WASHINGTON — The Senate and House committees investigating the Iran- contra scandal voted today to hold all hearings jointly and agreed to a timetable for granting limited immunity to former national security adviser John M. Poindexter and his deputy, Oliver L. North, while delaying their public testimony until June.
The agreement between the congressional panels and the government's special prosecutor was approved during closed-door meetings of the two committees, their chairmen said.
The panels announced that Lawrence E. Walsh, the special prosecutor, had agreed to the plan.
Forming Single Unit
Sen. Daniel K. Inouye (D-Hawaii) and Rep. Lee H. Hamilton (D-Ind.) announced that their committees had voted for the joint hearings and to combine the staffs of the two panels into a single unit to expedite hearings, to provide better coordination in the remaining phases of the investigation and to avoid what Inouye called "theatrics."
The agreement calls for dividing the public hearings, which will begin May 5, into three phases: the first on military aid to the Nicaraguan contras, the second on the arms sales to Iran and the third on "the question of assignment of responsibility," Hamilton said.
Rep. Dick Cheney (R-Wyo.), the ranking minority member on the House panel, called the agreement to cooperate "virtually an unprecedented agreement between the House and the Senate," and his Senate counterpart, Warren B. Rudman (R-N.H.), said the deal made it possible that hearings might be concluded earlier than previously thought.
Hamilton said the panels also voted to give limited immunity to compel testimony from a new group of six witnesses, but he declined to name them.
Limited immunity compels a witness to testify before Congress but guarantees that the testimony will not be used in any criminal prosecution. The witness could, however, be prosecuted on evidence gathered independently.
Congressional sources said that among those granted immunity were Robert Owen, Richard Gadd and John Cupp, who investigators believe could help the panel learn how weapons were funneled to the rebels during the congressional ban on U.S. military help.
Also granted immunity was Robert Earl, North's assistant on the National Security Council staff, the sources said. The two unnamed witnesses also are knowledgeable about the contra weapons supply network, they said.
Immunity for Fawn Hall
The panels already have granted immunity to North's former secretary, Fawn Hall, Iranian businessman Albert Hakim, retired Col. Robert C. Dutton and Edward de Garay, the owner of an air transport service that helped supply the contras.
By waiting at least until June 15 to place Poindexter and North on the witness stand, Congress will allow Walsh virtually all the time he sought to assemble any possible criminal case against them. Both North and Poindexter previously have claimed their Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination when questioned by Congress about the affair.