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Bush Queried, Not a Subject of Iran Probe

January 12, 1988|RONALD J. OSTROW and CATHLEEN DECKER | Times Staff Writers

WASHINGTON — Vice President George Bush was questioned under oath in his office Monday by an attorney for independent counsel Lawrence E. Walsh, though there was no indication that Bush is a subject of the Iran-Contra investigation.

Walsh's office refused to discuss the session. But sources familiar with the interview said Bush answered questions about what he privately advised President Reagan on arms sales to Iran and support of the Nicaraguan rebels, advice that he has refused to discuss publicly despite pressure from Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kan.) and other GOP presidential candidates.

"As part of the continuing process of cooperation by the President, the vice president and members of the Administration, the vice president today voluntarily met with and answered all questions posed by the members of the independent counsel staff," Stephen Hart, Bush's acting press secretary, said.

'Merely a Witness'

"All questions were answered completely, fully and under oath," he said. "The independent counsel's office again emphasized that the vice president is merely a witness and is not under investigation by the independent counsel."

Bush, campaigning last week in Iowa and New Hampshire, said repeatedly that he would "fully cooperate" with Walsh's investigators and that he is "not a target of any investigation."

An individual becomes a "target" when prosecutors find substantial evidence linking him to a crime and when they are considering seeking an indictment. A "subject" is a person whose conduct falls within the scope of a grand jury investigation. Sources have indicated that Bush is not even a subject of the grand jury investigation.

The vice president's current status suggests that Bush had no command authority and did not appear to have authorized or coordinated any relevant activity. FBI agents assigned to Walsh's office interviewed Bush about a year ago. He has not appeared before the grand jury.

'Everybody Knows'

When asked: "Why don't you let Bush tell everything" about the sale of arms to Iran and diversion of profits to the Contras, Reagan replied upon arrival for a speech in Cleveland: "Everybody knows everything about Iran-Contra."

White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater, referring to pressure by Bush's political rivals for disclosure of his role in the affair, said the President would remain neutral in the skirmish. "He's just not going to get caught up in the campaign," Fitzwater said.

During an appearance before the City Club of Cleveland, Reagan was asked whether he would pardon anyone involved in the scandal. "I would have to wait and see what takes place--whether someone is deemed breaking the law or not," the President said.

However, resurrecting a stance he had taken early in the investigation, he added: "I would have to say that, in all of the investigation that went on, I did not see any what I consider lawbreaking that was taking place on the part of anyone in the Administration."

Several Indictments Seen

Walsh is expected to seek indictments as early as next month of several former Administration officials on charges of violating congressional strictures on Contra aid, defrauding the government and obstructing justice.

Potential defendants include former National Security Advisers Robert C. McFarlane and John M. Poindexter, fired National Security Council aide Oliver L. North, retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Richard V. Secord and his business partner, Albert A. Hakim, sources familiar with the inquiry said.

Reagan has responded in writing to questions posed by Walsh, who is understood to be submitting follow-up questions on the chief executive's responses.

Staff writer James Gerstenzang in Cleveland contributed to this story.

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