bush would grant one. "That's all we're going to say."
A poll released Friday by USA Today found that Americans, by a 52 percent to 36 percent margin, believe North should be pardoned. The survey of 814 people also found that 72 percent believe he is a "fall guy."
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, predicted Thursday that Bush "will probably" pardon North, and Rep. Michael DeWine, R-Ohio, said, "I think the president should seriously consider it," as well as the precedent that it might set.
Rep. Thomas Foley, D-Wash., said Bush should remain out of the legal process and let "justice run its course." Rep. Henry Hyde, R-Ill. said of a presidential pardon, "I don't expect it. But I wouldn't discourage it."
The Marine Corps said Thursday North will automatically lose his $1,900 per month military pension because of his felony convictions.
The House Intelligence Committee announced Thursday that it would investigate why documents used in the North trial regarding Bush's role were not given to Congress in 1987.
The committee acted at the request of Rep. Lee Hamilton, D-Ind., who led the special House panel that investigated the secret 1985 and 1986 sales of U.S. arms to Iran and the diversion of profits to Nicaraguan Contra rebels. Last week, the Senate Intelligence Committee agreed to a similar request.
Bush said, "I'm going to insist that the congressional committees (now that the North jury is in) be briefed fully on the confidential cables that bring up every fact of that meeting."
"I've referred them to a man with whom I have great confidence, Mr. (A.B.) Culvahouse, who handled those documents for the previous administration" as Reagan's chief counsel. Bush said, "Hopefully they can resolve it between themselves."