WASHINGTON — Atty. Gen. Edwin Meese III said today that people outside the White House appear to have known of the secret scheme to funnel millions of dollars in profits from Iranian arms sales to Nicaraguan rebels.
"It appears there were some others involved," and not just the two presidential aides forced from their jobs Tuesday, Meese said in an interview on ABC-TV's "Good Morning America."
Meese said that, apparently, "there are some consultants involved and other people who have a tangential relationship to the U.S. government."
Appearing in another interview, Meese pledged that Reagan's national security adviser, Vice Adm. John M. Poindexter, who resigned, and one of his top aides, Lt. Col. Oliver L. North, who was fired, will not be "scapegoats."
"People who have done things will be accurately portrayed and, if necessary, actively prosecuted . . . if there's anything criminal," he said on the NBC-TV "Today" show.
But he added in the NBC interview that his investigation, begun Friday, has so far found no evidence of involvement by others close to Reagan in concealing the secret arrangement from the President.
"As far as anyone in the top levels of government--let's say at the department-head level or top people in the White House such as the chief of staff, certainly the President or vice president, or any Cabinet members being involved--we've pretty clearly established at this point that that has not happened."
Other Leads to Be Pursued
Minutes later, appearing on ABC, he said:
"It appears there were some others involved and that's what we're looking into now, but I don't have any definitive information at the present time other than that there are other leads that we will be pursuing and there will be a considerable number (of people) that will be talked to."
Meese, asked by an interviewer if he would consider recommending a special prosecutor, as some on Capitol Hill have proposed, Meese said that decision would "depend on the people involved" and that if his investigation found apparent criminality on the part of people covered by the independent-counsel legislation, "then we will utilize those laws."
Inquiry Won't Drag Out
He said he did not know how long his investigation will take, but said it would not drag out.
An Administration official who demanded anonymity said the Justice Department hopes to have some findings prepared by the end of the year. The official did not say whether information would be made public as it is discovered or whether the findings would be released all at once.
Meese would not speculate on whether some of the arms profits may have found their way to Eugene Hasenfus, the American convicted of anti-government activity by Nicaragua after his plane, which was carrying supplies to the U.S.-backed contras, was shot down.