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North Likened to Adolf Hitler by Prosecutor : Characterization During Closing Arguments Draws Ire of Defense

Times Staff Writer

Former White House aide Oliver L. North’s prosecutor drew an angry response from North’s defense lawyer Tuesday when he likened the retired Marine lieutenant colonel to Nazi leader Adolf Hitler.

North and his boss, former White House National Security Adviser Robert C. McFarlane, “were following Adolf Hitler’s official strategy, which is the victor will never be asked if he told the truth,” prosecutor John W. Keker declared.

Terming the comparison “outrageous,” defense attorney Brendan V. Sullivan Jr. shouted: “This man is not Adolf Hitler and he doesn’t do things like Adolf Hitler.”

The bitter clash erupted as Keker and Sullivan began their closing arguments to North’s federal court jury, which later this week will start to weigh the 12 felony counts against him. The charges include lying to Congress about his activities in support of Nicaragua’s Contras, as well as obstructing a presidential inquiry, destroying documents and accepting an illegal gratuity.

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Keker pictured North as a habitual liar. “He is the Joe Isuzu of government,” he told the jury, comparing North to a car salesman in a television commercial who lies outrageously.

The prosecutor described North as “a man who used his position to get things done” but laid blame for his misdeeds on his superiors. Keker said that the prophet Isaiah could have been describing North with the words: “The wicked walk on every side.”

Sullivan, replying later, asked the jury: “Is Col. North supposed to be wicked? When you focus on whether Col. North had criminal intent in what he did, you will find that the government has not proved it beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Keker agreed that criminal intent is central to the jury’s decision but he insisted that North’s intent to deceive was unmistakable.

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“Most of what North did"--including false statements he made to Congress--is not in dispute, the prosecutor said. “What it comes down to is what was in Oliver North’s mind, what was his intent.”

He asked the jury to examine the letters to Congress drafted by North for McFarlane’s signature. “They were false,” Keker declared. “They were clearly intended to mislead. They were designed to obstruct, halt, foul up--any way you want to put it--inquiries by Congress.”

North sat stone-faced at the defense table as Keker methodically tried to dismantle his image as an American hero.

“Telling the truth is something you learned at your mother’s knee,” Keker said. “Government by deception is not a free government. Government by deception is not a democratic government. Government by deception is not a government under the rule of law.”

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And, he declared in a low, unemotional voice: “In time, a good man turned into a bad man. Once lying becomes a habit, it’s hard to stop.”

Referring to North’s secret efforts to resupply the Contras in 1985 during a period when Congress had banned U.S. aid to the rebels, Keker declared: “Oliver North wanted to get it done. He didn’t care if he broke the law.”

He said that “the tragedy of Oliver North is of a man who cared so much for freedom in Nicaragua, but forgot about the demands of freedom and democracy here at home.”

He told the jury that the case against North does not depend on whether the legislative prohibition on Contra aid was good or bad policy or whether North violated it. Rather, he said, it centers on whether North lied to Congress about what he was doing.

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Keker implied that North lacked character in blaming McFarlane for many of his misdeeds. “At least McFarlane was man enough to admit he was guilty of withholding information from Congress,” he said.

McFarlane, who pleaded guilty to four misdemeanors last year, was sentenced last month to two years probation, fined $20,000 and required to perform 200 hours of community service.

Sullivan noted that McFarlane had been allowed to plead guilty to misdemeanors while North was charged with 12 felonies. McFarlane signed the untruthful letters to Congress, North’s lawyer said, but “a colonel is charged with a Cabinet officer’s act.”

Sullivan painted a picture of North as a valiant patriot. As a platoon leader in Southeast Asia, Sullivan said, “he laid his life on the line in Vietnam for freedom and democracy.

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“In the White House, he consumed his life to help freedom fighters (the Contras) who were desperate for freedom and desperate for democracy. And working 15 to 20 hours a day, he tore himself apart to try to get American hostages released"--a reference to the effort to sell arms to Iran in return for freedom for Americans held in Lebanon by Iranian sympathizers.

He said the case is “the government blaming Ollie North for everything.”

“Your verdict must be unanimous,” Sullivan continued. “If one person believes there should be no conviction, there can be none. Never surrender to your conscience.”

Sullivan will conclude his closing remarks today before U.S. District Judge Gerhard A. Gesell, and Keker then will present his rebuttal. Gesell will give his lengthy instructions to the jury Thursday.

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