Thornburgh, interviewed at a breakfast session with editors and reporters of The Times Washington Bureau, said he first wants to "exhaust every avenue that we can to ensure that the trial goes forward" before making such a decision.
Last month, he filed an affidavit that led to dismissal of the principal charges of conspiracy and theft against North on grounds that top-secret data would have to be disclosed for a fair trial on those counts. What remain are 12 lesser charges, including destruction of documents and false statements before Congress and a presidential board of inquiry.
Calls Charges Serious
But the attorney general told The Times that as a longtime prosecutor who believes somebody charged with serious crimes ought to come to trial, he thinks North should be tried.
"The charges are serious," he declared. "Lying to Congress, lying to the attorney general, destroying evidence. They are not minor charges."
Thornburgh said he recognizes that since the Iran-Contra scandal occurred during the Reagan Administration and both President Bush and former President Ronald Reagan have called North a "hero," halting the trial could reinforce suspicions of a government cover-up.
Dispelling such suspicions, he said, "gets back to whether people believe the attorney general and the President. I don't think there's any ulterior motive here, but that depends ultimately on our credibility."
He conceded that scuttling the case would be a political problem for the Bush Administration.