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September 17, 1991: North Charges Dropped, Convictions Reversed

A federal judge drops all charges against convicted felon Oliver North (see May-June, 1989). A federal appeals court had reversed part of North’s conviction and ordered the case returned to a US District Court for the remainder of the convictions. District Judge Gerhard Gesell, who presided over the original trial that found North guilty of three felonies, drops the charges after special prosecutor Lawrence Walsh says he is forced to abandon the prosecution of North. In order to testify before the Iran-Contra hearings (see July 7-10, 1987), North was granted limited immunity from prosecution, and Walsh says prosecutors will be unable to show that North’s immunity grant did not affect his trial testimony, and the testimony of witnesses in his earlier trials. The decision by Walsh and Gesell brings to an end five years of court proceedings against North, who calls himself “fully, completely” vindicated. Last week, former National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane, North’s former superior and mentor, testified that his testimony in North’s earlier trials had been heavily influenced by North’s testimony before Congress. President Bush says: “He’s been through enough. There was an appeal. He’s been let off. Now that’s the system of justice is working.… I’m very, very pleased.” Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole (R-KS) says the Walsh investigation should be closed down entirely, saying, “What have American taxpayers received for their $50 million?” referring to some estimates of the cost of the overall inquiry. “A lot of press releases. A lot of rumor and innuendo. But little in terms of justice.” Walsh, who had opposed immunity for North from the start of the investigations in 1987, says: “This is a very, very serious warning that immunity is not to be granted lightly. Now, I have never criticized Congress. I urged them not to grant immunity, but they have the very broad political responsibility for making a judgment as to whether it’s more important that the country hear the facts quickly or that they await a prosecution.” [New York Times, 9/17/1991] An outraged New York Times editorial says that North’s claim of complete exoneration is a “wild overstatement” and calls the reversal “a serious setback for another objective of democratic government: promptly to uncover the truth in high-profile cases and to prosecute them when necessary without sacrificing the Constitution’s privilege against compelled self-incrimination.” It concludes: “Mr. North can thank his battling lawyers and a fastidious judiciary for letting him beat the rap. That remains far short, however, of exoneration.” [New York Times, 9/17/1991]

Entity Tags: Oliver North, Robert C. McFarlane, Robert J. (“Bob”) Dole, Lawrence E. Walsh, New York Times

Timeline Tags: Iran-Contra Affair

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