Friends of Caspar Weinberger are seeking to persuade President Bush to pardon the former defense secretary, who has been reindicted on Iran-Contra charges, senior Republicans say.
White House officials said on Saturday that a pardon for Weinberger might be considered at some point in the final days of Bush's presidency.
But they cautioned that so far only informal discussions have taken place among lower-level staff members. Senior advisers have not formally reviewed the idea, and no proposal has been sent to the president's desk, the aides said.
Still, the idea of pardoning Weinberger, defense secretary under President Reagan, is gaining credence, a former Reagan administration official said, with the support of former associates such as ex-Attorney General Edwin Meese and William Clark, former national security adviser and Interior secretary.
Neither could be reached Saturday for comment.
Weinberger has not been convicted of any crime.
But his supporters protested in June when Iran-Contra prosecutor Lawrence Walsh returned an indictment against Weinberger, who had opposed the arms-for-hostages initiative.
"Cap's considered so straight it's almost incredible," said one Senate aide involved in the discussions.
Weinberger was charged with perjury after refusing to turn over his private diaries to congressional investigators in 1987.
On Oct. 30, four days before Election Day, Walsh returned a new one-count indictment against Weinberger. It contained a 1986 note written by Weinberger that seemed to contradict Bush's past account of his knowledge of the arms-for-hostages deals with Iran.
The note said that Bush, as vice president, supported the arms-for-hostages deal during a critical White House meeting in which several top aides, including Weinberger, opposed it.
Bush has said he did not realize that a direct deal, in which arms were sold to Iran in exchange for Iranian help in freeing hostages held in Lebanon, was occurring until months later, and that he did not realize the extent of the opposition to it.
In post-election interviews, top Bush officials, including Vice President Dan Quayle, said the indictment broke Bush's stride in the closing hours of the campaign and snuffed out any hope of re-election.
They charge that the timing of the reindictment was politically motivated.
Sources close to Walsh, a longtime Republican who was an appointee in the Eisenhower, Nixon, Ford and Reagan administrations, have said that the Weinberger notes were included in the indictment to meet defense complaints that the earlier charge had been too broad and vague. They said the timing was set by court agreements, not the election.
A presidential pardon of Weinberger would not prevent Walsh from filing a report on the findings of his six-year, $33-million investigation into the scandal.
If Bush did pardon Weinberger, questions would be raised about what he should do about other pending cases and about the seven other Iran-Contra figures who have pleaded guilty to Walsh's charges.
_ Information from the Washington Post was used in this report.