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McFarlane: 'I tried to serve my country'

By JOSEPH MIANOWANY

WASHINGTON -- Robert McFarlane, given two years probation and fined $20,000 for his role as national security adviser in the Iran-Contra affair, said he has regrets but he was only trying to serve his country.

U.S. District Judge Aubrey Robinson also Friday ordered the former aide to President Ronald Reagan to perform 200 hours of unspecified community service, details of which the judge said he would recommend later.

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Just before sentencing, a somber-faded McFarlane told the judge that he regretted his actions, but was only trying to do his duty.

'Clearly, this episode in our history has resulted in enormous turmoil in our country's processes,' McFarlane told the judge. 'To the extent that I contributed to that, I regret it. I tried to serve my country.'

McFarlane, 51, could have received up to four years in prison and fined $400,000.

The sentence handed down Friday resulted from guilty pleas that McFarlane entered March 11, 1988, to four misdemeanors. The four counts involved withholding information when Congress asked him in 1985 and 1986 about a secret aid network to help the Nicaraguan Contra rebels at a time when formal U.S. aid was banned.

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The private network was run by Oliver North, an aide to McFarlane on the National Security Council, who is now on trial for his role in the affair.

With his guilty plea, McFarlane became the first Reagan administration official convicted of charges in the Iran-Contra scandal - the secret U.S. arms sales to Iran and the diversion of sales profits to the Contras.

The punishment followed a plea bargain McFarlane arranged last year with independent prosecutor Lawrence Walsh in which McFarlane agreed to testify against North, a more central figure in Reagan's worst crisis.

North's trial is currently being held two floors below the courtroom where McFarlane was sentenced. McFarlane is expected to testify very soon and he requested that he be sentenced before his testimony so his comments at the trial could in no way be questioned.

North is being tried for similar actions, but the charges against him are felonies.

Walsh said last year he had agreed to the plea bargain because McFarlane showed 'undisguised remorse' for his role in the operation. The prosecutor also indicated that concerns for McFarlane's health were a factor; the ex-Marine had tried to kill himself with an overdose of Valium as the scandal exploded around him in February 1987.

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Walsh said Friday 'the government made no recommendation whatsoever' concerning McFarlane's sentence.

Before handing down the sentence, Robinson said he had received numerous unsolicited recommedations concerning McFarlane's punishment.

As he left the courthouse, in view of the Capitol building, McFarlane said he believed there had been a problem between Congress and the president in determining foreign policy and he wanted to help resolve it.

'But as for me, with a strong faith, a terrific wife and a free country, I look into the future,' he added. McFarlane, accompanied by his wife, Jonda, sighed deeply and noted, 'that's all I have to say.'

Before sentencing, McFarlane's lawyer, Leonard Garment, told Robinson that McFarlane and his family had suffered enough and his actions resulted from his 'high sense of duty.'

'This, sir, is an honorable man,' Garment said. 'Public servants in this country are not to be found who are more decent or more honorable.'

The diversion of money to the Contras was a part of a sweeping operation North ran to ferry weapons and supplies to them at a time when Congress had banned official U.S. aid to the rebels trying to overthrow Nicaragua's leftist government.

McFarlane pleaded guilty to lying to lawmakers when they first questioned him about North's Contra activities. When he testified to the special Iran-Contra congressional committees in the summer of 1987, McFarlane acknowledged he had misled Congress previously about North's work.

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Like North a retired Marine lieutenant colonel, McFarlane became Reagan's third national security adviser in 1983 and stayed until December 1985.

But in May 1986, McFarlane agreed to travel secretly with North to Tehran, Iran, in an effort to barter Hawk anti-aircraft missiles for the freedom of American hostages held by pro-Iranian extremists in Lebanon.

That trip became fruitless because, McFarlane told Congress in 1987, the Iranian officials with whom he was dealing insisted upon bargaining for individual hostages instead of working for the release of all captives.

The trip was the one in which North carried a key-shaped cake, signifying U.S. efforts to improve relations with the Islamic republic, and a Bible signed by Reagan with a passage from the New Testament book of Galatians.

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