WASHINGTON -- A federal jury was asked Wednesday to decide whether retired CIA official Clair E. George was a cynical liar who sought to mislead Congress or a harried bureaucrat who was kept in the dark by his subordinates.
The conflicting portraits of Mr. George were presented by opposing lawyers as jurors prepared to deliberate the fate of the CIA's former No. 3 executive, who is charged with nine counts of perjury and obstruction of federal investigators in the Iran-contra scandal.
Jurors officially will receive the case this morning after instructions on the law from U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lambert.
Chief prosecutor Craig A. Gillen said in his closing argument that Mr. George knew the "dirty little secret" of clandestine arms sales to Iran and back-door U.S. support for the Nicaraguan contras and deliberately lied to congressional committees about it in 1986.
The four-week trial, said Mr. Gillen, has shown "startlingly clear, unequivocal, unimpeachable, direct evidence" of Mr. George's attempts at concealment.
With direct U.S. aid for the Nicaraguan rebels banned by Congress at the time, and with then-President Ronald Reagan having pledged there would be no arms-for-U.S. hostages deals with Iran, Mr. George's motive for lying was to protect the agency and the Reagan administration from congressional and public attack, Mr. Gillen told jurors.
But defense attorney Richard A. Hibey argued that Mr. George "made honest mistakes" when he appeared before Senate and House investigating committees largely because information had been withheld from him by his principal subordinates. Mr. Hibey heaped special scorn on Alan D. Fiers, then chief of the CIA's Central American Task Force and the government's star witness against Mr. George.
Mr. Hibey called Mr. Fiers "a convicted liar" who had pointed an accusing finger at Mr. George "in order to make his own deal with the office of independent counsel," which Mr. Gillen represents. Mr. Fiers pleaded guilty last year to two misdemeanor counts of withholding information from Congress and received a sentence of one year of probation and 100 hours of community service.
Mr. Hibey charged that Mr. Fiers falsely testified at Mr. George's trial that he had many "one-on-one conversations" with Mr. George in which he mainly blamed Mr. George for deceiving Congress. Yet Mr. Fiers gave inadequate briefings to Mr. George and often went over his head to deal directly with the late CIA director, William J. Casey, the attorney said.
"What comes out of Alan Fiers?" Mr. Hibey shouted at the jury. "It's only what he wants to come out . . . so that he can obtain maximum benefit for himself and no one else. The man is not entitled to belief!"
Mr. Hibey pictured Mr. George as a harried spymaster who was in charge of more than 50 covert actions around the world but knew fewer details about the Iran-contra project than did Mr. Fiers.
"And yet by virtue of his position, the man is charged with knowing everything," Mr. Hibey said of his client.