Former savings and loan regulator Edwin J. Gray yesterday described being "pressured" by four senators to accept a deal on behalf of Charles H. Keating Jr., prompting an immediate attack on his credibility by the senators' attorneys.

Gray, who was chairman of the Federal Home Loan Bank Board from 1983 to 1987, while Keating was engaged in a losing battle with the regulators to save his failing Lincoln Savings and Loan, told the Senate Select Committee on Ethics that he felt he was being intimidated by the senators at the April 2, 1987, meeting.

"I felt awkward and pressured," he testified under questioning from committee counsel Robert S. Bennett. "The whole setting was an intimidating one under these circumstances because I had never had a meeting like this before."

While he felt the treatment was improper, Gray said, he did not protest for several reasons, including fear of alienating any senators in his effort to win approval of legislation that was pending at the time to replenish the depleted insurance fund for the savings and loan industry. "The last thing I wanted to do was make a bunch of senators angry," he recalled.

Gray said the pressure did not succeed, but said the conduct of the senators should not therefore be excused and he attempted to compare their actions to an unsuccessful rape or robbery until he was cut off by protests from lawyers.

Gray's testimony, delivered in often dramatic tones, was given on the sixth day of hearings by the ethics panel on whether five senators -- Alan Cranston (D-Calif.), Dennis DeConcini (D-Ariz.), John Glenn (D-Ohio), John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Donald W. Riegle Jr. (D-Mich.) -- intervened improperly on behalf of Keating. All but Riegle were at the April 2 meeting.

Keating, who had business ties in all five senators' home states, had raised or contributed more than $1.3 million to the political campaigns and causes of the senators, and the committee is trying to determine whether there was any connection between the senators' intervention and the contributions.

None of the senators attended yesterday's session, in contrast with other days when at least one of them was on hand at nearly all times. All five have vehemently disputed Gray's version of what happened at the meeting and denied his contention that they were promoting a deal for Keating.

After Gray finished laying out his version of events, attorneys for Glenn, Riegle and DeConcini challenged his recollection. Gray acknowledged he had not made any notes at the meeting with the senators, which took place in DeConcini's office, and kept no other written accounts of his dealings with the senators. "The only document was my memory," Gray said.

All five senators attended a meeting with San Francisco-based regulators on April 9 that resulted in a warning from the regulators that officers of Lincoln, which was located in Irvine, Calif., faced the prospect of a criminal investigation.

As Gray told it, the idea for the April 2, 1987, meeting originated in a conversation he had in early March with Riegle, who was to become chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, about the pending thrift-industry bailout bill. Riegle told him there were "some senators out West who are very unhappy" about the bank board's handling of Lincoln and suggested that he meet with them, Gray told the panel.

He said he objected because he thought Keating was behind the effort but eventually went to the meeting after someone on Capitol Hill -- he was not sure who -- called his office and invited him. He thought it particularly strange, he said, that he was instructed to bring no aides to the meeting.

During the roughly hour-long meeting, Gray said he sat across from DeConcini, whom he described as "the least passive" of the four in promoting a "quid pro quo" that Keating wanted to help keep Lincoln afloat.

Under the deal, he said, the bank board would withdraw a tough new regulation that it approved earlier in the year to sharply curtail investments by thrift institutions in high-risk, high-profit ventures such as real estate development in exchange for an agreement by Lincoln to make more home mortgage loans.

"If you can do that {get the regulation withdrawn}, we'll get our friends at Lincoln Savings to make more home loans," Gray quoted DeConcini as saying.

Gray said he assumed DeConcini was speaking for all the senators because he kept using the word "we" and referred at one point to Keating as "our friend from Lincoln Savings." At no point, Gray said, did any of the other senators take issue with DeConcini's phraseology or his suggestion of a deal.

McCain said at one point that he wanted to be sure they were doing nothing improper, according to Gray, who said he responded that it was not improper to ask questions. Glenn was upset at him, Gray said, because he could not answer specific questions about audits and appraisals of Lincoln that were being conducted out of the bank board's San Francisco office.

Gray said he told them that only the San Francisco regulators could answer their questions, and he agreed to set up a meeting with them, which was held April 9.

Gray said he refused to consider any deal, saying he could never have explained it to Congress or the thrift industry. "It would have been rather incredible," he said.

But under questioning from Bennett, Gray also said the senators never threatened to withhold their support for the bailout bill if he did not cooperate on Lincoln.

Bennett, who has described Gray as a key witness but in no way the sole source of evidence against the senators, appeared skeptical at several points about why Gray went ahead with the two meetings despite his strong misgivings about what the senators were trying to do. Bennett also expressed bewilderment about why Gray did not make his objections public for two years.

In addition to his concern about losing the senators' votes for the bailout bill, Gray said he did not protest or walk out at the April 2 meeting as a matter of "personal dignity" and did not go public with his complaints immediately because of his lack of "temperament to be a whistle-blower."

Moreover, without aides at the meeting, there were "no witnesses, no paper trail," and four senators were prepared to dispute his version of events, he added.

After his own treatment at the April 2 meeting, Bennett asked, "why would you allow your people to walk into the same lion's den a week later?"

"I had a very difficult tenure and I wasn't surprised at anything," Gray responded, adding that he made a habit of trying to avoid confrontations with lawmakers.

During cross-examination, the lawyers for the senators also questioned why Gray did not protest at the time. With the thrift industry bailout bill pending in Congress, "I was willing to suffer at that time a lot of slings and arrows" in order to avoid jeopardizing the legislation, he said.

Under questioning by Riegle attorney Thomas C. Green, Gray said he did not recall raising the issue with Riegle during subsequent meetings.

The attorneys also pointed out contradictions between Gray's recollections and the sworn statements of others. At one point, for instance, Green read from an affidavit from a former Gray aide who said Gray had instructed another official to take careful notes at the April 9 meeting, a contention Gray denies. "I don't remember that," Gray said. "That's the best I can do."

Gray denied that he held any ill will for Keating, although he noted, "Mr. Keating, you have to understand, sued me twice," referring to suits involving the bank board's handling of Lincoln. Asked if he thought Keating had tried to oust him from his job, Gray replied: "I did not know who was behind it {an effort to get him fired}. I thought there were probably quite a few."