Local Viewers React to Hearings : North Seen as Scapegoat
On Lt. Col. Oliver North’s fourth day of testimony in the Iran- contra hearings, many Orange County residents watching him on restaurant TVs Friday said they believed he has testified honestly and is a scapegoat for higher-ups in the Reagan Administration.
“He’s doing a hell of a job,” said Steve Rausch of Costa Mesa as he and friends watched TV at the Knowl-Wood restaurant in Irvine.
“He’s putting up a good front. He admits he’s made mistakes, and has done things that have been bad decisions.”
But Rausch added: “It appears that public opinion is making a hero out of him, and I’m not so sure I feel that way. I think the Congress may be the pot calling the kettle black, but I think the public has a right to know what the hell’s going on.”
North is a key witness in congressional hearings into secret arms sales to Iran that involved the diversion of money to the contra rebels fighting to overthrow the government of Nicaragua at a time when Congress had barred military aid to the rebels.
Ken Kendrick of Mission Viejo, also watching at the restaurant, called North a “scapegoat” whose testimony “indicates the President is much more aware of things than he led us to believe.”
“North gives you the appearance of the scoutmaster,” said Kendrick, western region audit manager for ITT Industrial Technology Corp.
“He had a lot of power. I think his testimony is credible. I think the powers above were fully aware of what’s going on. He’s a scapegoat . . . basically doing what his superiors approved.”
Jeff Wallace of Orange discussed North’s testimony with his wife as they ate.
North “came across pretty credible, but there seems to have been a lot of twisting of events and facts,” said Wallace, general counsel of the Irvine Office and Industrial Co.
“I think the guy was following orders, but I think there was a lot of camouflage put on it from the time he did what he did and the time he testified,” he said.
“I think he wasn’t the guy who was making the decisions, but it’s really difficult to say whether the President knew (of the arms sales) or not.”
Rick Hutchinson, a bartender at Spaghetti Station in Anaheim, said he likes “how they’re bringing (the affair) out into the open.”
“He’s being straightforward and telling how he feels. I feel he was just following orders, and there are more people involved who haven’t been brought to the surface and won’t be.”
Republican leaders in the county reported that since Tuesday they have been flooded with phone calls--all praising North.
Assemblyman Gil Ferguson (R-Newport Beach) said his office has been “besieged by calls since Tuesday by people wanting to know where they could call, where they could send money” to support North.
On Thursday, Ferguson said, a lieutenant told him some Marines at the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station wanted to start an Ollie North Legal Defense Fund. Ferguson said he supports that idea.
Since Tuesday, more than 175 people have called the office of Rep. Robert E. Badham (R-Newport Beach) to express support for North, according to the congressman’s press secretary, Paul Wilkinson. The office has also received several lettergrams and mailgrams, all backing North, Wilkinson said.
“We’re expecting a deluge” of mail, Wilkinson said. “A lot of people are very emotional about it. Someone who called called the hearings a circus. Somebody else said the country doesn’t need to wash its dirty laundry in the Potomac.”
To Bill Caouette, owner of Tale of the Whale restaurant in Newport Beach, North is “an American hero and should be promoted to general.”
After watching North’s testimony Friday, Caouette concluded: “I think he’s a patriot through and through, and we’d be in a hell of a lot better shape if this country had more people like him.”
Whether pleased or distressed by North’s testimony so far, the feeling of many people was best expressed by Jeff Wallace:
“Things have started getting interesting now.”