McFarlane Says He Signed False Letters North Drafted

Times Staff Writer

Lt. Col. Oliver L. North drafted the false and misleading letters that his boss, Robert C. McFarlane, sent to Congress about the Administration’s fund-raising efforts for Nicaragua’s Contras, McFarlane told jurors Monday at North’s trial.

However, McFarlane, who was former President Ronald Reagan’s national security adviser at the time, repeatedly said in his second day on the witness stand that he accepts “full responsibility” for the 1985 letters, which he had signed.

McFarlane’s insistence on accepting all the blame for misleading Congress about North’s support for the Nicaraguan rebels--at a time when Congress had banned U.S. military assistance to them--seemed to frustrate associate independent counsel John W. Keker, the prosecutor.

McFarlane, as the prosecution’s star witness, was called to help the government prove that North made false statements that obstructed congressional inquiries in 1985 and 1986, the heart of 12 felony counts on which the former White House aide is being tried.

“Mr. McFarlane, I appreciate your taking the burden but you already have pleaded guilty,” Keker said in exasperated tones, referring to four misdemeanor charges for which McFarlane has received two years’ probation and a $20,000 fine.


“It is Col. North who is on trial here.”

Keker then referred to a misleading letter that McFarlane had sent former Rep. Michael D. Barnes (D-Md.), then chairman of a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee, and asked again:

“Who wrote it?”

“Col. North did and I sent it,” McFarlane replied.

McFarlane explained that Barnes’ subcommittee on Central America, as well as the House Intelligence Committee then headed by Rep. Lee H. Hamilton (D-Ind.), sent him letters in August and September, 1985, demanding to know whether North, as alleged in press reports, was helping raise private donations for the Contras and was giving them military advice.

McFarlane said that North, in similar responses to both congressmen, drafted letters for him to sign that denied specific activities on behalf of the rebels.

“We have scrupulously abided by the spirit and the letter of the law (the 1984 law that banned such activities),” the letters said in part.

“None of us (the National Security Council staff) has solicited funds, facilitated contacts for prospective potential donors or otherwise organized or coordinated the military or paramilitary efforts of the resistance,” they said.

Several witnesses have testified that at the time North was actively advising and helping raise money for the Contras. But McFarlane said that North had assured him the statements were correct and said that North was able to explain some questionable references about assistance that McFarlane had found in some internal NSC memos.

McFarlane said that North, for example, told him he was giving public speeches about the Contra cause and that donors often would come forward. When that happened, “North told me he would say: ‘I cannot be involved with money; go to the Contra office in Miami,’ ” he testified.

McFarlane replied “no” when Keker asked if North ever mentioned working with private fund-raisers to solicit money from persons such as Dallas financier Nelson Bunker Hunt and Colorado beer magnate Joseph Coors.

“Was there any discussion in your talks with Col. North about lying to Congress?” Keker asked.

“No,” McFarlane replied.

But he testified at another point that North “was probably trying to protect me (from Congress). It was my fault.”

Last Friday McFarlane testified that Reagan told aides in 1984 not to reveal to Congress that some U.S. allies were being solicited for aid to the Contras to compensate for the cutoff in U.S. assistance.

“Did you interpret this policy as permitting lying to Congress?” Keker asked.

“No,” McFarlane said. “But I clearly understood that no one was to know about it.”

McFarlane is to be cross-examined today by Brendan V. Sullivan Jr., North’s defense attorney.