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Hall Says She Smuggled Documents in Clothes : Ex-Secretary Tells Probers of Giving North Altered Memos

Times Staff Writers

Fawn Hall, former secretary to National Security Council aide Oliver L. North, revealed Monday that she slipped documents under her clothing and smuggled them out of the White House complex to her ex-boss on the day he was fired.

Among the documents that she slipped into her boots and inside the back of her clothing were revisions of year-old memoranda that Hall had been ordered to alter, primarily to delete references to North’s possibly illegal involvement in Nicaraguan rebel military activities and fund-raising. The revelations came in her first day of testimony before the congressional committees investigating the Iran- contra scandal.

Denied Earlier Report

“I was very emotional at the time and I was concerned about protecting the initiative, the Iran initiative and the contra initiative,” said Hall, who earlier had denied a report that she had hidden documents in her undergarments.

In addition, she admitted that, a few days before North was fired, she helped the Marine lieutenant colonel shred what she estimated was an 18-inch-high stack of memoranda, internal communications and logs of his daily phone messages.

Hall, who is testifying under a grant of limited immunity, also said that she conspired with North and other officials to hide the fact that they had destroyed potential evidence.

When asked whether she was curious or uneasy when asked to perform these tasks at the onset of an official investigation into North’s activities last November, Hall told the committees: “It was a policy of mine not to ask questions and just to follow instructions. I believed in Col. North and what he was doing. I had no right to question him.”

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While Hall’s role in the Iran-contra scandal is a relatively minor one, the strikingly attractive former model has become one of its most famous players. Hall, now a Pentagon clerical worker, trembled visibly during her testimony, but she steadfastly portrayed herself as the most loyal and discreet of secretaries.

‘I Can Type’

“I can type,” she noted in her opening statement, seeking to dispel any impression reminiscent of earlier Washington scandals that she was hired merely for her looks.

Hall’s testimony, which will continue today, offers the most vivid details yet to surface of the frenzied days surrounding the disclosure last November that profits from the secret sale of U.S. arms to Iran had been diverted to the Nicaraguan rebels at a time when official U.S. aid was banned.

Her account not only suggests that North engineered a cover-up effort, but also implicates North aide Robert Earle and attorney Thomas Green, who represented North briefly.

She also gave new insights into the daily goings-on at North’s office in the Old Executive Office Building where visitors included the late CIA Director William J. Casey and private fund-raisers for the contras.

Spiral Notebooks

Hall said that North made notations of his activities in small spiral notebooks and added that she believes she has seen this potentially important evidence stacked in the office of North’s lawyer, Brendan Sullivan.

North also was rumored at the time around the NSC to have kept large quantities of cash in his office, and Hall testified that he once lent her $60 in traveler’s checks--issued on a Central American bank--when she needed cash for a weekend at the beach.

However, Hall denied any memory of collecting $16,000 cash that was carried from Miami for North by Shirley Napier, administrative assistant to retired Maj. Gen. Richard V. Secord, who ran a secret contra supply operation with North.

Among North’s frequent visitors was a man Hall identified as Father Tom Dowling, who recently told Newsday that he had received $2,500 in traveler’s checks from North for contra-related activities. Dowling, who wore clerical garb whenever he visited the White House, also admitted that he is not a Roman Catholic priest.

Hall said that North once arranged for Dowling and a Nicaraguan cleric, identified as “Father Z,” to be photographed with the President.

She also recalled that she once received an urgent telephone call from Dowling indicating that “Father Z” was waiting for money that he had been promised. When Hall told North about it, she said, he instructed her to call contra fund-raiser Richard R. Miller and “tell him to take care of it.”

On Friday, Nov. 21, as Atty. Gen. Edwin Meese III was launching his investigation into the secret Iranian arms sales, North handed his secretary a number of documents that were marked with instructions on how they should be altered and retyped.

Hall had completed the alterations but had not had time to get all the copies she had made into the proper files when she was interrupted early that evening by what has come to be known as North’s “shredding party.”

