NEW YORK (Dec. 2)
A federal judge in Manhattan Monday granted a 10-day adjournment of all pretrial proceedings in the case of defendants charged with conspiracy to sell American weapons to Iran.
The ruling followed a request by the prosecution that the case be reevaluated in the light of recent disclosures of the U.S. Administration’s role in the arms deal. One defendant has been added to the indictment, bringing the number of defendants in the case to 18. The trial is scheduled to begin February 2.
The U.S. Attorney’s office in Manhattan, which is prosecuting the case. is presumably considering dismissal of the charges as a result of reports that the Reagan Administration condoned and orchestrated arms sales to Iran through international arms dealers in patterns strikingly similar to those spelled out in the indictment and papers filed in this case.
At a previous hearing, Assistant U.S. Attorney Lorna Schofield said the recent disclosures had “no bearing whatsoever” on this case and the U.S Attorney’s Office would pursue the prosecution. But in remarks in court Monday, Schofield backed off from her previous position.
She said her office needed 10 days to reassess the case in light of the new evidence which emerges almost daily of the Reagan Administration’s deep involvement with arms sales to Iran during the past 18 months.
“We feel it is our responsibility to evaluate what, if any, bearing recent disclosures may have on this case,” Schofield told Federal District Judge Leonard Sand.
PROSECUTORS ARE IN AN UNCOMFORTABLE POSITION
The prosecutors in this case have clearly been among those placed in a somewhat uncomfortable position as the story of the Administration’s role in the Iran affair unfurls. Admittedly, the U.S. Attorney’s Office was unaware of the Administration’s covert policy to supply arms to Iran. But at the same time, the Justice Department and the U.S. Customs Service set up secret bank accounts and arranged a complicated sting operation to set up the defendants in this case, who are now accused of breaking the same laws President Reagan personally authorized others to break.
Attorney Neal Hurwitz for defendant Israel Eisenberg, an Israel, told Sand Monday, “I was led to believe when called on (last) Friday that Ms. Schofield had indicated that Mr. (Rudolph) Giuliani (the U.S. Attorney in Manhattan) is conducting a full reevaluation of continued prosecution of this matter.” Hurwitz said that Schofield had stopped short of saying in court Monday that her office was considering dismissing the charges.
Monday’s hearing was originally scheduled to argue a motion to dismiss the indictment for reasons of lack of jurisdiction in New York, entrapment, and prejudicial pretrial publicity. Sand ordered all arguments suspended until December ll, noting that it would be unfair to the defendants to allow any more time because all but one are being held against their will under the conditions of their bonds.
Defense attorneys also voiced concern over reports that key documents in the Iran affair had been destroyed in the past week. Judge Sand issued an order to the U.S. Attorney’s Office to convey to all branches of government that “no person empowered by the U.S. government or any agency is to destroy, conceal, or alter any document which relates to the shipment of arms to Iran either directly or via another country.”