WASHINGTON — WASHINGTON -- In a rare display of anger, former Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger lashed out Tuesday at the Iran-contra prosecutors, accusing them of using him as a political pawn by issuing a pre-Election Day indictment against him that raised new questions about President Bush's role in the affair.
Emerging from the federal courthouse in Washington after pleading not guilty to the new charge of making false statements to Congress, Mr. Weinberger ripped into his accusers.
"It is unfortunate that my family has to go through this terrible ordeal, not because of anything I have done, but rather because I have become a pawn in a clearly political game, as is shown by the return of the indictment only days before the presidential election," he said, reading from prepared remarks.
Speaking to reporters, Mr. Weinberger said the charge was "a grotesque abuse of the prosecutorial power. I have not lied, nor will I ever."
James J. Brosnahan, the lead prosecutor in the case, denied that the indictment, announced four days before Election Day, was timed to embarrass Mr. Bush. "This case has nothing to do with the politics and everything to do with government," Mr. Brosnahan said outside the courthouse.
During the court hearing, Mr. Weinberger sat impassively at the defense table and spoke only when he stood before Judge Thomas F. Hogan of U.S. District Court and said quietly that he was not guilty of the charge in the indictment.
That charge, which replaces a count dismissed from the original five-count perjury indictment brought against Mr. Weinberger in June, states that in a congressional investigation in 1987, Mr. Weinberger falsely denied that he had kept notes about his activities when in fact he had kept extensive private diaries during his time at the Pentagon.
Prosecutors discovered the Weinberger diaries among the documents they uncovered during their investigation. They found the diaries themselves at the Library of Congress in Washington, where Mr. Weinberger had deposited them along with his other papers.
Mr. Weinberger's comments yesterday reflect the outrage expressed by other Republicans since the new indictment. In that document, the prosecutors, quoting from the former Cabinet member's notes, described a Jan. 7, 1986, White House meeting that appeared to contradict Bush's assertion that he had only a fragmentary understanding of the scheme to exchange arms-for-hostages with Iran.
The notes showed that the participants in the meeting explicitly understood that one arms deal with Iran involved the trade of 4,000 American anti-tank missiles for five American hostages held in Lebanon by radical groups under the Tehran's influence.