The prosecutor in the Iran-Contra case conceded Friday that the Justice Department could scuttle the trial of Oliver L. North and three co-defendants if it determines that disclosure of government secrets would damage national security.
In a legal memorandum filed in the case, independent counsel Lawrence E. Walsh said he "must be deferential to the executive's determination as to whether national security concerns prevent public disclosure of validly classified information."
Walsh has 50,000 classified government documents that may be relevant to the prosecution of charges that North, a fired National Security Council aide; former National Security Adviser John M. Poindexter, and their co-defendants conspired to illegally divert to the Nicaraguan rebels profits from sales of U.S. arms to Iran.
Another 250,000 secret documents may contain information relevant to the defense in the case.
U.S. Intelligence Secrets
By Walsh's description, the most sensitive portion of the documents--5% to 10%--contains secrets about U.S. intelligence and military operations and sensitive foreign policy initiatives.
Under the Classified Information Procedures Act, the attorney general must certify to the court that disclosure of certain documents as evidence in court would endanger national security. The law provides for substitution of summaries of the documents or statements of what the evidence would prove if revealed in open court.
The court has the power to dismiss criminal cases if too much evidence is withheld.
U.S. District Judge Gerhard A. Gesell has warned that he would dismiss charges against North, Poindexter and arms dealers Richard V. Secord and Albert A. Hakim if relevant secret documents are not declassified for use as evidence.
Gesell also has expressed an unwillingness to spend a lot of time rewriting classified documents so they could be presented as evidence in a public trial.