WASHINGTON — John M. Poindexter, then White House national security adviser, persuaded Atty. Gen. Edwin Meese III in late October to delay an FBI investigation of an airline that was ferrying arms to Iran and the Nicaraguan contras, Justice Department officials said Thursday.
Meese agreed to ask the FBI to hold up its probe because Poindexter told him the investigation might jeopardize efforts to obtain release of American hostages in Lebanon, Justice Department spokesman Terry H. Eastland said.
Eastland said he was recounting Meese's secret Wednesday testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Meese believed that "the safe return of the hostages was at stake," Eastland said. "We would attempt to accommodate the national security interests without jeopardizing any subsequent criminal prosecutions."
Poindexter requested the FBI delay as the airline, Southern Air Transport, was scheduled to fly a new shipment of arms to Iran. The shipment took place, via Israel, on Oct. 26-27.