The "Keating Five" hearings before the Senate ethics committee turned stormy in their seventh day yesterday as attorneys for Sens. Dennis DeConcini (D-Ariz.) and Alan Cranston (D-Calif.) sought to discredit former savings and loan regulator Edwin J. Gray, and committee members expressed skepticism about Gray's testimony in the case.
Gray, in turn, protested the often combative attempts by the two attorneys to impeach his credibility, attempts that also drew protest from the panel's own counsel. Gray has accused DeConcini, Cranston and three other senators of intervening improperly on behalf of thrift executive Charles H. Keating Jr.
After a daylong series of questions challenging his veracity, motives and competence, Gray charged that the lawyers were trying to turn the hearings into a "referendum on me."
Robert S. Bennett, the committee's special counsel, appeared to agree, saying, "The issue is the conduct of the senators; it is not the competence of Mr. Gray."
But at day's end, several committee members led by committee chairman Howell T. Heflin (D-Ala.) and vice chairman Warren B. Rudman (R-N.H.) questioned key points in Gray's testimony, mostly details of an April 2, 1987, meeting where, according to Gray, DeConcini offered him a deal on Keating's behalf.
The former chairman of the Federal Home Loan Bank Board was clearly in the dock all day during his third day under questioning, relentlessly challenged on almost every point of his earlier testimony.
Tense but self-controlled, Gray stuck by his story, first aired on Tuesday, that DeConcini offered him a deal with the tacit consent of other senators in attendance at the meeting.
Present were Sens. DeConcini, Cranston, John Glenn (D-Ohio) and John McCain (R-Ariz.). They and Sen. Donald W. Riegle Jr. (D-Mich.) attended a follow-up meeting with other regulators a week later.
The ethics committee is seeking to determine whether the five senators intervened to help Keating in exchange for $1.3 million that Keating, who is now under indictment for fraud in California, raised for their political campaigns and causes.
While insisting that he was improperly pressured by the senators to accept a deal under which the bank board would withdraw a tough new investment rule in exchange for an agreement by Lincoln to make more home mortgage loans, Gray conceded under questioning by Rudman that only DeConcini had done anything at the meeting that he found to be improper.
"The only member of the United States Senate who did something wrong -- other than being there -- was Senator DeConcini?" Rudman asked.
"Right," Gray said, "if he was not speaking for the others."
Committee member Trent Lott (R-Miss.) asked why it was improper for a lawmaker to question an agency's regulations. He challenged Gray's contention in his Tuesday testimony that it was unusual for lawmakers to hold meetings without aides, calling the issue "over-inflated."
Heflin appeared troubled by Gray's distinction between a written inquiry about a regulatory matter and meetings such as those the senators called in 1987.
When pressed to explain
the difference, Gray told the Senate committee, "I don't think a letter like that carries the same kind of pressure as that kind of meeting."
Under questioning from James Hamilton, DeConcini's attorney, Gray conceded he could have prevented a lot of "heartache" -- including allegations from some of the five senators that he was a "liar" -- if he had given the senators a memorandum in his possession that spelled out information they wanted on Lincoln.
Noting that all four senators at the April 2 meeting denied his version of events, Hamilton asked why people should believe him "instead of four prominent United States senators."
"We all have different memories, but this happened," Gray responded.
At another point, Gray had difficulty recognizing his own home phone number from 1987 on a memo that figured in a dispute over whether he or one of the senators initiated the second meeting between the senators and regulators.
Pressed by both Hamilton and Cranston's attorney, William W. Taylor III, to explain why he did not record his recollections from the first meeting if he was so incensed about what happened, he said he did not consider it necessary.
Taylor attempted to sketch a picture of Gray as suspicious, manipulative and vindictive, asking him at one point if he regarded anyone who disagreed with him as "on the take or stupid."
"It's hard to dignify that with an answer, but of course not," Gray responded angrily.
Asked by Hamilton why he did not report the April 2 and 9 meetings to the ethics committee, Gray said: "The real answer is I didn't know there was a Senate ethics committee."