WASHINGTON — Fawn Hall, former secretary to National Security Council aide Oliver L. North, revealed Monday that she slipped documents under her clothing and smuggled them out of the White House complex to her ex-boss on the day he was fired.
Among the documents that she slipped into her boots and inside the back of her clothing were revisions of year-old memoranda that Hall had been ordered to alter, primarily to delete references to North's possibly illegal involvement in Nicaraguan rebel military activities and fund-raising. The revelations came in her first day of testimony before the congressional committees investigating the Iran- contra scandal.
Denied Earlier Report
"I was very emotional at the time and I was concerned about protecting the initiative, the Iran initiative and the contra initiative," said Hall, who earlier had denied a report that she had hidden documents in her undergarments.
In addition, she admitted that, a few days before North was fired, she helped the Marine lieutenant colonel shred what she estimated was an 18-inch-high stack of memoranda, internal communications and logs of his daily phone messages.
Hall, who is testifying under a grant of limited immunity, also said that she conspired with North and other officials to hide the fact that they had destroyed potential evidence.
When asked whether she was curious or uneasy when asked to perform these tasks at the onset of an official investigation into North's activities last November, Hall told the committees: "It was a policy of mine not to ask questions and just to follow instructions. I believed in Col. North and what he was doing. I had no right to question him."
While Hall's role in the Iran-contra scandal is a relatively minor one, the strikingly attractive former model has become one of its most famous players. Hall, now a Pentagon clerical worker, trembled visibly during her testimony, but she steadfastly portrayed herself as the most loyal and discreet of secretaries.
'I Can Type'
"I can type," she noted in her opening statement, seeking to dispel any impression reminiscent of earlier Washington scandals that she was hired merely for her looks.
Hall's testimony, which will continue today, offers the most vivid details yet to surface of the frenzied days surrounding the disclosure last November that profits from the secret sale of U.S. arms to Iran had been diverted to the Nicaraguan rebels at a time when official U.S. aid was banned.
Her account not only suggests that North engineered a cover-up effort, but also implicates North aide Robert Earle and attorney Thomas Green, who represented North briefly.
She also gave new insights into the daily goings-on at North's office in the Old Executive Office Building where visitors included the late CIA Director William J. Casey and private fund-raisers for the contras.
Hall said that North made notations of his activities in small spiral notebooks and added that she believes she has seen this potentially important evidence stacked in the office of North's lawyer, Brendan Sullivan.
North also was rumored at the time around the NSC to have kept large quantities of cash in his office, and Hall testified that he once lent her $60 in traveler's checks--issued on a Central American bank--when she needed cash for a weekend at the beach.
However, Hall denied any memory of collecting $16,000 cash that was carried from Miami for North by Shirley Napier, administrative assistant to retired Maj. Gen. Richard V. Secord, who ran a secret contra supply operation with North.
Among North's frequent visitors was a man Hall identified as Father Tom Dowling, who recently told Newsday that he had received $2,500 in traveler's checks from North for contra-related activities. Dowling, who wore clerical garb whenever he visited the White House, also admitted that he is not a Roman Catholic priest.
Hall said that North once arranged for Dowling and a Nicaraguan cleric, identified as "Father Z," to be photographed with the President.
She also recalled that she once received an urgent telephone call from Dowling indicating that "Father Z" was waiting for money that he had been promised. When Hall told North about it, she said, he instructed her to call contra fund-raiser Richard R. Miller and "tell him to take care of it."
On Friday, Nov. 21, as Atty. Gen. Edwin Meese III was launching his investigation into the secret Iranian arms sales, North handed his secretary a number of documents that were marked with instructions on how they should be altered and retyped.
Hall had completed the alterations but had not had time to get all the copies she had made into the proper files when she was interrupted early that evening by what has come to be known as North's "shredding party."