Oliver North -- love or loathe him, it seems everyone has an opinion on him, and everyone wants to share it with the members of the select committees investigating the Iran-contra affair.
"It's a national town meeting," said Mac Carey, chief of staff in the office of Sen. James A. Courter (R-N.J.). Phones and mailbags have been jammed.
When counsels John W. Nields Jr. and Arthur L. Liman interrogated North, a wave of sympathy for the colonel broke over the heads of aides.
"Leave him alone!" the callers cried.
"Most characterized North as a victim. They want us to tell this mysterious 'them,' this third party, to leave him alone," said Jerry Ray, press secretary to Sen. Howell Heflin (D-Ala.).
The North supporters ranged from those who presented "long policy statements on contras" to one who suggested that "Nields needs a haircut."
"I talked to a veteran Friday who wanted to award North the congressional Medal of Honor and have him run for president on the Republican platform," said Mary Beth Carozza, press secretary to Rep. Michael DeWine (R-Ohio).
In most Hill offices, those who were logged in as "anti-North" were vehement in their dislike of him -- "I hope he burns in his uniform," one said -- but few in number.
"No more than 15 percent," said Ray.
Aides spoke this week of "overwhelming support" for North that "tapered off slightly" to a more moderate majority of callers once the senators and congressmen started to question him.
Some people didn't like what North was saying, but they seemed to direct their calls toward the committee members who appeared to share their views.
Maine Democratic Sen. George J. Mitchell's challenge to North ("it is possible for an American to disagree with you on aid to the contras and still love God, and still love this country, just as much as you do") drew almost 1,500 calls of support.
Of the 1,499 "pro-Mitchell" calls logged by Mitchell's office Monday and Tuesday, most were in response to this statement, said his press secretary, Diane Dewhirst. There were 260 con-Mitchell calls, and more than twice as many called to register their displeasure with North as to praise him.
More than 800 people wrote letters of support; 138 were counted "against" Mitchell, said Dewhirst, who declined to allow a Post reporter to read any.
Mitchell was, however, mentioned in the mail of a fellow committee member: "Bravoes to Senator Mitchell," read a telegram addressed to Senator Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah). It was placed in the "negative" pile by Hatch aides.
Hatch has been one of North's greatest champions on the committee, and his insistence Monday that he did not want North prosecuted drew about 800 calls, some 80 percent in favor of North and of Hatch's stand, said press secretary Paul Smith.
Last week's 200 calls, he said, were 90 percent favorable.
Some letters have been extremely original:
The "positive pile" in Hatch's offices included one which read: "... foreign policy is still best in the hands of the executive branch than with you wimps.
"Que viva North.
"Que viva Secord.
"Que viva Hakim."
A woman from Berkeley, Calif., who let the senator know she was 72 years old, also told him: "You are boring in your Reaganista sycophancy ..."
Others, in the far larger positive pile, praised Hatch for his patriotism and dedication, his "quiet, decisive way and fairness." "Right on, Senator -- God bless America," read one.
The approximately 300 letters received since North began testifying were 95 percent in favor of North, Smith said.
Rep. William S. Broomfield (R-Mich.), who this week called North a "great patriotic American" and said "I don't want to see you going to jail" found "a lot of support" from his constituents, according to congressional aide Nancy Moore.
At one point in the debate, she said, the "phones rang for about an hour" She estimated 90 percent of the calls backed Broomfield's defense of North.
The frequency of calls was in direct relation to the amount of "tension" evident in the day's hearings, said Ray of Heflin's office.
Those who defended North, if not always his actions, won favor with even those callers who damned the committee for having been convened.
"People tend to separate (the congressman) from the committee," said Sam Stratman, press secretary to Rep. Henry J. Hyde (R-Ill.).
In the 350 to 400 calls and "about 30 pieces of mail a day" since North began testifying, some have been critical of the committee, but seem to "make a distinction" between the majority and minority members serving on it, said Pete Williams, press secretary to Rep. Dick Cheney (R-Wyo.), ranking minority member the House Select Committee.
The office of New Hampshire's Republican senator, Warren B. Rudman, has received more than 1,500 calls since North began to testify. "It's been heavy," said his press secretary, Bob Stevenson ... but it's an important part of the democratic procedure. "The phones are ringing, people are expressing their views ... they're taking an interest in what is going on."