Senate Probers May Back Immunity to Speed Inquiry
The Democratic chairman and the ranking Republican member of the Senate committee named last week to probe the Iranian arms scandal voiced concern Sunday about the impact of protracted investigations on the presidency and on U.S. foreign policy, and indicated they might support grants of immunity to key witnesses to speed development of the facts.
“My concern . . . is that by this process, we have inadvertently or deliberately injured our presidency, and the President,” said Sen. Daniel K. Inouye (D-Hawaii), chairman of the newly designated special Senate committee. “And history has shown us on many o1667457395adversaries view our President as being injured, they attempted to do mischief.”
Inouye told a questioner on ABC’s “This Week With David Brinkley” that he was “concerned about the airwaves being inundated with this crisis.” He said he was “all for bringing out the facts,” but warned against “deliberately prolonging” the inquiry. Already, he told his interviewer, accounts by “some of your colleagues” have persuaded some Americans that “the President is the villain.”
Although a majority of the Senate Intelligence Committee rejected President Reagan’s proposal last Tuesday that the group grant limited immunity from prosecution in return for testimony from reluctant witnesses, Inouye showed some interest in the idea.
Inouye said it was still too early to decide whether immunity should be extended to pry testimony from Vice Adm. John M. Poindexter, who resigned last month as the President’s national security adviser, and from Marine Lt. Col. Oliver L. North, who was dismissed as a National Security Council aide, both of whom invoked the Fifth Amendment to ward off congressional questions.
But Inouye said answers must be found to important questions involving the work of the NSC and the scandal’s foreign policy implications, and “if it takes a grant of immunity to get to these questions, that will be considered, yes.”
The special committee’s ranking Republican member, Sen. Warren B. Rudman (R-N.H.), who appeared with Inouye, agreed that a prolonged “national anguish” would not be justified by “the possible imprisonment for a short period of time of a few people for things that they thought they were doing right but violated the law.”
In another televised interview Sunday, incoming Speaker of the House Jim Wright (D-Tex.) went even further, saying Reagan should pardon North and Poindexter.
By pardoning them, he said, the President would take full responsibility for his former subordinates’ actions--regardless of whether he knew specific details--and clear the way for both to divulge testimony they have withheld on grounds that it could incriminate them.
“If he truly wants them to come forward and tell the whole truth, and if he wants them to have immunity from prosecution, there’s a simple way, a straightforward way,” Wright said. “He can grant it with a stroke of a pen. Presidential pardon is the ultimate immunity.”
Wright’s suggestion, coming days after congressional investigators refused to grant North and Poindexter limited immunity, as Reagan requested, was criticized as premature by Republicans and Democrats involved in the probe.
Rep. Lee H. Hamilton (D-Ind.), who will head the House counterpart of the Senate investigation, said during an interview on CBS News’ “Face the Nation” that “we must hear from Mr. Poindexter and Mr. North,” adding that committee representatives will “negotiate with them to find out what are appropriate circumstances” under which they are ready to testify. However, Hamilton said it was important to “get the facts before we judge about immunity, before we judge about pardon.”
Sen. Dave Durenberger (R-Minn.), chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, before which Poindexter and North invoked the Fifth Amendment, said during an appearance with Hamilton that the principal problem before the investigators was “how could all of this happen in this presidency organized as it is?”
While Reagan’s asserted long-range objective of finding an opening to Iran was “a correct policy,” Durenberger said, it became interwoven with other efforts aimed at ending hostage-taking and at the release of hostages held in the Middle East; at upholding Israel’s position on the Iran-Iraq war and at helping finance the rebels in Nicaragua.
Taken individually, “you wouldn’t do” any of these, Durenberger said, “because the danger from public knowledge is too great,” but “when you put it all together, it looked doable, but the risks weren’t any lower; and that’s what went wrong.”
Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.), a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, appearing on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” also challenged suggestions that the arms deal was not linked directly with efforts to free the hostages.
“If the President and vice president (George Bush) still truly believe this was not an arms for hostages situation,” Nunn said, “it indicates either that they have not got the facts, or they simply cannot come to grips with the facts.”
Sen. William S. Cohen (R-Me.), appearing with Nunn, urged an effort to pin individual responsibility for the undertaking.
“There were so many people who tried to kill this program, almost from its inception. . . . “It kept coming back to life. So I think you have to ask the question who was responsible for keeping the program alive, and it seems to me it was the President or Bill Casey (CIA Director William J. Casey), or someone advising the President to continue on this track.”