On Nov. 5, the Iran-contra committees voted to recommend in their final report that a military officer not be appointed as the president's national security adviser.

That same day, President Reagan announced he had picked Army Lt. Gen. Colin L. Powell, to take over that post.

No member of either committee raised objection to Powell's selection because, as one Senate source said recently, "there was united agreement he was a superb officer and the recommendation was taken without regard to the general {Powell} personally."

A House source said at least some members wanted to avoid criticizing Powell because in the future he "stood a chance of becoming the first black Army chief of staff."

This was not the first time that Powell, Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger's military assistant during the Iran-contra affair, avoided being put in a critical spotlight by members of the investigating panels.

Earlier the committee missed a chance to explore in public Powell's role in the Iran-contra affair.

According to several reports, Powell acted as a coordinator for the Pentagon in the November 1985 Israeli shipment of Hawk missiles to Iran, and in several instances passed information to the principal participants and acted as a contact point for the White House.

In his private testimony before the committee, Powell could not recall the key details of his involvement in the shipment.

Last June, some attorneys on the investigating committees wanted Powell to appear in public along with other Pentagon witnesses to explain his role and knowledge of the secret arms-for-hostage dealing with Iran, and particularly the controversial November 1985 transaction.

The decision not to have Powell testify was made, according to a Senate committee source, because the panel thought "it was inappropriate" to put him on a panel of witnesses with lower-ranking Pentagon officials now that he had become deputy national security adviser. Powell was given that post in January 1987.

His testimony as a separate witness, the source said, would "overlap" the others and thus "was not practical in terms of the best use of time."

Another committee attorney, who was involved in that part of the investigation, said he believed Powell was dropped because the committees "didn't want to be seen as beating up on a general."

Powell played an important supporting role in that secret Israeli shipment of U.S.-made Hawk antiaircraft missiles to Iran and the planned release of U.S. hostages, according to committee sources. He also passed information about it to several Pentagon officials and was a contact point for the White House.

But Powell's immediate boss, Weinberger, has consistently denied having any knowledge of that shipment and thus of Powell's activities.

Powell, during his closed-door questioning on June 12, said he could not remember who told him about the deal, according to committee sources.

He said his information came "from either {national security adviser John} Poindexter, {NSC aide Lt. Col. Oliver L.} North or Weinberger," according to a committee source present at the interrogation.

And Powell could not recall whether he told Weinberger, who strongly opposed the arms-for-hostages deals, about what he knew and did relative to the Hawk shipment.

Powell's deposition is among those that remain to be released. The details of his testimony are expected to be included in the final report of the committees to be released Tuesday.

Prior to the November 1985 shipment, Powell had been active on behalf of Weinberger in opposing the arms deals with Iran.

It was Powell who on July 31, 1985, carried to other Pentagon officials Weinberger's view that a National Security Council proposal to permit other nations to sell arms to Iran was "almost too absurd to comment on."

In August 1985, Weinberger again voiced his objections, this time to then-national security adviser Robert C. McFarlane's idea of U.S.-made arms going to Iran as a way to open relations and gain release of hostages.

In September 1985, Weinberger sent Powell to the National Security Agency, which intercepts electronic messages, to determine why he began receiving unexpected reports of U.S. and Iranian negotiations over weapons.

Powell brought back the reply that Weinberger was not supposed to have seen those messages and that they were apparently sent inadvertently. Weinberger said, "I asked Gen. Powell to remind the {NSA} for whom they worked."

Despite his involvement in all those episodes, Powell could remember almost no details when asked about his role in the November 1985 shipment of arms to Iran.

When the public session with Pentagon witnesses did take place on June 23, former deputy assistant secretary of defense Noel C. Koch told the committees that in mid-November 1985, Powell described to him the need for Hawk missiles, that they would be going to Iran, and "that these were for hostages."

Powell, he said, wanted Koch to locate Hawk missiles in the U.S. inventory that could be quickly sent overseas as part of the deal.

The second Pentagon witness, Dr. Henry Gaffney, testified he did the work for Koch in locating the Hawk missiles and prepared a memo on Nov. 21, 1985, entitled "Point Paper, Hawk Missiles for Iran."

The paper, he said, was delivered on that day either directly to Powell or to Koch for Powell. The paper, Gaffney said, was for Weinberger's use but he did not know for sure whether the secretary received it.

Weinberger, however, testified that he had no knowledge of the November Hawk shipment and "did not know about it until much later."