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Weinberger to Face New Charge in Iran-Contra Case : Investigation: Officials say indictment will revive allegations that the former defense secretary tried to hide notes about meetings concerning the affair.

October 10, 1992|RONALD J. OSTROW | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — Iran-Contra prosecutors said Friday they will seek a new indictment of former Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger to revive allegations that he tried to hide the existence of notes he took about White House meetings on the secret sale of arms to Iran.

U.S. District Judge Thomas F. Hogan last month dismissed a charge of obstruction of Congress in connection with the notes. Prosecutor Craig A. Gillen did not specify what form the new charge will take, but he told Hogan it would not be another count of obstruction of Congress.

The wording of the dismissed count had appeared to provide a motive for Weinberger's alleged actions--suggesting that he sought to cover up the extent of White House involvement in the affair--and to give context for four remaining counts of lying to Congress and federal prosecutors.

In dismissing the obstruction charge, Hogan cited an appeals court ruling, which holds that lying to Congress is not the same as obstruction of Congress because the latter charge requires the government to allege "that the defendant influenced another person to lie to Congress." There is no such allegation in this case.

Gillen's disclosure of plans to seek a new indictment angered Weinberger's lawyer, Robert S. Bennett.

"Hopefully, after five or six years," Bennett said, referring to the length of the independent counsel's investigation, "you would have thought they could have got it right--not on the eve of trial."

Also Friday, in a victory for Weinberger, Gillen, the most experienced member of the prosecution team, said he would drop out of the case in favor of a new prosecutor.

Bennett had sought Gillen's removal on grounds that he might prejudice jurors because he was directly involved in questioning Weinberger in a session that led to one of the remaining charges.

Hogan had indicated sympathy for Bennett's argument and had advised the independent counsel's office to have alternate counsel standing by if necessary.

Gillen, in one of his last acts in the case, refused to agree to a bid by Weinberger's attorneys to have the case tried by Hogan rather than a jury. Hogan, appointed to the bench by former President Ronald Reagan, enjoys a reputation as a careful, knowledgeable judge.

"This case invited and requires a jury trial," Gillen said.

In another development, government sources confirmed that the FBI is investigating the independent counsel's loss last July of a suitcase containing classified government documents.

The suitcase reportedly disappeared when it was checked curbside at Los Angeles International Airport by a prosecutor traveling with independent counsel Lawrence E. Walsh.

Walsh was in Los Angeles to question Reagan in his investigation, sources close to the case said. Walsh subsequently ruled out any attempt to indict Reagan in his investigation of an alleged cover-up of arms sales to Iran and diversion of profits to the Nicaraguan Contras.

Walsh's chief spokeswoman, Mary Belcher, said she considered the suitcase stolen. Knight-Ridder newspapers disclosed the missing suitcase Friday, citing a letter to Walsh from Deputy Atty. Gen. George J. Terwilliger III.

The newspaper chain said it had obtained a copy of the letter "from a Bush Administration source who hoped disclosure of the incident would embarrass Walsh."

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