Oliver L. North, scolded by the judge for "quibbling" on the witness stand, testified today that John M. Poindexter instructed him to withhold from Congress key details of the Iran-Contra affair.
Testifying at Poindexter's Iran-Contra cover-up trial, the former National Security Council aide also said that his one-time boss approved the diversion of U.S.-Iran arms sale profits to buy weapons for the Nicaraguan Contras.
"You got the full permission and authority to do that from Admiral Poindexter?" prosecutor Dan Webb said of the diversion.
"Yes," North said.
"Before you did it, you cleared each one of these (transactions) with Admiral Poindexter before they occurred?" Webb asked.
"Yes," said the retired Marine lieutenant colonel.
Asked if he remembered Poindexter saying that the diversion should "never ever be revealed," North replied he did not "recall the specific direction, but I do remember the general admonition."
Poindexter, a retired Navy rear admiral who was President Ronald Reagan's national security adviser in 1986, is accused of obstructing congressional inquiries into the Iran-Contra affair, making false statements and destroying key documents.
North was rebuked several times by U.S. District Judge Harold Greene for "quibbles" with the prosecutor over minor details or for repeatedly failing to remember significant ones.
"Almost every time a question is asked, he says he can't recall," the judge complained. "It's like pulling teeth."
At another point, when North said he could not remember what he had said last Friday, Greene was incredulous.
"Make a little more of an effort to answer the questions, please," the judge said.
Later, Greene directed North not to try to "embroider" his answer with explanations that only made his responses less clear.
"Just answer the question," he told North, who was declared a hostile witness at the outset of his testimony last Friday.
"Let's try to stick to the facts," Greene said. "Yes, your honor," North replied.
North conceded that when he met Aug. 6, 1986, with congressmen inquiring about news reports concerning covert assistance to the Nicaraguan rebels, he was following general instructions from Poindexter to conceal the operation.
Webb pursued the line of questioning to try to dispel North's insistence on Friday that "nobody told me to lie to Congress."