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Prosecutors hope the trial of former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger will reveal the former president's role in an arms-for-hostages deal, sources say.



Special prosecutors plan to use the forthcoming Iran-Contra trial of Caspar Weinberger to prove there was a conspiracy to cover up President Ronald Reagan's involvement in potentially illegal activities, according to sources familiar with both sides of the case.

Using former Defense Secretary Weinberger's notes and other evidence, the prosecutors hope to show that top administration officials at three crucial White House meetings in November 1986, including the president himself, agreed on a story line that hid Reagan's role in 1985 arms-for-hostages shipments to Iran that some feared were unlawful.In unsuccessful negotiations preceding the indictment, independent counsel Lawrence Walsh tried to persuade Weinberger, a participant in all three meetings, to testify for the prosecution at a wide-ranging conspiracy trial, the sources said.

Weinberger has been charged with obstruction, perjury and making false statements, almost entirely on the basis of personal notes that he took at crucial points in the Iran-Contra scandal but failed to turn over to congressional investigators or special prosecutors at the height of their inquiries.

Weinberger ``gave them a hammer to hit him in the head with,' said a source sympathetic to Weinberger's position.

The events outlined in the indictment, based primarily on the Weinberger papers, could allow prosecutors to present their cover-up theory in court with much more force than any written, final report on their investigation would have.

Previous Iran-Contra investigations have shown that Reagan acquiesced in 1985 shipments by Israel of U.S.-made TOW antitank missiles and Hawk antiaircraft missiles to Iran as part of a plan to gain the release of American hostages then being held in Lebanon. In his own statements on the subject, Reagan variously has said he approved shipments by Israel, that he did not, and finally that he could not remember.

These secret shipments were not only contrary to Reagan's public policy of refusing to deal with Iran as a terrorist nation, but also were considered potentially unlawful by CIA, Justice Department and Pentagon lawyers in light of U.S. arms export control laws and laws governing covert CIA operations.

In 1986, administration officials decided to ship additional U.S. arms directly to Iran on the strength of a formal presidential authorization that Reagan signed in January. When these shipments became public in November 1986, some officials were worried that the U.S. role in the 1985 Israeli shipments may have been illegal and may have exposed the president to severe political attack and even possible impeachment.

White House meetings on Nov. 10, Nov. 12 and Nov. 24, 1986, according to sources familiar with the Walsh investigation, were designed to contain the damage.

No date for the trial has been set, but it may be on a fast track. Weinberger had no immunity when he gave his allegedly false congressional testimony, and his notes pertain to high-level meetings rather than sensitive intelligence operations.

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