Lt. Col. Oliver L. North, a key target of the criminal investigation of the Iran-contra affair, went before a federal grand jury yesterday in a staccato appearance that involved repeated hallway consultations with his lawyers.
Lawyers for North and prosecutors for independent counsel Lawrence E. Walsh declined to say whether North had invoked his Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination. But the circumstances of the appearance suggested that he had been asked to produce various records and that he was not cooperating.
As a target of the investigation, North normally would not be subpoenaed to testify before the grand jury. "The odds are always that it's going to be records" that are at issue in cases such as this, a former prosecutor said.
Dressed in his Marine uniform, the former National Security Council aide stepped before the grand jury at 11:22 a.m. and spent 20 minutes going in and out of the room to talk to his lawyers, Brendan V. Sullivan Jr. and Barry Simon.
North's longest stint inside lasted six minutes. He had a looseleaf notebook with him but had left it behind when he emerged from the grand jury room for the last time. One of the prosecutors came out moments later and handed it to him.
Before going in, North and his attorneys waited in the hallway for more than an hour. At one point, Sullivan began shouting at one of the prosecutors, "We always follow the law." Another prosecutor, Michael Bromwich, walked up, and Sullivan told him, "I want to see the grand jury."
North, the only named target of the Walsh investigation, was cited for contempt last spring by U.S. District Court Judge Aubrey E. Robinson for refusing to comply with a grand jury subpoena for a sample of his handwriting. Robinson ordered him imprisoned until he complied, but North was granted a stay while he appealed.
In August, a three-judge appeals court panel rejected North's claim that Walsh's investigation is unconstitutional, but North can still appeal to the Supreme Court.
Some lawyers speculated that Walsh might be seeking records such as the 17 spiral notebooks North kept of his work on secret arms sales to Iran and support for the Nicaraguan contras while he worked at the White House.
After censoring by Sullivan, copies of those notebook pages were submitted to the Senate and House Iran-contra committees under a grant of immunity from prosecution. Walsh, as a result, is not privy to these copies.
Upstairs, meanwhile, Attorney General Edwin Meese III appeared for the fifth time this year before another federal grand jury investigating the Wedtech scandal under the direction of independent counsel James C. McKay.
Lawyers for Meese said that he answered all questions and that they are confident that the inquiry "will be concluded favorably" to him soon.Staff writer Nancy Lewis contributed to this report.