WASHINGTON — Former White House National Security Adviser Robert C. McFarlane's testimony before a Senate-House investigating committee this week is expected to provide new evidence of an apparent attempt to cover up President Reagan's role in the Iran arms sales, a member of the panel said Saturday.
The panelist, Sen. William S. Cohen (R-Me.), also indicated that committee members have reason to suspect that a secret meeting last Nov. 25 between White House aide Lt. Col. Oliver L. North and the Iran- contra middleman, retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Richard V. Secord, was part of the alleged cover-up. Secord refused last week to tell the committee what was discussed at the meeting.
McFarlane, who served on Reagan's staff until December, 1985, and later played a role as a private citizen in the sale of U.S. arms to Iran, has testified that he participated with White House officials last November in the preparation of a false chronology that was intended to conceal Reagan's approval of Israeli shipments of U.S. arms to Iran in 1985.
Reagan Relied on It
The President relied on this chronology in his public statements early last November when sales of U.S. weapons to Iran were first made known.
Secord testified that he was told by North last November that it was McFarlane who had been responsible for changing the chronology to mask the President's role. But McFarlane told the Tower Commission that it was not his fault, and he further recalled that "no one owned up to it" at the time when he demanded to know who was responsible.
Cohen, in an interview on CNN's "Newsmaker Sunday" program that was taped Saturday for broadcast today, said the likelihood of a conspiracy among key Iran-contra participants to cover up the President's role is "something we certainly have to explore" as committee hearings unfold throughout the summer.
He added that McFarlane, whose testimony is expected to continue through most of this week, "will give us some basis for forming a conclusion about the nature of this attempt to put together a chronology--whether it amounted to a cover-up or not."
And Cohen predicted that, although McFarlane's story has been heard previously by other committees, there will be "one major change" in the former aide's testimony concerning "what his role and the role of the other individuals were in terms of either misleading or constructing a story that would tell something quite different than what happened."
'Some New Evidence'
"So I think there'll be some new evidence in that regard," he said.
Cohen added: "In my own judgment, I think that there was certainly an effort made to put together a chronology which would place the President in the best possible light. I think there will be evidence that there was some information put in those chronologies that was inaccurate and, in fact, untrue."
While most figures in the Iran-contra affair acknowledge Reagan's role in approving the 1985 Israeli shipments, former White House Chief of Staff Donald T. Regan told congressional investigators last year that McFarlane was wrong to say that it was OKd by the President.
In his testimony last week, Secord revealed that he met with North last Nov. 25 shortly after Atty. Gen. Edwin Meese III disclosed that profits from the Iranian arms sales had been diverted to the contras. But Secord declined to talk about the meeting on grounds that his lawyer, Thomas C. Green, was also representing North at the time. He claims the session is protected by attorney-client privilege.
Met After North's Firing
The meeting was held hours after North was fired by the White House. It is known that both the President and Vice President George Bush telephoned North during the meeting, apparently to thank him for the work he had done while he was on the President's staff.
Cohen acknowledged that the committee is interested in the meeting because it could have been part of a cover-up. He indicated he agreed with the view of Sen. George J. Mitchell (D-Me.), who said last week that the Nov. 25 meeting "may well be central to this inquiry."