WASHINGTON — Former National Security Adviser Robert C. McFarlane lost his temper twice today as questioners zeroed in on whether his aide, Lt. Col. Oliver L. North, undertook actions of questionable legality--and possible obstruction of justice on his own part.
Despite repeated questions by Sens. Warren B. Rudman (R-N.H.) and George J. Mitchell (D-Me.) McFarlane avoided telling why he never told President Reagan directly about some of North's activities in behalf of the Nicaraguan contras.
McFarlane clearly showed the wear and tear of answering questions for a third day by the House and Senate select committees on the Iran-contra scandal. At one point he lost his temper and raised his voice sharply, later apologizing for his outburst.
A contrite witness for the most part, he became visibly angry when claiming that the United States was not always able to move effectively against terrorists.
"You can be goddamn sure that if any Israeli is caught (by terrorists) he's going to have his government going after him," McFarlane snapped in response to a question from Rudman.
Minutes later, McFarlane hotly disputed Mitchell, who asked a series of accusatory questions suggesting that McFarlane deliberately misled Congress and Atty. Gen. Edwin Meese III about the affair.
Mitchell also appeared to imply that the former national security adviser might have skirted the law by not passing on to Meese a remark to him by North that a "shredding party" was planned after the Administration announced the Iran-contra connection.
During his testimony, McFarlane said he told Reagan that North was a "very tireless, very hard-working devoted officer" but never made it clear whether he warned him that North may have overstepped the law.
"Based on your general testimony here that you did have concerns that North was crossing the line, did you ever inform the President of North's activities to the extent there were some activities crossing the line?" Rudman asked.
"I remember that I was periodically concerned about the almost certain temptation to raise money (for the contras) whenever Ollie went out and talked (to people around the country)," McFarlane said.
"Did you give the President cause for alarm that people who worked for him might be doing things proscribed by Congress?" Rudman asked.
"The President would often provide his own views on the subject. . . . I was making sure that things . . . didn't go beyond the law," McFarlane said.
McFarlane erupted in anger at Rudman over questions concerning the Administration's use of drug enforcement agents in a ransom operation to free American hostages. He denied that there was a legal need to notify Congress.
"It is more than passing strange to me that we cannot aspire to a policy that is more effective to deal with terrorism. Now it is undeniable that some countries are good at it. And they are good because terrorists know that whenever they commit terrorism against Israel, something, somehow, somewhere is going to happen.
"Now, it may not always be arms, it may not be preemptive attack. It may be negotiation, it may be bribing but you can be goddamn sure if any Israeli is caught, he's going to have his government going after him," McFarlane said with considerable heat.
Earlier, McFarlane told Congress that Reagan never told him to do anything illegal in helping the Nicaraguan rebels but that he was "conscious of everything I did that was close to the line."
McFarlane acknowledged that he regularly informed Reagan about contra support efforts, some of which may have been illegal under the Boland amendment.