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Reagan Lawyer Objects to North Trial Request : Papers Say Defense Claim That His Appearance Is Crucial Doesn’t Outweigh Constitutional Issues

Times Staff Writer

As Oliver L. North’s lawyers prepared to put their case before the jury in his Iran-Contra trial, Ronald Reagan Wednesday objected to appearing for the defense.

Reagan’s attorney, Theodore B. Olson, filed papers with the court saying that the former President is not convinced that his testimony is necessary to North’s case.

The filing said the defense claim that North needs Reagan’s testimony “is plainly insufficient” to warrant forcing the court to deal with “the serious constitutional issues” raised by the subpoena for his appearance.

Olson’s six-page brief was one of several last-minute moves in the continuing struggle over whether Reagan will appear, as the trial judge moves toward a decision on the matter.

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Still Requires Ruling

At North’s trial, U.S. District Judge Gerhard A. Gesell indicated that there is a good chance Reagan will be compelled to testify in some fashion--including written or videotaped testimony--but he still must rule on the matter. At one point during the trial Wednesday, Gesell said that procedural preparations would have to be made “if the President was to appear.”

Gesell expects to decide before the weekend whether to have Reagan testify and said he would take into account a Wednesday filing by North’s lawyers. In it, they lay out reasons why they want Reagan to make what would be an unprecedented appearance for a former President.

In a Monday ruling, Gesell had ordered the defense to file a “succinct particularized statement of facts” on what information they want to elicit from the former President. At that time, Gesell said he still was studying whether the submission of diaries “would be sufficient under the circumstances.”

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The defense filing is not available to the prosecution, nor to Reagan. Thus, Olson said, “it will be impossible for the former President to evaluate and respond in writing” to it.

Meanwhile, the Justice Department also weighed in Wednesday night with a vigorous argument against a Reagan appearance. In a brief filed with the court, department lawyers said that “any live testimony by a former President is fraught with peril to the national security and to international relations.”

Urging the court to explore “less burdensome alternatives,” the department suggested that “other sources” could be found for the information the defense wants to elicit from Reagan.

Even if Reagan is found to be the only source of the information, the lawyers said, it could be gathered in writing. The Justice Department asked to view the defense request so it could help make the judgment on the relevancy and availability of the information that North wants from Reagan.

Portrayed as Crucial

Defense lawyers have portrayed a Reagan appearance as crucial to their case because it would bolster their effort to show that North had the blessings of his superiors in his effort to arm Nicaragua’s Contra rebels at a time when such aid was forbidden.

North, a former National Security Council aide and retired Marine, faces 12 felony counts centering on charges that he lied to Congress and obstructed congressional investigations into his secret activities to aid the rebels, including selling arms to Iran and diverting $12 million to the Contras.

The independent prosecutors have been noncommittal on what effect Reagan’s appearance would have on their case.

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