North “opened the five-drawer safe and began to pull items from it, and I joined him in an effort so that he would not have to be wasting his time shredding,” Hall said. She said that North sorted the documents from the safe as she stuffed piles of them into the adjacent machine. She overloaded the shredder to the point that it jammed and Hall was forced to call a technician from the office’s Crisis Management Center to clear it.

She recalled that North aide Earle, another Marine lieutenant colonel, also joined in the shredding, carrying files and passing to Hall records of communications that were to be destroyed. Earle is scheduled to testify after Hall, possibly as early as today.

At one point, Hall said, North came across a letter from Felix Rodriguez, a retired CIA agent who had worked with the secret contra supply network but with whom North had clashed. She said he remarked, “They’ll have fun with this,” and tossed it back into the safe for investigators to find.

Undated Memo

In their rush, the three apparently did not do as thorough a job as they hoped. Over that weekend, North met with Meese and his team of Justice Department investigators. It was then that Meese discovered the single most incriminating piece of evidence--an undated memorandum in North’s safe that described the plan to divert profits from the arms sales to the contras.

Congressional investigators noted that this memorandum differed from standard NSC memos. It had no specific date, no author or addressee and none of the notations that usually appeared at the top of such documents.

Senate staff member Mark A. Belnick speculated that the April, 1986, document may have been part of a larger memo, but Hall said she could not recall whether it was. Nor could she remember whether it had ever been forwarded to anyone else. She did, however, note that it had been shown to then-National Security Adviser John M. Poindexter, who had suggested changes.

‘Lousy’ Weekend

When Hall returned to work on Monday morning, she said, she asked her boss how his weekend had gone, and he replied that it was “lousy; I was in here with the Justice Department all weekend.” She said she asked for no further details.

The following day, North told Hall that President Reagan had fired him and he soon left the office. That afternoon, he phoned from a hotel room, identified in other testimony as one used by Secord.

Hall said she relayed a telephone call from Reagan to that number and was later told by North that the President had told him that he, North, was “an American hero.” North said the President also suggested that he had been unaware of the NSC aide’s activities.

As investigators were sealing North’s office and files that afternoon, Hall said, she was horrified to learn that she had never put copies of the documents she had altered into the proper files.

“I became panicked at the fact that I had discovered these,” Hall said. “And so I called (North and said) would he please come back. . . . I whispered very low. . . . He understood in my voice the urgency of coming back to the office, and I insisted that he come back, and he did so.”

North told her to obtain a clearance for himself and attorney Green to enter the building.

Green’s conduct has been the subject of increasing scrutiny by the congressional committees, with some members suggesting that his role extended beyond that of merely offering legal representation to those threatened with prosecution. Some committee members have noted that he received a $45,000 loan and a finder’s fee of at least $40,000 from the businessmen who were running the secret contra supply operation.

As she waited for her recently fired boss, Hall said, she realized that she needed to hide the documents. “I was very nervous because I was outside (a private office) and I could be seen, and I wanted to do it very quickly,” she said. “Out of a panic, I ran into Col. Earle’s office.”

With investigators inspecting all the briefcases of those who left the office, Earle offered to hide some of the documents in his jacket, Hall said, but she told him: “No, you shouldn’t have to do this. I’ll do it.” North and Green arrived, she said, and she asked North for assurances that the packet could not be seen through her clothes.

When Hall, North and Green left the building, she said, “I indicated with a word or a gesture that I wanted to pass the documents. And Tom Green said, ‘No, wait till we get inside the car.’ ” Once in Green’s car, she gave the documents to North.

She added that Green asked her how she would reply if questioned about the shredding, and she pledged to answer only: “We shred every day.” In fact, that was the answer she gave two days later to a White House lawyer, when she was asked about reports of the shredding that first appeared in The Times.

She also noted that she and Earle had made a pact not to tell the FBI that she had removed documents from the office.

Congressional investigators said that in Hall’s haste, she did not remove all the altered documents, and that copies were found in NSC files.


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