Launching the Iran probes. FBI's Webster discounts paper-shredding reports
The Federal Bureau of Investigation has found no indication that key White House or other documents were destroyed in a reported possible attempt to cover up facts relating to the Iran-contra scandal. FBI Director William Webster told reporters at a breakfast meeting yesterday that bureau agents had discovered ``no indication of nonroutine destruction of records'' at the National Security Council (NSC).
Mr. Webster also said the bureau had discovered no evidence that Attorney General Edwin Meese had played an improper role in the Iran-contra affair.
As to the origins of the affair, the FBI director said, ``I think that impatience and frustration may have influenced some of the activities taking place.'' But when asked specifically if administration frustrations over assisting the contras in Central America had contributed to the problems, Webster replied, ``I'd love to answer that question, but I'm not going to.''
He noted that strict controls on the flow of information and documents within the NSC may also have helped facilitate alleged secret shipments of arms to Iran and the reported funneling of profits from the arms sales to the contras.
The breakfast meeting was Webster's first public discussion of the unfolding controversy.
His comments about the destruction of documents follow press reports that Lt. Col. Oliver North, the former NSC official who is said to have planned and directed the covert arms and money operations, may have destroyed key documents in his NSC office after being questioned by Justice Department attorneys. Administration officials have suggested that only routine shredding of documents has taken place.
Questions have also been raised about whether Attorney General Meese should have disqualified himself immedately from a preliminary Justice Department review of the Iran-contra affair to avoid the appearance of conflict of interest. Meese had knowlege of the covert NSC arms shipments and gave his legal opinion to the President about the shipments.
Webster said he is not concerned about Meese's conduct. ``There is nothing that we have developed that suggests the attorney general is anything other than a fact witness,'' he said.
Webster said he has postponed his decision to leave the FBI soon. He said that because of the importance and scope of the investigation into the Iran-contra matter, he would delay plans to return to the private sector until after the inquiry is completed.
Webster, a former federal appeals court judge, said he did not see parallels between the current NSC scandal and the Watergate scandal of the Nixon administration.
``I think there is an obvious difference in the President's response to the problem,'' he said. He noted that in the current affair the public was advised as soon as the President learned of the scandal, an inquiry was promptly launched, a special commission appointed, and the President has declined to invoke executive privilege as a means of shielding his staff members from investigators, Congress, and the public.
``There is a real expectation that we will fully develop the facts under the circumstances of full cooperation,'' Webster said.