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Prosecutor Mocks Reagan’s Testimony as Foggy and Biased : Iran-Contra: But Poindexter’s attorney offers a spirited defense of the former President’s forgetfulness. The case goes to the jury Monday.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A federal prosecutor, mocking the videotaped defense testimony of former President Ronald Reagan as foggy and biased, urged a jury Friday to ignore Reagan and convict former White House official John M. Poindexter for his role in the Iran-Contra scandal.

In a histrionic counter-argument, however, defense attorney Richard W. Beckler, repeatedly slapping his fist into the palm of his hand, denied that Poindexter, a retired admiral and Reagan’s national security adviser, had ever obstructed or lied to Congress.

“This man here,” Beckler said, pointing to the 53-year-old defendant, “gave his ever-loving best to give as much information as he could, truthfully and accurately, because that is what the President of the United States wanted him to do.”

After the defense and prosecution finished their final arguments, U.S. District Judge Harold H. Greene said that he would send the case to the jury Monday morning.

Poindexter, the highest-ranking Reagan Administration official to go on trial in connection with the Iran-Contra affair, is charged with five counts of conspiracy to destroy documents and obstruct and lie to Congress.

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Poindexter did not take the witness stand in his defense during the last of the major Iran-Contra trials.

The 7 1/2 hours of videotaped testimony from Reagan drew a good deal of attention from both prosecutor Dan K. Webb and Beckler in their closing arguments, perhaps because its novelty made the lawyers unsure of its impact on the jury.

Stating that “Ronald Reagan didn’t seem to remember anything,” Webb said the former President angered him twice during his testimony. “I hope it didn’t show because I think former Presidents deserve respect,” he said.

The first moment came when “toward the end of his testimony, he turned to John Poindexter and winked on the videotape,” Webb told the jury.

“When people come into court, we expect them to give fair and truthful testimony,” the prosecutor said. “When a person is so biased that he turns to a witness and winks, as if to say, ‘Did that help you, John?’ . . . Well, I would have expected more of a former President than that.”

The prosecutor said the second moment occurred when Reagan was shown two letters that Poindexter had sent to House committee chairmen, denying White House involvement in arming the Contras in their fight against the Sandinista government in Nicaragua.

Reagan, Webb recalled, had testified that he would have sent the same letters but that he would have added some profanities.

Under cross-examination, Webb said, it soon became clear that Reagan “gave that testimony because he didn’t have the foggiest idea these were false letters sent to Congress.”

“The reason why Ronald Reagan was called to the stand,” Webb told the jurors, “was in the hopes that if you listened to the testimony of a former President in support of John Poindexter instead of looking at the facts and evidence, you would assume that just because the President testified, you ought to acquit John Poindexter.”

Beckler, on the other hand, stressed the defense theme that Poindexter was only following the orders of Reagan, and that those orders authorized him to tell only the truth.

“It was not some grimy little conspiracy as the prosecutor would have you people believe,” Beckler said. “He (Poindexter) was working for the President of the United States. The President of the United States was the driving engine behind his actions.”

Beckler then offered a spirited defense of the 79-year-old former President’s forgetfulness on the witness stand. “My mother is the same age as President Reagan,” he said. “But if you put her on the stand, she would forget things that happened five years ago. The fact that he forgot many things does not mean that his testimony is not relevant.”

Citing the letters that Poindexter sent to Congress, Beckler said, “When Admiral Poindexter answered those letters, he stood in the shoes of the President of the United States.”

Despite a congressional prohibition on supplying military aid to the Contras, Beckler said, “He (Reagan) testified over and over that he wanted those Contras supported, and he felt that he could do whatever he wanted to keep that support going.”

The jury observed two sharply contrasting legal styles during the final day’s arguments.

Webb spoke softly and precisely, much like a schoolteacher, as he led the jurors through the maze of the Iran-Contra affair. He explained how Poindexter’s aide, Lt. Col. Oliver L. North, had organized a secret operation to supply arms to the Contra, then involved himself in a covert deal to sell arms to Iran in hopes of freeing American hostages in the Middle East, and finally linked the two operations by diverting profits from the Iran sales to the Contras.

Beckler took a much different approach. Raising his voice, slapping his hands, sounding indignant, even truculent, about the accusations against Poindexter, the defense attorney aggressively denied that the former national security adviser had obstructed or lied to Congress or destroyed any documents.

He painted Poindexter, in fact, as a political victim “of a concerted action by Congress hand in hand with the independent counsel” to embarrass the Reagan White House. The independent counsel’s office was set up to prosecute Iran-Contra cases.

“They knew in the Congress that they didn’t have enough clout to go after the President of the United States,” Beckler said, “so they decided to take a shot at the admiral here.”

Webb, however, ridiculed Beckler’s defense as a “scatter-gun, unfocused, let’s throw mud against the wall and see if it sticks kind of defense . . . in hopes some of it will confuse you as jurors.

“I respectfully submit,” the prosecutor said, “that type of defense insults your intelligence as jurors in this case.”


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