In an article yesterday on the shredding of documents by former White House aide Oliver L. North, the attorney mentioned in reference to events of last Nov. 25, involving North and his lawyer, was Thomas C. Green, North's counsel at that time, not his current attorney. (Published 6/28/87)
Former White House aide Oliver L. North Jr. returned to his office and shredded more documents after being interviewed by Attorney General Edwin Meese III last Nov. 23 about a memo outlining the diversion of profits from U.S.-Iran arms sales to aid the Nicaraguan contras, congressional sources said yesterday.
The action, which followed by two days a shredding incident described by Fawn Hall, North's secretary, probably took place the evening of that Sunday interview, but may have occurred Monday or Tuesday night in the Old Executive Office Building.
Rep. Henry J. Hyde (R-Ill.) told reporters yesterday that the Iran-contra investigating committees had evidence of a "nocturnal shredding." Sen. Warren B. Rudman (R-N.H.) implied at Thursday's hearings that shredding occurred after Meese interviewed North. A knowledgeable congressional source said both descriptions are accurate.
Marine Lt. Col. North was fired from the staff of the National Security Council on Tuesday, Nov. 25.
There had already been hints that North destroyed documents after two Justice Department officials under Meese's direction had examined his files, beginning Saturday morning, Nov. 22.
Hall told the select committees that she recalled North shredding a foot-and-a-half thick stack of documents from his safe, "probably" on the afternoon of Friday, Nov. 21. But she also testified that she had some recollection of shredding in the evening.
Another source said Hall initially had been uncertain of when the shredding took place and said it could have been later than that Friday.
Hall testified under a grant of limited immunity from prosecution.
At Thursday's hearings, Rudman criticized Meese's handling of the North interview, which was part of an inquiry begun at President Reagan's orders on Nov. 21 to sort out conflicts among top administration officials over the facts of the U.S. arms sales to Iran.
Rudman charged that Meese and his deputies -- who had little experience in criminal investigations -- should have brought the Federal Bureau of Investigation or a veteran prosecutor into the inquiry once the diversion document was discovered. And he told Assistant Attorney General Charles J. Cooper, Thursday's witness, that the officials had "telegraphed" to North what documents they were interested in so that North "knew exactly what to do when he heard what you had."
On Friday afternoon, Nov. 21, Meese had asked the national security adviser, Vice Adm. John M. Poindexter, to put together NSC files on the Iran arms sales for review the next day.
On Saturday, files were made available to Assistant Attorney General William Bradford Reynolds by North's deputy, Marine Lt. Col. Robert L. Earl, who was also identified by Hall as having participated in the shredding the day before.
While examining the documents, Reynolds discovered what has come to be called the "smoking gun" memo: a five-page North memorandum, requiring a presidential decision, containing a paragraph that suggests how money from a major U.S.-Iran arms transactions could be diverted to aid the Nicaraguan rebels.
Reynolds made a copy of this and other documents and took them to a lunch with Meese at the Old Ebbitt Grill.
According to a Justice Department spokesman, more than one version of this document exists, and another version of it does not contain the paragraph with the diversion reference.
According to Hall's testimony, on the afternoon before Reynolds arrived, when shredding took place, she was directed to alter five highly classified NSC documents relating to Central America, but not the diversion memo.
Another mystery that investigators are looking into is why Hall, by all descriptions a dedicated and skilled secretary, forgot to substitute the altered Central American documents for the originals in North's files for a full four days after completing the modifications. She testified that she only remembered them on Tuesday afternoon, Nov. 25, after North had been fired and another NSC official had started sealing the files, making it difficult for her to make the substitutions without attracting attention.
As a result of her predicament, she said, she placed a call to North at a nearby hotel, signaled to him her plight by speaking in a low whisper and, when he and his attorney arrived, smuggled the altered documents out of the office in her clothing and boots.
The FBI did not begin an investigation into the case until that Friday, Nov. 28. By then, the White House had issued a denial of a Los Angeles Times report that crucial documents bearing on the Iran-contra case had been destroyed within the past several days.
That denial was based at least in part on a phone call that White House deputy counsel Jay B. Stephens placed to Hall on Thanksgiving. When asked about the reports of a shredding incident, Hall testified, she informed Stephens that "we shred every day."
That weekend, Hall and Earl refused on advice of counsel to answer questions for the FBI, informed sources said. Thus, confirmation of the report that crucial documents had been destroyed did not come from them initially.