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Has No Regrets, Poindexter Says : Refuses to Apologize for His Role, Sees Reagan Credibility as Intact

July 21, 1987|SARA FRITZ and KAREN TUMULTY | Times Staff Writers

WASHINGTON — Former National Security Adviser John M. Poindexter, taking a more defiant tack than President Reagan, told the congressional investigating committees Monday that he has no regrets and makes no apologies for any aspect of his role in the Iran- contra affair.

In addition, Poindexter, whose testimony is expected to conclude today, denied the suggestion of a leading Republican Senate committee member that the President's credibility has been damaged by the affair.

"I think the President is going to come out better for it," he asserted.

Sums Up Attitude

The normally mild-mannered rear admiral angrily summed up his general attitude toward the affair after Sen. Paul S. Trible Jr. (R-Va.), accused him of an "unapologetic embrace of untruth."

"I don't have any regrets for anything that I did," Poindexter insisted. "I think the actions that I took were in the long-term interests of the country and I'm not going to change my mind. And I'm not going to be apologetic about it."

His unrepentant, hard-line approach stunned many members of the committees because it went far beyond the position taken by the White House or by the President's other supporters.

Even the committees' most conservative members, such as Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), have said that Poindexter and other Administration officials made mistakes in the Iran-contra affair. The President himself acknowledged in his State of the Union speech on Jan. 27 that he regretted "mistakes were made."

Sen. David L. Boren (D-Okla.), chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said he hopes that Poindexter eventually will see he had made a mistake by deciding to divert profits from the Iranian arms sales to the Nicaraguan resistance without informing Reagan.

"It really did surprise me when you said: 'I have no regrets,' " Boren said, "because it seems to me that well-intentioned as you might have been at the time, it's very clear that this decision was . . . a highly controversial decision. It's been the flash point of the whole inquiry."

But Poindexter held his ground. "I frankly don't think in the whole scheme of things it's that important a decision," he said. "The thing that's made it important in your eyes . . . is the overreaction of the media to it, and members of Congress have to react to the media."

Met With North, Casey

Also during his fourth day of testimony:

--Poindexter acknowledged a previously undisclosed luncheon meeting with his aide, Lt. Col. Oliver L. North, and the late CIA Director William J. Casey on Nov. 22--the same day that Justice Department officials discovered the diversion while searching North's office.

--Rep. Les Aspin (D-Wis.) asserted that there is a possibility the Nicaraguan rebels last year were receiving large sums of money from yet-undisclosed sources--a possibility that he said could open another area of investigation for the panel.

--Poindexter disclosed that the National Security Council staff, never previously viewed by Congress as an operational unit, has conducted other undisclosed covert operations besides running the contra supply network and the sale of arms to Iran.

--Poindexter conceded that he interceded with CIA Deputy Director Robert M. Gates last year in an effort to persuade the agency to take control of the secret Iran-contra operation, with capital assets of $4 million, then being run by retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Richard V. Secord.

--The committee released copies of a 1971 Navy fitness report on Poindexter, which described him as a man with a "photographic memory." But in his testimony, Poindexter said he could not remember many details of his year as the President's national security adviser.

--Poindexter dismissed a report in The Times last week that $1.5 million in weapons for the contras were purchased from a Syrian smuggler tied to the notorious terrorist, Abu Nidal. "When you're buying arms on the Third World market, you might often have to deal with people you don't want to go to dinner with," he replied.

Early Adjournment Urged

As a result of Poindexter's earlier testimony that Reagan was unaware of the diversion, many Republicans on the committees were pressing for early adjournment of the hearings on the ground there is nothing more to learn.

"We've elevated the art of beating a dead horse to new heights," Hatch said.

But other GOP members, such as Trible, Rep. Dick Cheney of Wyoming and Sen. William S. Cohen of Maine, joined with many Democrats in expressing outrage at Poindexter's claim that neither he nor the President ever lied to Congress or the American people, despite many apparent instances in which they told misleading stories.

Much of the discussion of the Administration's credibility focused on a false statement that Reagan and Poindexter made last November, asserting that all of the weapons sold to Iran could fit into one cargo plane. Despite evidence to the contrary, Poindexter said he still views the statement as "reasonably accurate."

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