Meese Says Iran Affair May Have Violated Laws

Times Staff Writer

Atty. Gen. Edwin Meese III said Sunday that he believes laws may have been broken by Rear Adm. John M. Poindexter and his aide, Lt. Col. Oliver L. North, and if he had not thought so, he would not have sought a criminal investigation of the Iran- contra affair by an independent counsel.

When asked why he thought President Reagan said Friday that he had not "heard a single word" from 10 weeks of congressional hearings on the affair to indicate "that laws were broken," Meese said he believed the President meant that the Administration had not broken any laws.

Pressed to say whether he thought laws might have been broken, Meese replied: "Yes, if I didn't think that laws could have been broken, possibly then I wouldn't have launched the criminal investigation and sought an independent counsel."

Predicts Bork Confirmation

In the same interview on ABC-TV's "This Week With David Brinkley," the attorney general predicted that the Democrat-led Senate will produce the 60 votes required to shut down a possible filibuster against the President's nomination of Judge Robert H. Bork to the Supreme Court, as well as the two-thirds majority needed to confirm his appointment.

Rep. Lee H. Hamilton (D-Ind.), chairman of the House select committee investigating the Iran-contra affair, declined during an interview on the CBS program "Face the Nation" to voice a judgment on the question of official law breaking. But he said that he thought the hearings had demonstrated "a lot of confusion in the decision-making process," "a lack of accountability" at top levels, "too much secrecy" and a questionable trend toward "privatization" of U.S. foreign policy through too much reliance on private citizens and aliens to carry out U.S. designs.

Seen as 'Greek Tragedy'

Meese, whose recommendation led to the appointment last December of Lawrence E. Walsh as independent counsel to investigate disclosures that funds from clandestine sales of arms to Iran had been diverted to aid the Nicaraguan rebels, said he felt he had uncovered "a Greek tragedy in the making."

He said he hoped a constructive byproduct of the disclosures will be opportunities "in the 18 months that we have left in this Administration" to meet with members of Congress to "work out processes and procedures" to minimize chances of similar incidents in the future.

When asked if he was angry with Poindexter and North, Meese said he was "disappointed" that each of the two had lied to him on details of his activities. Poindexter "apparently" did not tell the truth, Meese said, but the former national security adviser did disclose that he had known of the diversion of the Iranian arms profits to the contras and had done nothing to stop it.

Had 'Essential Facts'

Meese said that North had disclosed the "essential facts" of a diversion scheme in which he was involved while the President was not, even though North had lied on "some aspects" of the affair.

Meese denied a suggestion that he had said North and Poindexter had broken no laws and should not be prosecuted.

On the Bork nomination, Meese said he doubted that opinion will jell in the Senate until the Judiciary Committee completes its hearings. By then, he said, "the undecideds" will be convinced by the results of the hearings, which are scheduled to start Sept. 15.

Two majority members of the Judiciary Committee, Sens. Howell Heflin (D-Ala.) and Dennis DeConcini (D-Ariz.), were divided on prospects for invoking cloture.

Interviewed on the Brinkley show, DeConcini said his guess was that 60 votes could be rounded up for a cloture motion to shut off debate. There are some Republicans, he said, who "would support Mickey Mouse or Darth Vader if the President sent them up." But Heflin, appearing with him, said he thought it would be difficult to assemble the votes for cloture.

When asked if he thought a Supreme Court nominee's ideology should be a factor in his confirmation, as some senators apparently believe, Heflin said he considered it "an element," but "you also have to consider his propensity to activism."

'Do Not Want Activist'

"I'm conservative," Heflin said. "Generally, I like his conservative bent. But I do not want an activist in that role." DeConcini said he subscribed to Heflin's position "almost totally."

Meanwhile, Bork's fellow judges appeared to support his appointment by a hairline majority, according to a poll of 405 federal and state court jurists announced in New York Sunday by the National Law Journal. The survey found 50% of them in support of the nomination, 24% opposed and 26% uncertain.

On the question of political philosophy as a factor in the confirmation, 48% said it should be a factor and 46% said it should not. While 58% of the sample said that they supported abortion rights for women, 44% endorsed Roe vs. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision asserting the constitutional right to abortions.

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