Edwin J. Gray, the former chief regulator of the savings and loan industry, charged yesterday that intervention by five senators on behalf of thrift executive Charles H. Keating Jr. "capped years of private threats and public vilification" aimed at thwarting effective regulation of the industry.
Gray was chairman of the Federal Home Loan Bank Board from 1983 to 1987, during the height of Keating's battle with federal regulators, and has been among the harshest of the senators' critics, accusing them in a letter last year of attempting to "subvert" the regulatory process that Congress itself created.
In April 1987 Gray met privately with the senators and later accused them of improperly pressuring him to relax regulation of Keating's failing Lincoln Savings and Loan. Gray is expected to come under heavy questioning today from the members of the Senate ethics committee, its special counsel and lawyers for the senators.
The panel is trying to determine whether the five -- Sens. Alan Cranston (D-Calif.), Dennis DeConcini (D-Ariz.), John Glenn (D-Ohio), John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Donald W. Riegle Jr. (D-Mich.) -- intervened on Keating's behalf in exchange for $1.3 million in contributions that Keating and his company made to their political campaigns and causes.
The committee got a glimpse of what may come in testimony earlier yesterday by Laurie A. Sedlmayr, an aide to DeConcini, who recounted a discussion between her boss and McCain over whether to meet with Gray several weeks before the April 2, 1987, meeting. She said McCain quoted a Republican acquaintance as describing Gray as "some sort of paranoid" who could not be relied on to play fair.
Gray's statement was largely a defense of his controversial four years as head of the thrift regulatory agency, and he made only glancing references to the five senators. Instead, he focused on efforts by a "very powerful and financially generous thrift lobby" to thwart efforts by himself and others to clean up and strengthen the collapsing S&L industry.
When he met with the five senators in 1987, "we were not discussing a normal regulatory issue to be addressed through the normal kinds of pressure, negotiation and compromise," Gray said. "This was a matter of clear and present danger to the nation and demanded a more sober treatment."
In apparent reference to the April 2 session and the senators' follow-up meeting with regulators most closely associated with the Lincoln case, Gray said, "These meetings capped years of private threats and public vilification designed not just to change particular decisions by the bank board but to render us unable to carry out our central responsibilities."
Earlier in the day, Sedlmayr disagreed with McCain and two McCain aides on several key points, including whether McCain voiced objections about a planned meeting with Gray and whether DeConcini had "coaxed" McCain to join the Lincoln rescue effort in order to make it look bipartisan. She said she knew of no objections from McCain and denied he had to be coaxed to do anything.
Sedlmayr also denied allegations that memos she prepared for DeConcini before the meetings with Gray amounted to a "quid pro quo" offer, as Gray has charged, in which investment rules would be relaxed for Lincoln in exchange for Lincoln's making more home loans. The memos outlined Lincoln's position, not DeConcini's, she said.
But Sedlmayr indicated she had serious misgivings about Keating that DeConcini did not heed. She said she regarded the April 2 meeting as a "political mistake," in part because she feared Gray would misrepresent what happened. Asked what particular consequences she feared, she said, "Well, we're here."
Sedlmayr stood by her earlier characterization of Riegle as the "brainchild" behind the April 2 meeting but also agreed with Thomas C. Green, Riegle's attorney, that it could also accurately be said that DeConcini sought Riegle's advice on how to proceed and that Riegle said a meeting with Gray might be "prudent."
Staff writer John E. Yang contributed to this report.