PHOENIX, FEB. 3 -- Arizona Gov. Evan Mecham (R), testifying in his own defense today before a House committee considering his impeachment, charged that his former security chief lied to the panel and that his troubles were caused in large part by an attorney general who "would like to put me in jail and drive me out of office."

The embattled first-term governor, who also faces criminal charges and a recall election, spent a full day sparring with House members after winning a test of wills Monday by refusing to answer questions from the panel's lawyers. "I want to let it all hang out today," Mecham said when the questioning began, but he challenged the wording of dozens of questions and debated the definitions of such words as "threat" and "altercation."

The impeachment committee is considering three charges against the governor, two involving loans and one involving a death threat allegedly made by one of his employees against another who was then a grand jury witness. The House panel spent most of the day seeking to determine whether Mecham obstructed an investigation of the alleged death threat.

Essentially, the obstruction-of-justice charge against Mecham is this: In mid-November 1987, Lee Watkins, who was then head of state prison construction, allegedly told Peggy Griffith, who worked in the governor's office, that "your little whore friend had better keep her mouth shut or she might go for a long boat ride."

Watkins, according to Griffith and others, was referring to Donna Carlson, Mecham's former legislative liaison, who was known at the time to be talking to a state grand jury probing Mecham's activities. Lt. Beau Johnson, then the governor's security chief, said he informed Mecham of the alleged death threat when Griffith told him about it. Johnson said he told Mecham the threat was serious and amounted to a possible felony, and that a check of Watkins' background showed he had a criminal record that included convictions on assault and robbery charges.

Johnson's boss, Col. Ralph Milstead, chief of the Arizona department of public safety, testified that he called Mecham two days later and was told by Mecham that the office of Attorney General Bob Corbin was investigating the case. According to Milstead, during their conversation Mecham said to him: "Well, if you want my permission for {Lt. Johnson and another officer} to talk to the attorney general, the answer is no, you can't have it."

Milstead also testified that during that conversation Mecham directed him to transfer Johnson from the governor's security force.

During questioning from state Rep. George Weisz (R), Mecham testily denied that Johnson had told him of a death threat or a possible felony, and said that his telephone conversation with Milstead could not be interpreted as an attempt to obstruct justice. Mecham said he thought Johnson "lied to the committee." Of Milstead he said, "My word certainly will stand equal to anyone else's."

Mecham said he considered it a minor "altercation between two employees."

Weisz asked Mecham his definition of an altercation.

"When people don't get along," the governor said.

"If someone implies that you might end up at the bottom of a river, is that an altercation?" Weisz asked.

Of Milstead's statement that Mecham had told him that Attorney General Corbin, "is out to hang me," Mecham testified, "I might have said that. He certainly was, in a manner of speaking."

Mecham said that he had asked a subordinate, Max Hawkins, to investigate the alleged death threat against Carlson and that Hawkins reported it "was nothing but some hot air that will blow over."