Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) is doubtless winning all sorts of points with the White House for his "What scandal?" performance on the Senate select committee on the Iran-contra affair. For a man who wishes to become a Supreme Court justice, this is important.
In his quest, Hatch may be acquiring an unexpected constituency. Many transgressors who heard his questioning of Fawn Hall, secretary to Lt. Col. Oliver L. North and admitted doctor, shredder and smuggler of classified documents, must be rooting for Hatch's appointment.
Hatch is an adherent of the law-and-order persuasion of the administration, but he has shown a permissiveness with Iran-contra witnesses that could make him a cult figure among the nation's prisoners. They must hope he's there with his hearts and flowers when their appeals reach the high bench. Show him a smoking gun and Hatch demands to know the identity of the brute who forced you to fire it.
Hatch is conducting a fierce search for the real villain. Congress is his leading suspect. Where others see lawlessness and chaos, he sees good intentions gone astray. "Where is the venality, where is the corruption?" he inquired on the "MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour" after five weeks of copious confirmation on both counts.
His notion is that while much that occurred during the time the National Security Council was making sport of the Boland Amendment is deplorable, it can be explained. In his booming voice, Hatch launches barrages of marshmallows at misunderstood witnesses.
Here's how he goes at someone bringing unwelcome information about the inner workings of the Reagan White House. Before him is Robert C. McFarlane, the miserable former national security adviser, who admitted that he had written three letters to Congress in which he was "too categorical" in his categorical denials of White House involvement in contra fund-raising and war-making:
"Was there any time when, during the whole period, that you were not trying to do the best you could for our country and in the best interests of our country? Albeit it can be criticized today."
With Elliott Abrams of the State Department, who lied to the Senate intelligence committee about his successful tap of a $10 million donation from the sultan of Brunei, Hatch showed the same relentless understanding. What else can a man do with a leaky Congress?
"I do understand," he solemnly assured Abrams, "some of the difficulties between answering everything and just spilling your guts before the committee, or waiting till they ask the appropriate question . . . and I can't blame you because of the loss of information that has occurred."
It was Fawn Hall, the perfectly loyal secretary, who brought out the full flower of his tolerance for the wrong thing when done by the right people. On her first appearance, Hall had appeared apprehensive, a Girl Friday brought to judgment. Overnight, she was transformed into snippy tigress for the contra cause. She snapped at senators, rapped out the creed of the true apostle of Oliver North: "Sometimes you have to go above the written law." She was in her way as contemptuous of Congress as Abrams, as tough as Richard V. Secord, the "not-in-it-for-the-money" patriot who bought himself a Porsche and an airplane out of arms-sales profits. Hall decided she was there to justify North and all his works.
In Hatch, she found an eager accomplice. He had some awkward facts to get around, but as usual, he seized the bull by the horns.
"With respect to the shredding and the other activities, which I have to admit do not look very good . . . . "
The hearing room burst with laughter. Hearing the cheerleader for the most security-minded administration in history suggest that shredding, smuggling and doctoring is not all bad, was too much, even for some of the members.
Looking stern, Hatch plowed on. "Do you feel that regardless of how bad they might look, and I think there are some who have tried to put the worst face on that, and some of them right here in this room . . . do you think that we should hear Col. North's explanation for those actions before we draw any final conclusions?"
If Reagan survives, he may indeed name Hatch a Supreme Court justice as a reward for service above and beyond. If that fails, Hatch should perhaps be made an honorary Knight of the Garter, a select group named for a medieval king who said, "Honi soit qui mal y pense," which is French for what Hatch always says: Shame on anyone who thinks this looks awful.