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Iran-Contra Query: Awaiting a Verdict : While Investigation Continues, Key Figures Are Starting Over With New Jobs, Low Profiles

October 26, 1987|BETTY CUNIBERTI | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — From the halls of the Iran- contra hearings to the shores of the Chesapeake, Marine Lt. Col. Oliver L. North has a new pastime: Sailing with his attorney.

North's wife, Betsy, has received anti-feminist leader Phyllis Schlafly's "National Full-Time Homemaker of the Year" award.

Rear Adm. John M. Poindexter has had a street in Odon, Ind., named after him.

Secretary Fawn Hall has hired an agent, told all to Barbara Walters and been ticketed for eating a banana in a subway station.

Robert C. McFarlane has sold his house and declared for his 50th birthday wish that he'd like his wife to have a baby.

And Retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Richard V. Secord, who has had one business go under and started another, says that if he had the Iran-contra hearing testimony to do over "I would have built a paper fox hole with lawyers before I went into it."

Awaiting Conclusions

It seems all the major figures who testified in the Iran-contra hearings last summer are off television and in a holding pattern, awaiting the conclusions of independent counsel Lawrence E. Walsh's investigation.

While they are waiting--most immersed in the daily grind of new full-time jobs and unwilling to comment on any aspect of the situation--they and those closest to them are apparently learning the many ways, big and small, that the hearings have changed their lives, according to friends and observers.

The most pronounced long-term side effect of appearing in what became a long-running real-life television drama is the public recognition. Even the attorneys involved, like Richard Beckler, Poindexter's feisty counsel, are instantly spotted in restaurants and other public places and asked for autographs by strangers. "Most people come up and say 'Hey, great job!,' " said Beckler.

North, according to his good friend J. Andy Messing Jr., is "basically set for life financially."

"He's got millions of dollars worth of offers, endorsements, book offers, movie offers, speaking offers, the list goes on and on."

Uncertain Future

But Messing, who runs a conservative think tank called the National Defense Council Foundation, said despite the possible financial benefits, North is upset about how the Iran-contra scandal has altered his future.

"He retires (from the Marine Corps) in May of 1988, and he had planned to make the Marines a career," Messing said. "His life-long objectives were being a Marine general and leading troops, not being a celebrity of conservative America. The services like their officers to be apolitical and anonymous--and he has basically violated both."

North's attorney, Brendan Sullivan, refused to answer The Times' telephone calls. Neither of them has been talking with the press.

The Marines have given North a new job in the service plans and policy branch of the Plans, Policies and Operations department, where he helps analyze the Corps' readiness, ground combat requirements and mobilization plans.

"He goes to work and then at noon he goes to his lawyers," Messing said. "He comes home at 8 or 9 and works with his lawyers through many weekends. Occasionally he takes recreation with his lawyers, sailing or going to ballgames with them. He basically is working and playing with his lawyers, as crazy as it sounds."

Religion also has proven to be a source of strength for North, according to Messing and others. North and his family attend an Episcopal charismatic church, where the ministry has advocated speaking in tongues.

"He had a born-again experience in 1978," said one North observer who has attended North's church, "and he's integrated his religious life with his political life. It adds an element of righteousness to his cause. Religion is a very important thing with him."

Protection for North Family

A group of guards from the Naval Investigative Service are still providing North and his family security at taxpayer expense because of a death threat that has been made to North by Palestinian terrorist Abu Nidal.

"He drags the guards along with him, like to the Baltimore Orioles' game or when he goes sailing the guards go on another boat. It's very cumbersome," Messing said. "The guards seem to really like the family, and the Norths think the world of the guards."

North has "no grandiose ideas" about running for office, Messing said, even though he has received "tens of thousands of letters and is still receiving them."

North's former secretary, Fawn Hall, has had her share of headlines, the most recent last week when she was given a $10 ticket for gulping the last bite of her banana after an officer told her to stop eating it in the Washington Metro subway station.

Hall's attorney, Plato Cacheris, said Hall did not know it was against the law to eat in the subway. "I think it's a little overdrawn," he said.

Hall has a new secretarial job at the Department of the Navy and wants to wait until all the Iran-contra legal matters are concluded before plunging into a new career, a friend of hers said.

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