WASHINGTON — President Reagan hinted to a group of House Republicans recently that he might pardon former National Security Adviser John M. Poindexter and former National Security Council aide Lt. Col. Oliver L. North, according to two congressmen who were present.
The President's remark was made at the conclusion of his March 22 appearance on Capitol Hill before the House Republican Conference, a closed meeting of the GOP members of the House.
Rep. Henry J. Hyde (R-Ill.) suggested to Reagan that "if nothing more significant develops" about the activities of North and Poindexter in the Iran-Contra scandal, the President should sign pardons for them in the waning days of his term next January.
Hyde also suggested that Reagan sign the documents in a ceremony at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
Hyde's suggestion was met with applause from the Republicans, the lawmakers said. Reagan responded that he could not discuss what he might do about pardons, the two congressmen said.
But then, according to one of them, he added: "I like the sound of those words." The other congressman recalled that Reagan said: "I like hearing what you said."
Although the President's words were ambiguous, one of the lawmakers said he felt the message was unmistakable.
"If I had been Ollie and witnessed that, I would have been pretty upbeat," the congressman said.
Both congressmen said they did not want to be identified by name because the Republican conference traditionally is a closed session. About 160 of the 177 House Republicans attended the session, at which individual lawmakers can query the President.
North, Poindexter and two others have pleaded not guilty to federal criminal charges stemming from the scandal. North and Poindexter have been charged with conspiring to defraud the government of millions of dollars in profits from arms sales to Iran and of covering up their acts by shredding documents and by lying to Congress and Justice Department investigators.
'Going to Be Found Innocent'
Three days after his private remark to the House Republicans, Reagan said publicly that North and Poindexter "are going to be found innocent, because I don't think they were guilty of any lawbreaking or any crime." Reagan also said: "I still think Ollie is a hero."
Reagan later qualified his comment about North being a hero, saying he was referring to the combat honors North had won in Vietnam.
White House Chief of Staff Howard H. Baker Jr. said recently that Reagan would not consider any pardon applications for North and Poindexter until after they are tried.
"I can tell you that the President is committed to seeing that the legal system operates. And I do not anticipate that he'll address the pardon issue until it does," Baker said.