Walsh Ends Fourth Year as Iran-Contra Prosecutor

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By James Rowley WASHINGTON - Lawrence E. Walsh ended his fourth year as Iran-Contra prosecutor Wednesday fighting to preserve his most important convictions and pry evidence from unwilling witnesses to complete his investigation.

Congress and much of the public appear to have forgotten, or at least lost interest, in the biggest scandal of the Reagan administration.

But a grand jury continues to hear evidence in the case, and Walsh says he will decide by spring whether to seek new indictments or conclude his investigation.

In the meantime, the Oklahoma City resident gets a chilly reception from the Bush administration, whose hard-line stance on releasing classified documents scuttled the prosecution of former CIA agent Joseph Fernandez.

He endures the editorial taunts of conservative commentators. One recently compared him to a dinner guest who won't go home.

His office is still dueling in closed court proceedings with Oliver L. North over the former White House aide's refusal to give more testimony to the grand jury.

North scored a major victory earlier this year when a federal appeals court set aside his three felony convictions for his role in covering up the sale of U.S. arms to Iran and the diversion of profits to the Nicaraguan Contra rebels.

The decision bodes ill for Walsh's other major triumph - five guilty verdicts earlier this year against former national security adviser John M. Poindexter, convicted of lying to Congress and obstructing its investigations.

Poindexter's appeal is set to be argued Feb. 28.

And now Walsh is fighting a rear-guard action against Jeffrey Toobin, a former junior associate of his office who wants to publish a book about the Iran-Contra investigation that the independent counsel contends would expose grand jury secrets. Toobin has filed suit against Walsh in New York.

``I have never felt in the center of friends,'' said Walsh, a former federal judge and Wall Street lawyer who is a month shy of his 79th birthday but looks at least 10 years younger. ``This has always been a lonely place.''

But Walsh, who shuttles between Washington and his home in Oklahoma City, said his investigation achieved its goal of uncovering the wrongs of the Iran-Contra affair.

``The central actors have been pretty well described,'' he said in an interview, while acknowledging that ``the supervisory and support roles may never be fully exposed.''

When the investigation is over, ``we will have substantially a full story, but there will undoubtedly be enclaves that aren't fully developed,'' Walsh said. …