Fired White House aide Oliver L. North gave congressional investigators seven binders of documents related to the Iran-contra affair yesterday, including copies of personal notebooks in which some material had been blacked out by his attorneys.
In his first testimony under oath, Marine Lt. Col. North said during a private appearance yesterday that the notebooks contain "day-to-day notations of some of my conversations and activities, which may relate to the subject matter of your inquiry," according to a transcript released by the committees.
North's lawyers made the deletions on grounds that the material was private or was not relevant to the House and Senate panels' investigation, committee sources said.
Committee leaders who had just been through a week of legal battles with North's principal attorney, Brendan V. Sullivan, said yesterday that the deletions had forced another showdown last weekend, when Sullivan insisted that the committee had no right to view the original notebooks.
Under an agreement reached yesterday after weekend negotiations supervised by Sens. George J. Mitchell (D-Maine) and Warren B. Rudman (R-N.H.), the committees reserved the right to have their chief counsels inspect the original notebooks. They also reserved the right to have a professional document examiner analyze them to discover possible alterations or identify missing pages. One source said a preliminary examination suggested that the deletions were "modest."
Two senior committee officials said the issue was so contentious that as recently as Monday it remained uncertain whether North would appear as a witness as scheduled beginning next Tuesday. Throughout the maneuvering, the committees have had the option to stop offering concessions to North and to begin potential criminal contempt proceedings.
One committee source said Sullivan and other attorneys involved in editing the notebooks would be subject to an obstruction of justice charge if relevant material were blacked out along with the "private," "personal" or "nonrelevant" portions.
North, now an "action officer" at Marine headquarters, appeared in uniform for his sessions with committee members at the Rayburn House Office Building. He avoided reporters and shook hands with committee members before being sworn in and being formally granted limited immunity from prosecution.
Along with copies of the notebooks, North said he was delivering personal calendars, correspondence, handwritten notes, code books, telephone logs, photos and miscellaneous items.
Yesterday's session with North was a brief, preliminary one. Investigators were expected to work all night reading the new material in preparation for another closed session with North today in which interrogation will be limited by agreement with North's attorneys to what he told President Reagan about the diversion of funds to the contras, and what others informed him about the president's knowledge.
At yesterday's session, Senate chief counsel Arthur L. Liman was able to ask North agreed-on questions intended to establish North's authority for the documents he was turning over.
"Do you have knowledge about the support for the contras that was given by U.S. government personnel after Jan. 1, 1984?" Liman asked.
"Yes, I do," said North, in what was one of his first responses to a government investigator since invoking his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination last November.
House committee Chairman Lee H. Hamilton (D-Ind.) called the session with North and his lawyers "very congenial" and said, "We were really carrying out a script" written by attorneys for the two sides.
Rudman described North as cooperative and said the atmosphere was businesslike.
For their part, the committees have prepared five boxes of classified documents made up of North's government papers and those of his staff. Under the earlier agreement with Sullivan, North will be given access to these.
North's former secretary, Fawn Hall, publicly revealed to the congressional hearings June 8 that she had seen a stack of spiral notebooks she believed were North's when she went to Sullivan's office late last November.
Congressional sources believe that this testimony was intended as an inducement to the committees to get North before them. The panels had voted to give North limited immunity from prosecution four days earlier. But a week after Hall testified in public, Sullivan set tough new conditions before his client would produce documents and appear before the committees.
Sources believe that the possibility of getting North's assistance in understanding the notebook entries was an enticement to those committee members, especially House Democrats, who opposed meeting Sullivan's terms. But even with that lure, many members in both the Senate and House were unhappy with the concessions finally worked out. Under the arrangements, virtually all but today's brief closed-door preliminary questioning of North was eliminated, and public questioning will probably be restricted to four days.
The committees have already examined notebooks kept by North's principal deputy at the National Security Council, Marine Lt. Col. Robert L. Earl. Sources say that both North and Earl were compulsive notetakers.
North will give testimony to the House and Senate committees today for the first time, when he appears in the late afternoon to answer questions in closed session.
Committee sources acknowledge that they can only guess at the kind of witness North will be. Testimony in recent weeks, which has attributed to him shredding and alteration of documents, preparing false testimony for Congress, and allegedly receiving a gratuity in the form of a $13,800 home security system, has been aimed at isolating him from other administration witnesses.
When North begins testifying publicly on Tuesday, House chief counsel John W. Nields Jr. is expected to question him for a full day. Liman and House deputy minority counsel George van Cleve will take most of a second day. They will be followed by four committee members, and on the fourth day the rest of the members will ask questions.
Staff writer Joe Pichirallo contributed to this report.