Go to Destination: Scandal!

Hall Testifies of Necessity 'To Go Above Written Law'

North Walked 'Fine Line,' Ex-Secretary Says

By Dan Morgan and Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, June 10, 1987; Page A01

Former White House secretary Fawn Hall said yesterday that she shredded telephone records of her boss, Lt. Col. Oliver L. North, last Nov. 21 to prevent the Iran-contra initiatives from becoming "unraveled," and explained that there were "times when you have to go above the written law."

Occasionally flashing a temper that had been well-controlled Monday in her first day of testimony to the House and Senate panels investigating the scandal, Hall refused to accept any criticism of North and insisted that he was "walking a fine line in an effort to do what was right" as a member of North's National Security Council "team."

However, she appeared to regret her comments about the "written law," which she had volunteered in response to questions from Rep. Thomas S. Foley (D-Wash.) about her alteration of documents at North's direction.

"I felt uneasy, but sometimes, like I said before, I believed in Col. North and there was a very solid and very valid reason that he must have been doing this. And sometimes you have to go above the written law, I believe."

Then, apparently sensing the impact of what she had said, she went on: "I don't know -- it's just I felt -- I believed in Col. North. Maybe that's not correct, it's not a fair thing to say. I felt uneasy to begin with . . . . "

Hall's testimony provided a dramatic flourish to the windup of the first phase of the congressional hearings, which heard testimony from 18 witnesses over six weeks. The hearings are due to resume June 22 with a group of mid-level witnesses. Committee sources said these will include Donald P. Gregg, Vice President Bush's national security adviser; former NSC consultant Michael A. Ledeen, and Stanley Sporkin, the CIA's former general counsel who is now a federal judge.

On July 7, after the Congress' brief July 4 recess, the select committees will hear from major new witnesses, including President Reagan's former national security adviser, Rear Adm. John M. Poindexter.

In a concluding statement yesterday, House committee Chairman Lee H. Hamilton (D-Ind.) said that the 18 witnesses and more than 100 hours of hearings so far have produced "some of the most extraordinary testimony ever presented to Congress." That testimony, Hamilton said, told "a story of deception of the Congress and the American people" and "a story of remarkable chaos in the processes of government."

He ticked off findings to date, including: Reagan approved payments to terrorists to secure the release of American hostages; private citizens received top-secret U.S. codes and coded communications devices; a national security adviser and an assistant secretary of state withheld information and misled Congress on the Nicaraguan contra resupply operation; documents were altered and destroyed, and money raised for the contras was used to finance an operation by agents of the Drug Enforcement Administration to locate and free U.S. hostages in Lebanon.

Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.), a senior panel member and chairman of the Armed Services Committee, told reporters that the testimony had also suggested a link between the administration's current problems in the Persian Gulf and activities of the Reagan administration that have come to light in the hearings.

Nunn noted that Kuwait requested the Soviet Union to help protect its ships in the Persian Gulf shortly after revelations that the United States had secretly sold arms to Kuwait's neighbor and enemy, Iran. "I don't think it's a complete coincidence," he said, adding that "Kuwait's move to invite the Soviet Union into the gulf . . . was a factor in our willingness to flag their vessels -- and we're in the middle of that now."

Nunn said the linkage "tells us how bad a mess you can get into when you carry out that kind of incoherent policy."

In her testimony Monday, Hall laid out the story of how, at North's direction, she had altered and shredded documents and, several days later, on her own initiative, smuggled highly classified papers out of the Old Executive Office Building. She told of concealing the papers in her boots and dress in order to elude an NSC official who was there to prevent such removal in the face of a Federal Bureau of Investigation probe.

Yesterday she faced a barrage of questions on her motives and those of North, and expressed no remorse except at the fact that she had failed to complete the assignment to alter crucial documents, replace them in the files and destroy all originals.

To Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes (D-Md.), Hall said her "mistake" had been that she had not finished the job of "eliminating traces of altered originals." She went on to say she did not know the "urgency" of the task because "I had no idea that Col. North would be fired on Tuesday . . . and I don't know that Col. North knew it either."

As was the case with witnesses before her, Hall on occasion changed her testimony and had trouble recalling certain events on which the committees have focused attention.

Hall insisted that she did not know the reason for the alteration and destruction of documents. When Sen. Warren B. Rudman (R-N.H.) asked why she had decided to shred telephone logs and copies of computerized messages, she said: "I had my own motives," and explained that they were taking up too much room in her files. These logs and files, she added, were "private."

Later, however, when asked by Rep. Peter W. Rodino Jr. (D-N.J.) about the destruction of the phone logs, she said, "I believe that probably if phone logs had revealed Gen. Secord and others . . . that the whole thing would have unraveled. It's like why is Gen. Secord coming here {to the NSC} these amount of times, blah, blah, blah . . . ?"

The reference was to retired Air Force major general Richard V. Secord, North's principal private sector partner in the Iran and contra initiatives.

Hall repeatedly said that the shredding and other actions were not part of a cover-up, but were aimed at "protecting the initiative," which she said referred to both those operations.

Rudman pressed her on the question of whom she wanted to protect the initiative from, and she replied: "I just felt there would be a lot of damage done if a lot of top secret, sensitive, classified material was exposed in public so that the Soviets, {and} everyone else could read it."

To which Rudman responded: "Well, it wasn't the KGB that was was coming, Miss Hall. It was the FBI."

Hall, who had a high security clearance at the White House, is currently working at a Navy Department job that does not require a clearance, a Defense Department spokesman said yesterday. Her previous clearance, he said, did not accompany her when she left the White House.

Rep. Foley had pointed out that Hall's action last Nov. 25 in removing documents from NSC custody was "a gross violation" of security regulations justifying the severest discipline. But when Foley said there were no circumstances that could justify such action, Hall argued that there might be such scenarios, such as when "the KGB is coming in the door."

Another conflict emerged in Hall's testimony when she attempted to portray the events of Nov. 21, the day she helped shred and alter documents, as not particularly secretive. Monday, she testified that on Nov. 21 she tried to conceal the contents of the documents she was altering from North's deputy, Craig Coy, by turning them over when he approached her desk.

Several other points of conflict also emerged. One had to do with testimony given to the select committees in closed sessions by a Secord employe, Shirley Napier, who earlier told of delivering a package containing $16,000 to Hall at the NSC. Hall said that she did not recall ever receiving any cash but added, "I don't deny" that it could have happened.

Hall testified that the only Swiss bank account she was aware of was the one whose number she typed onto a card for Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams, who was to provide the number to a Brunei official from whom a major contribution for the contras was being solicited. But when asked if she had typed any other Swiss bank account numbers previously, Hall revealed that investigators for independent counsel Lawrence E. Walsh had found "a document of account numbers" on one of her computer disks. "I must have typed it," she said, adding that she did not remember doing so.

While not condoning the destruction of documents, several committee members praised Hall for her testimony.

Rep. William S. Broomfield (R-Mich.) said he was "sure that our good friend Ollie probably is watching," and added that North was "entitled to have immunity" from prosecution so he could tell his story to Congress. When Sen. William S. Cohen (R-Maine) took issue with that, saying, "I find it hard to accept the proposition that anyone of Col. Oliver North's position is . . . entitled to anything," Hall turned combative.

"I think Col. North is first a U.S. citizen and he has the same rights as you yourself do, sir," she told Cohen.

© The Washington Post Co.

Back to top