An Arizona attorney general accused former U.S. attorney general Richard G. Kleindienst today of "lying to save himself" when investigators from the State Bar of Arizona studied his association with a convicted insurance swindler in 1978 and 1980.
In a 2 1/2-hour closing argument in Kleindienst's perjury trial, prosecutor Ron Collett turned to the former Cabinet officer, waved his finger and told jurors:
"That man there will change his mind as many times as necessary and as many times as he thinks he can get away with it. That's what he's been doing throughout his testimony."
As Kleindienst sat expressionless near his wife and daughters, Collett reviewed each of 12 counts remaining in the perjury indictment stemming from statements Kleindienst made to state bar investigators studying his association with convicted California insurance swindler Joseph Hauser.
Each count relates to technical points involving a multimillion-dollar insurance siphoning scheme engineered by Hauser. A key element, according to testimony, involved illegal transfer in 1976 of $1.8 million in dividend insurance premiums from Arizona's Family Provider Insurance Co., which was controlled by Hauser, to other Hauser firms.
In a closing statement, defense attorney Michael Scott portrayed Kleindienst as a victim of inept state officials unable to prevent Hauser from looting Family Provider.
"You think the state hasn't been embarrassed by this case?" Scott asked. "You think they're not looking for someone to hang it on so they can close out the book? The insurance department was the only one on notice when these transactions were going on, and they didn't do one thing about it."
Scott characterized the trial as "a dirty, sinister case with political motivations." He accused prosecutors of allowing key witnesses, including Hauser, "to lie right here in court."
Kleindienst, who acted as an attorney for Family Provider, testified that he was fooled by Hauser, that he did not know details of the siphoning scheme and that he attempted to comply with a directive from Arizona insurance officials to return the funds to Family Provider.
Key prosecution witnesses, including Hauser, have contradicted Kleindienst on each of his assertions.
Emphasizing that Kleindienst is a Harvard University graduate, a competent lawyer and the former top U.S. law enforcement official, Collett said jurors would have to be naive to believe he was ignorant of Hauser's machinations.
"There was this plan to deceive the Arizona insurance department," Collett charged. "That man knew about it, he participated in it and he wasn't going to let anybody else know about it."
Collett accused Kleindienst of "trying to derail the bar investigation. He went in front of that bar to throw them off the track," Collett said.
He told jurors that if they acquitted Kleindienst of perjury, they would have to believe that a long string of prosecution witnesses deliberately lied. Collett said the witnesses would have no reason to do so but that Kleindienst, "as all defendants," would have motivation "to save his own skin."
A key part of Kleindienst's defense has involved challenging credibility of defense witnesses. Hauser, a key witness, admitted on the stand that he lied to a California grand jury and to Securities and Exchange Commission investigators.
Scott said Hauser "would say anything against anybody" and was motivated to testify falsely against Kleindienst because Kleindienst once testified against Hauser at a state grand jury proceeding.
If Kleindienst conspired with Hauser, Scott said, he should have been indicted on security or mail fraud charges, instead of what Scott called "some trumped-up perjury case. That's what we've got here."
If convicted on all 12 counts, Kleindienst faces a maximum 100-year prison term.