The Consortium

Iraqgate Cover-Up Goes After Defense Lawers

WASHINGTON -- Outside the view of the national media, the federal government is escalating its now-bipartisan war against the Iraqgate allegations and those who made them. According to legal sources, federal charges are being weighed against attorneys and a former Reagan administration official for publicizing claims that the CIA authorized covert military aid to Saddam Hussein's Iraq during the 1980s.

A closed hearing was scheduled Dec. 14 in Miami for possible sanctions against lawyers, who defended Teledyne Inc. and one of its salesmen in a criminal case earlier this year. That hearing was postponed. But sources said a federal grand jury has begun hearing testimony on a related complaint over submission of a defense affidavit in that case.

"There's something going on," said federal prosecutor Frank Tamen. "I can confirm that." But Tamen refused to provide anything more specific about the pending investigation.

Last January, defense attorney Gerald Houlihan angered the federal prosecutors by publicly filing a sworn affidavit from Howard Teicher, a staff aide on Ronald Reagan's National Security Council. Teicher asserted that CIA Director William J. Casey and his deputy, Robert M. Gates, "authorized, approved and assisted" the delivery of cluster bombs to Iraq as part of a covert strategy to bolster Saddam Hussein in his war with Iran.

But both the Bush and Clinton administrations have denied that any such policy to arm Iraq existed. Immediately, the federal government sealed Teciher's affidavit as a state secret, whileassailing his credibility. Teicher's statements were kept fromthe jury on grounds of relevance, and he was blocked from testifying.

With Teicher's claims excluded, a Teledyne salesman named Edward Johnson was convicted last April of illegally selling explosive zirconium pellets to Chilean arms manufacturer Carlos Cardoen, who then shipped them to Iraq as part of cluster bombs.

Though Johnson's appeal is expected to challenge the decision to exclude Teicher's testimony, the Teledyne salesman must begin serving a 3 1/2-year prison sentence on Jan. 4. Meanwhile, the federal government is taking aim at those who came to Johnson's defense. The possible criminal complaints against them range from perjury to violation of federal secrecy rules.

Some defense attorneys expressed concern that the government's strategy could intimidate lawyers who defend clients in national security cases. "It scares you," said one lawyer close to the defense. "It's intended to scare you." The lawyer spoke only after an assurance of anonymity.

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