MICHAEL DEAVER, who faces jail for lying to Congress, may be bitter when -- if he ever does -- he thinks about Elliott Abrams. The assistant secretary of state lied to Congress, too, and he is not only walking around but also keeping his high post.

A federal jury convicted Deaver of perjury. The real charge against him may have been arrogance. He did not deign to answer the government's case. His lawyer, Herbert J. Miller, admits he "may have made a mistake" in not putting his client on the stand or even calling a single witness to refute sworn testimony that Deaver broke the law by lobbying the White House too soon after he left it to start his own public relations firm.

Said one juror, "The only thing we could go on was the evidence we had."

Deaver, the jury decided, had not leveled with the House Energy and Commerce oversight subcommittee about what he did for the South Koreans, one of his megabuck accounts. Anyone could have told him that it was a mistake to tangle with John Dingell, the redoutable committee chairman, who promptly sent the record to the independent counsel looking into Deaver's activities. But contempt for Congress is a strain that runs deep in the Reagan administration, as this summer's hearings on the Iran-contra scandal so copiously revealed.

Deaver's is a sad Washington story. He came into the White House complaining about his government salary. He left to make a killing. He is a superb piano player, but his real genius was for putting Ronald Reagan in the best light, literally. He never touched substance; television images were his concern.

The White House can give a man an exaggerated sense of power, as is well known. Deaver did not hesitate to threaten a French president who was stubbornly refusing to book Normandy anniversary events in sync with U.S. evening news shows.

In his public-relations business, he seems to have carried over this feeling of no margins. Some say he was headed for a rendezvous with ruination from the day his picture appeared on the cover of Time magazine and made him -- he says -- a target for the envious. He declined in the end to tell the jury about what he said was his real problem, alcoholism. He has many mourning friends, who think he did no wrong. Inordinate love of money is not a fault in Reagan circles.

Elliott Abrams was trying to make war, not bucks, when he misled a Senate committee about his contra fund-raising. He later went back -- after a State Department leak fingered him -- took it all back and, under heavy pressure, grudingly apologized.

Abrams was the bag man for a $10-million contribution from the sultan of Brunei. He went to London, disguised as a "Mr. Kenilworth," and made arrangements for the delivery of the swag.

Abrams was summoned before a grand jury by Independent Counsel Lawrence Walsh. But no penalties have attached to his conduct. Senate committees won't take him as a witness, and the House makes him take the oath. He is undergoing rehabilitation through television -- he's on all the time. Networks think that a well-known name and a big title constitute a kind of exculpation.

The assistant secretary is now proudly towing a Nicaraguan defector around town, one Roger Miranda, who, it is said, had trouble with the State Department's lie-detector on his first try.

Vice President George Bush added to the ethical muddle at his annual Christmas party. Among the wassaillers were Oliver North and John Poindexter.

Both are under investigation by Independent Counsel Walsh, whose minions toil on with a sinking feeling that it will all come to naught, with a presidential pardons waiting at the end of the road. One of the former Reagan aides surely lied to Congress: North says Poindexter told him that the president approved the idea of diverting arms-sale profits to the contras. Poindexter says he didn't.

Bush's hospitality can be read as a declaration that lying to Congress is not even a social error.

Or it may simply reflect a covert-action fan's gushing enthusiasm for North. In his recent David Frost interview, the vice president spoke with feeling of his conviction that North is a national hero, that when North testified before the Iran-contra investigation, "the American people in every bar in Chicago and every bowling alley in Texas and every little home, said, 'Hey, this guy belives in something, and I can identify with it.'"

Is Bush keeping on the pair's good side so they will not spoil his story of complete almost ignorance of the diversion? Or is he preparing the public for the pardons, which might not go down so well in the very bars and bowling alleys of which Bush spoke so authoratively -- although he grew up with a father who kept him in line with a squash racquet?

So, what do you tell the children? That it's okay to lie to Congress if you're a "patriot" but not if you're just out to make a buck?

Mary McGrory is a Washington Post columnist.