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Reagan Answering Contra Affair Queries From Walsh

November 18, 1987|JAMES GERSTENZANG | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — President Reagan, aided by his staff, is drafting responses to a list of written questions posed by independent counsel Lawrence E. Walsh on the President's recollections about the Iran-Contra affair, the White House said Tuesday.

White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said Reagan is complying voluntarily with Walsh's request for information for use in the criminal cases the special prosecutor is preparing in the scandal. Fitzwater stressed that Reagan is not a target of the probe.

The presidential spokesman said Reagan received the questions last month and is answering them in sworn responses that carry the same legal standing as a deposition delivered under oath.

Face-to-Face Query Avoided

A White House official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the responses were arranged as part of an agreement that would, at least for the time being, allow Reagan to avoid a face-to-face interrogation by Walsh and his investigators.

Fitzwater said no specific agreement was reached about future questioning of the President. "There were no deals associated with it, no indication of whether or not the independent counsel wants any further examination or interviews," he said.

The approach taken with Reagan was perhaps the easiest course for the President because it gave him more than a month to respond to whatever questions the independent counsel and his staff developed for him, allowing the White House to draft responses and then refine them into an account approved by his lawyers.

In addition under the process, Reagan will not have to face the sort of probing examination that other witnesses would face when called to testify before a grand jury.

Cooperation Reported

The process also precludes any direct confrontation between Walsh and the White House, which is said to have been cooperating with the investigation by turning over stacks of requested documents.

Reagan has said he had no knowledge of the diversion of profits to the Nicaraguan rebels from the sale of weapons to Iran, a key element in the scandal. Rear Adm. John M. Poindexter, the President's former national security adviser, testified before Congress' Iran-Contra committees that he believed that Reagan would have approved the diversion of the funds had he known about it.

Thus, Reagan's own account of the affair could become an element in any legal cases stemming from the investigation. The Walsh probe is not expected to produce indictments until after Jan. 1.

Officials refused to disclose any details about the questions. "Because of the nature of legal proceedings, we can't discuss the content of the questions or even the number," Fitzwater said.

Account of Events Shifted

Although Reagan is answering the questions "based on his own knowledge," Fitzwater said, the President is also relying on the "help of counsel." Reagan's account of key events in the scandal has shifted several times, including during his private appearances before the commission headed by former Sen. John Tower (R-Tex.), which he appointed to investigate the scandal.

With only one or two exceptions, the President's current senior staff and many mid-level staff members all have arrived at the White House since the Iran-Contra scandal broke. Few of Reagan's current assistants had any direct connection to the events or the internal review of the President's role in the affair.

"He's working on it and we have to have it done within a couple of weeks," the White House spokesman said, but "there's no deadline."

Staff writer Ronald J. Ostrow contributed to this story.

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