WASHINGTON — Lt. Col. Oliver L. North, the key target of the Iran-Contra investigation of special prosecutor Lawrence E. Walsh, appeared today for the first time before a federal grand jury but spent less than half an hour before the panel.
North, dressed in full Marine uniform, and his lawyers, Brendan Sullivan and Barry Simon, refused to comment on the fired National Security Council aide's brief appearance and declined to say whether North invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination in refusing to testify.
North invoked that right in investigations by Congress, and has also challenged Walsh's investigation in court numerous times.
After the session, Walsh associate counsel Paul Friedman also declined to say whether North invoked the Fifth Amendment protection, which must apply to all questions asked of him. However, North's several brief stints before the panel made it appear that he was not cooperating.
Shouting Match in Hall
North, fired last Nov. 25 for his key role in the secret U.S. sale of arms to Iran and diversion of the proceeds to Nicaraguan rebels, entered the grand jury room late this morning and emerged several times to consult with his lawyers, apparently after he was asked questions pertaining to material in a black loose-leaf notebook he was holding.
Only one of North's appearances inside the grand jury room stretched longer than two minutes.
North began testifying after a brief shouting match in the hallway outside the grand jury room between Sullivan and a prosecutor working for Walsh.
"We've always followed the law, we've always followed the law!" defense attorney Sullivan shouted at Michael Bromwich.
Accompanied by Bodyguard
North met with his attorneys and prosecutors for more than an hour before entering the grand jury room.
North, under a death threat, was flanked by one bodyguard and his two lawyers.
Leaving the courthouse, North declined comment on his appearance but stopped to shake a bystander's hand in response to a greeting and said, "Bless you."
North's appearance came as Atty. Gen. Edwin Meese III made his fifth appearance before another federal grand jury upstairs, led by special prosecutor James McKay to investigate Meese's ties to the controversial Wedtech Corp. Former national security adviser Robert C. McFarlane also was present on the same floor as the grand jury room.
At the same time, the perjury trial for former White House aide Michael K. Deaver continued a floor below.
Walsh, who has been conducting a sweeping investigation of the Iran-Contra affair since his appointment last Dec. 19, has battled North in court for months as the former NSC aide fought a subpoena to turn over samples of his handwriting to investigators.
Walsh is believed to be pursuing a broad conspiracy case against North and retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Richard V. Secord and arms dealer Albert A. Hakim for allegedly defrauding the U.S. government of funds in the diversion scheme. Swiss bank records obtained Tuesday are expected to spell out those transactions and indictments are expected by the end of the year.
Two conservative fund-raisers who are cooperating with Walsh's investigation identified North as a co-conspirator in a plan to use a tax-exempt foundation to raise money for the Contras.