WASHINGTON — In the face of renewed speculation over whether President Reagan will pardon the two central figures in the Iran-Contra affair, Reagan and White House officials Monday avoided sending any signals about the President's intentions.
When asked whether he might pardon Rear Adm. John M. Poindexter and Marine Lt. Col. Oliver L. North, Reagan responded: "That's a question no one can answer."
The question has lingered for nearly a year, and it took on renewed life over the weekend, when rumors circulated that Reagan might issue the pardons on Thanksgiving Day while he is at his California ranch.
Such pardons would cut short the independent counsel's investigation of the Iran-Contra roles of Poindexter, who was Reagan's national security adviser during the affair, and North, who was a Poindexter deputy on the staff of the National Security Council.
Independent counsel Lawrence E. Walsh is presenting evidence to a federal grand jury investigating the sale of weapons to Iran and the diversion of profits to the Nicaraguan rebels. No indictments are expected until January.
The White House confirmed last week that Reagan received a letter last summer from William P. Clark, one of Poindexter's predecessors as national security adviser and a longtime Reagan adviser, recommending pardons for the two. When the letter was disclosed, White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater would say only: "The President says he won't discuss it, period."
On Monday, Fitzwater refused again to discuss the politically explosive issue. But he indicated that no pardons should be expected while Reagan is spending the holiday at his ranch north of Santa Barbara, Calif. Reagan leaves Washington today.
"I don't expect any significant news on this trip," the spokesman said, calling the rumors a "media phenomena" and adding: "I don't want to lend any credence to these media rumors. It just lends credence to idle speculation and ill-founded rumors."
Reagan was questioned twice in public Monday about pardons, first when he posed with a 55-pound Thanksgiving turkey presented to the White House and then during a photo session at the start of a meeting with business leaders.
Eleven months ago--just before the Christmas holiday--the subject of pardons was raised by White House aides, then-White House spokesman Larry Speakes said at the time. He added that Reagan rejected the idea.
Meanwhile, Reagan defended his appointment of a military officer, Army Lt. Gen. Colin Powell, to be his national security adviser despite the recommendation of the Iran-Contra committees that a civilian hold the post. Powell succeeds Frank C. Carlucci, who was sworn in Monday as secretary of defense.
Carlucci succeeds Caspar W. Weinberger, who resigned earlier this month because of his wife's health.
When asked by a reporter why he had named an officer to the post in light of the congressional recommendation, Reagan said at Carlucci's swearing-in: "I guess I wasn't listening. I think the man I appointed has served as (Carlucci's) second-in-command, his deputy . . . . I don't think wearing a uniform and a few stars takes away anything from that."
The President, who has not commented in detail on the committees' work, was reminded that he had said that, once the panels finished their work, "you won't be able to shut me up."
"Maybe they labored and brought forth a mouse," he said.