Former President Ronald Reagan will not have to appear this week at Oliver L. North’s Iran-Contra trial, but he may be called later, a federal judge ruled Monday.
U.S. District Judge Gerhard A. Gesell’s ruling came in a two-page order that directed the defense to file by Wednesday afternoon a “succinct particularized statement of facts” on what information they seek from Reagan.
Brendan V. Sullivan Jr., North’s attorney, filed his request last week in an attempt to put the former President on the stand as the first defense witness on Friday. But Gesell said that he could not decide the issue by then and he ordered Sullivan to proceed with other witnesses.
“There is insufficient time to resolve the pending questions relating to President Reagan’s personal appearance to contemplate his appearance by Friday, March 31, as requested,” the judge said in his order.
Defense lawyers seek to show that the former President and his aides approved of North’s effort to arm the Nicaraguan rebels in defiance of a congressional ban on such assistance.
North, a former National Security Council aide and retired Marine, faces 12 felony counts centering on charges that he lied to Congress and obstructed its investigations into his secret activities to aid the Contras.
Gesell, who in January quashed North’s subpoena of President Bush, refused to do the same in the case of Reagan. He has hinted that he might order the former President to testify if trial testimony shows his appearance to be critical.
Defense hopes of getting Reagan on the stand rose earlier this month when former National Security Adviser Robert C. McFarlane testified that Reagan had instructed aides to “keep the Freedom Fighters (Contras) together, body and soul,” after Congress’ 1984 cutoff of military aid.
But Gesell dashed defense hopes of having Reagan lead off testimony for North. In his order, the judge said that “before determining whether or not President Reagan will . . . be required to appear, several matters” must be considered, including whether Reagan “personally objects” to appearing.
The judge said that he must also consider whether Reagan’s version of events could be obtained through deposition, with or without video. Gesell also said that he is studying whether the submission of diary entries “would be sufficient under the circumstances.”
Mark Weinberg, Reagan’s spokesman, declined to say whether the former President would continue to challenge the subpoena or agree to testify at a later date. “Our policy is not to comment on developments in the case,” Weinberg said in Los Angeles.
A source familiar with prosecution strategy who asked to remain anonymous said that, while an appearance by Reagan “would have been a splashy beginning” for the defense, prosecution lawyers have intended all along to prove their case with or without the former President.
Prosecution testimony is scheduled to resume today.