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Former national security adviser Robert McFarlane pleaded guilty Friday...

By LORI SANTOS

WASHINGTON -- Former national security adviser Robert McFarlane pleaded guilty Friday to four misdemeanor counts arising from his activities in the Iran-Contra scandal.

McFarlane admitted to withholding material information from congressional committees by denying knowledge of administration and Saudi Arabian support for the Nicaraguan rebels. McFarlane acknowledged misleading the House Intelligence Committee and a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee in letters and testimony in 1985 and 1986.

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In accepting a plea-bargaining agreement, McFarlane received reduced charges carrying a maximum penalty of four years in prison and up to $400,000 in fines.

McFarlane, looking somber and standing before U.S. District Judge Aubrey Robinson with his hands clasped behind his back, became the third figure to be convicted in special prosecutor Lawrence Walsh's sweeping Iran-Contra investigation.

McFarlane made a brief statement to reporters just minutes later, acknowlodging, ... I believed it was in the best foreign plicy interests of the United States.

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McFarlane acknowledged in a statement following the 20-minute court hearing that 'I did indeed withhold information from the Congress.' But he added that his 'actions were motivated by the best foreign policy interest of the United States.'

Special prosecutor Lawrence Walsh said the deal was 'very important' to both McFarlane and his criminal probe into the Iran-Contra affair.

Walsh, speaking to reporters outside the courthouse, said the plea bargain took into account both McFarlane's 'undisguised remorse' at his actions and the fact the former national security adviser had 'cooperated fully' witht he investigation.

During the hearing, Walsh handed the judge a copy of an agreement in which McFarlane pledged to fully cooperate with the continuing inquiry, expected to lead in the next few weeks to indictments of several other key figures, including former McFarlane aide Oliver North and McFarlane's successor as national security adviser, John Poindexter.

Walsh told the judge that in three letters to Chairmen Lee Hamilton, D-Ind., of the intelligence committee and Michael Barnes, D-Md., of the foreign affairs subcommittee, McFarlane 'willfully refused and failed to answer the committees' inquiries truthfully and fully.'

In the letters in September and October of 1985, McFarlane denied that members of his National Security Council staff had violated the 'letter or spirit' of the 1984 Boland Amendment banning U.S. military aid to the Nicaraguan Contra rebels. At the time, North was secretly supervising -- with McFarlane's knowledge -- a private effort to supply arms to the rebels.

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Walsh said the fourth misdemeanor count related to McFarlane's testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Dec. 8, 1986 in which he was asked about reports that third countries, including Saudi Arabia, had contributed large sums to the Contras.

McFarlane said he had seen the reports, but 'the concrete character of that is beyond my ken.'

When the judge asked McFarlane if his false statements were made knowingly, McFarlane said softly, 'It was knowing, yes sir.'

McFarlane was President Reagan's national security adviser from October 1983 to December 1985, and the U.S. arms sales to Iran began near the close of his tenure in his White House job.

However, he was involved with later deals in 1986, including a now-famous but unsuccessful May trip to Tehran, Iran, to exchange U.S. weapons for American hostages held in Lebanon by pro-Iran Islamic extremists. McFarlane's party of Americans went to Tehran bearing a cake shaped like a key and a Bible inscribed with a passage from Galatians and signed by Reagan.

Last month, when sources revealed that McFarlane was facing imminent indictment, his lawyer Leonard Garment maintained McFarlane would not make a deal with prosecutors in hopes of winning leniency.

McFarlane will be the third person convicted as a result of Walsh's sweeping probe into the U.S. arms sales to Iran and the subsequent diversion of sales profits to the Nicaraguan Contra rebels.

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