Former President Ronald Reagan will be needed as a "key defense witness" in the Iran-Contra trial of former National Security Adviser John M. Poindexter, a lawyer for Poindexter told a federal court hearing Wednesday.
The personal notes and diaries of both Reagan and President Bush also are crucial, defense attorney Frederick Robinson said.
Reagan Assurances Cited
Robinson said that Poindexter had relied on Reagan's assurances that his activities on behalf of Nicaragua's Contras were legal.
"Not only did Admiral Poindexter believe these things were legal, but the President himself told Poindexter that they were," Robinson told U.S. District Judge Harold H. Greene.
Poindexter is charged with conspiracy, obstruction of congressional inquiries and false statements in connection with his support of Nicaraguan rebel forces in 1985 and 1986, after Congress had banned all direct and indirect military assistance to the Contras.
Poindexter, who was deputy national security adviser and then national security adviser during the Iran-Contra affair, met frequently with Reagan with no one else present, Robinson said. For that reason, Reagan's personal notes and his recollection of events are crucial to Poindexter's defense, he argued.
Although former White House aide Oliver L. North failed in a similar attempt to obtain testimony and documents from Reagan and Bush, Poindexter's appeal is expected to warrant greater consideration because of the extent of his contact with Reagan. North was convicted on three felony charges in the Iran-Contra scandal earlier this year.
When members of Congress sent written inquiries to the White House asking whether a congressional ban on military aid for the rebels was being observed, Poindexter "went to the President to talk about" sending responses, Robinson said. He quoted Reagan as saying: "I want these things done." The indictment of Poindexter is based, in part, on the letters to Congress.
Robert C. McFarlane, Poindexter's boss in 1985, pleaded guilty to four misdemeanor charges for his role in sending misleading letters to Congress about the activities of North, then a National Security Council staff member.
"The No. 1 foreign policy of the Reagan Administration was support for the Contras, and the President directed the National Security Council staff to keep the Contras alive" during a two-year period when Congress banned military aid, Robinson said.
Bush Reportedly Briefed
Whenever Bush missed an important meeting on the Contra issue, "Admiral Poindexter briefed him afterward," he said. Robinson said that he would seek notes of those briefings taken by Bush or Bush staff members because "Poindexter no longer has access to these notes."
Similar notes made by former White House Chief of Staff Donald T. Regan and former Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger also will be sought by Poindexter, Robinson said.
Greene, who has set no date for the trial, sounded sympathetic to Poindexter's need for documents by asking Christian J. Mixter, an associate prosecutor, if there was "any reason why you couldn't make the request" for Reagan's notes and diaries.
'Not Obligated' to Seek Data
Mixter replied that he was "perfectly willing to do anything we can" but that the Office of Independent Counsel, for which he works, is "not obligated" to obtain records from a former President.
Mixter noted that U.S. District Judge Gerhard A. Gesell, who presided over North's trial, had quashed defense subpoenas for Reagan and President Bush earlier this year on grounds that their testimony was unnecessary. Gesell held that presidents should not be required to answer to courts for their official actions except in the most extreme circumstances.