A federal judge refused today to order Ronald Reagan to testify at Oliver L. North’s trial, saying “nothing . . . remotely supports” the defense claim that the former President authorized illegal activities.
“There has been no showing that President Reagan’s appearance is necessary to assure Lt. Col. North a fair trial,” U.S. District Judge Gerhard A. Gesell said in a written order.
Attorneys for North, a former National Security Council aide, have argued during the six-week-trial that the retired Marine was acting on Reagan’s authority when he defied Congress by raising money and providing military assistance to the Nicaraguan Contras in 1985 and 1986.
In December, defense lawyers issued a subpoena to compel Reagan’s appearance in court.
But Gesell, ruling only hours before hearing arguments on a defense request that he dismiss the charges against North, said he could find nothing to indicate North was acting on Reagan’s authority.
“The trial record presently contains no proof that defendant North ever received any authorization from President Reagan to engage in the illegal conduct alleged, either directly or indirectly, orally or in writing,” Gesell wrote. “Accordingly, the subpoena is quashed.”
The prosecution rested its case Thursday after calling 29 witnesses, and the defense is scheduled to begin its case before the jury on Monday.
In his five-page order, Gesell said no presidential privilege prevented him from ordering the former President to testify, had defense attorneys made a sufficient case that Reagan’s appearance was essential to a fair trial.
“Defendant has wholly failed to make this necessary showing,” Gesell said.
Had Gesell granted the defense request, Reagan would have been the first former President to be compelled to testify in a criminal proceeding concerning his conduct while in office.
Gesell said he reviewed numerous documents and the trial record in reaching his decision.
Reagan cooperated with the independent counsel’s investigation, which has uncovered “voluminous materials, classified and non-classified, running into hundreds of thousands of pages of White House documents,” Gesell said.
The judge said he examined portions of Reagan’s personal diaries as well as extensive written answers to questions posed by the grand jury that indicted North in March, 1988.
“Nothing there even remotely supports an authorization claim,” Gesell said, agreeing with arguments made by Reagan’s personal attorney, Theodore B. Olson.