WASHINGTON -- After more than five years of work, the Iran-contra independent prosecutor has told former President Ronald Reagan in a letter that he is not under investigation for his role in the scandal that stained the final years of his presidency.
The letter strongly suggests that the prosecutors have concluded that the evidence does not warrant criminal charges against Mr. Reagan. It was sent to the former president's lawyers last Thursday by Lawrence E. Walsh, the Iran-contra prosecutor.
In it, Mr. Walsh said in part, "This office regards President Reagan as simply a witness and not as a subject or target."
For prosecutors, who began their work in late 1986, Mr. Walsh's letter amounted to a final acknowledgment that the exhaustive inquiry had unearthed no clear-cut evidence directly tying Mr. Reagan to any wrongdoing.
Some lawyers who have followed the investigation said that even if Mr. Walsh had amassed evidence against Mr. Reagan, he would have been extremely reluctant to charge a former president with a criminal offense unless he had compiled an airtight case, something that failed to materialize in other public inquiries into the affair.
Moreover, even if prosecutors had obtained some evidence against Mr. Reagan, they would have been dissuaded from charging him on other grounds, most of all because of the daunting legal complexities involved in prosecuting a former president for his conduct in carrying out his duties as a chief executive.
Also, if Mr. Walsh is troubled by Mr. Reagan's actions, he has another vehicle, a final report to Congress, that he can use to level his criticism.
Theodore B. Olson, who is a lawyer for Reagan and who sought the letter from Mr. Walsh, said the letter meant that the former president was out from under legal jeopardy.
"It has been my understanding that President Reagan is not being considered by the independent counsel's investigation as someone who is a candidate for indictment or as a potential defendant in any way," Mr. Olson said in a telephone interview yesterday.