WASHINGTON--President Reagan's former national security adviser refused yesterday to give Congress details of the secret sale of weapons to Iran or the diversion of profits to Nicaraguan rebels. Meanwhile, Vice President George Bush conceded that the spiraling controversy has harmed the administration, saying, "Clearly mistakes were made."
Vice Adm. John M. Poindexter became the second recently departed administration official to invoke the Fifth Amendment in declining to answer questions from the Senate Intelligence Committee. His one-time aide, Lt. Col. Oliver North, did so on Monday, and committee members said they were considering possibly seeking grants of immunity from prosecution to secure testimony by both men.
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), vice chairman of the committee, vowed that lawmakers would piece together the facts "with or without them," and other committee members said that unspecified Cabinet secretaries will be called to the panel's heavily guarded room to testify.
While Congress continued delving into the most serious crisis of the Reagan presidency, there was increasing pressure for the departure of Donald T. Reagan, the president's powerful chief of staff. But White House spokesman Larry Speakes said Reagan has no intention of leaving and said the president "has not asked him to leave."
Reagan did not discuss possible staff changes when he spoke to businesswomen in the White House. Instead, he said he hoped the furor would not undercut support for the Contra forces fighting the Sandinista government in Nicaragua.
"We cannot let recent events distract us from the cause of those brave fighters for freedom around the world," he said. As his audience applauded, Reagan said, "Yes, you did just make my day."
Reagan could not have been as pleased with the word he received earlier in the day from key GOP congressional leaders. One participant, speaking on condition he not be identified by name, said Reagan was advised to seek changes in his administration.
Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger '38, inFrance on an official trip, said Reagan receivedbad advice from aides advising him on a new policytoward Iran. "What he was trying to do was to openan agreement and an arrangement with people whomhe had been advised were of a far differentcharacter than the people he was quite properlydenouncing as being fanatical lunatics in Iran.
"I think unfortunately some of that advice hasnot turned out to have been accurate or correct,"Weinberger said.
Outside the White House, Senate Republicanleader Bob Dole of Kansas said the message toReagan was this: "There are going to be more andmore stories, every day there will be somethingnew. Some other player will be involved, somebodythe President never even heard of."
Bush's comments came in a speech in which hesaid he fully supported Reagan's decision to makesecret arms sales to Iran, but knew nothing of thediversion of profits to the Contra forces. Reaganalso says he knew nothing of the diversion offunds until Attorney General Edwin Meese III toldhim a little more than a week ago.
In voicing strong words of support for Reagan,Bush added, "There is no denying that ourcredibility has been damaged by this entireepisode and its aftermath."
Bush said the shaping of the Iranian policyinvolved difficult choices and was clouded by theway in which the president's goals were executed,"specifically allegations about certain activitiesof the National Security Council staff. Clearly,mistakes were made."
While the administration awaited appointment ofan independent counsel to investigate theonce-secret arms sale to Iran and the funneling ofprofits through a Swiss bank account to Nicaraguanforces, Senate leaders appeared headed forcreation of a single "supercommittee" to conductits own probe.
But both Sen. Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia,the incoming Democratic leader, and Rep. JimWright of Texas, who is expected to serve asspeaker of the House in the new Congress, werereported cool to Reagan's call for a joint HouseSenate committee.