The congressional Iran- contra committees wrapped up 41 days of public hearings today with key legislators from both parties delivering stinging denunciations of the Reagan Administration's worst foreign policy scandal.
"I see it as a chilling story, a story of deceit and duplicity and the arrogant disregard of the rule of law," Sen. Daniel K. Inouye (D-Hawaii) said in a somber statement that brought to an end 12 weeks of televised testimony from more than 30 witnesses.
"It is also the story of a flawed policy kept alive by a secret White House junta," said Inouye, chairman of the Senate Iran-contra committee, referring to the covert sale of U.S. arms to Iran and diversion of profits to Nicaraguan rebels.
"It is a story of how a great nation betrayed the principles which made it great and thereby became hostage to the hostage takers," Inouye said.
'Abuse of Power'
President Reagan has acknowledged that the sale of U.S. arms to Iran, which he said began as a way to open relations with Tehran, degenerated into a swap of arms for American hostages held by pro-Iranian groups in Lebanon.
Sen. Warren B. Rudman, vice chairman of the Senate Iran-contra committee and a member of Reagan's own Republican Party, said that the affair represented "abuse of power" by the White House and that Reagan had authorized and implemented "an act of folly" in selling arms to Iran.
But Rudman, of New Hampshire, said the hearings had also shown that Reagan neither knew about nor authorized the possibly illegal diversion of arms profits to the contras.
House Iran-contra committee Chairman Lee H. Hamilton (D-Ind.) quoted Secretary of State George P. Shultz who said "trust is the coin of the realm," and Hamilton added that trust between the White House and Congress had been lacking throughout the secret dealings of 1985-86.
'Plan for Grade-B Movie'
Inouye, talking to reporters after the hearings, said he believed that laws had been broken in the affair but said it is the task of independent counsel Lawrence E. Walsh, who is conducting a separate criminal investigation of the affair, to bring lawbreakers to justice.
"Sadly, once the unsound policies began to unravel, it became a story of a cover-up, of shredding and altering of the historical record and of a fall-guy plan suitable for a Grade B movie, not a great power," he said.
During more than 240 hours of testimony, witnesses told of plans to disguise shipments of arms to Iran via Israel, to write a chronology that disguised key events and of the shredding and altering of National Security Council documents.
Other lawmakers on the Iran-contra committees also took a dim view of the affair.
'Based on Lies and Deceit'
Said Sen. William S. Cohen (R-Me.):
"A central lesson . . . is that democracy must be protected against its friends as well as its enemies and that the law may be equally violated when people act out of patriotic passion and zeal as when they act with contempt and calculated disrespect and disregard for the political process."
Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes (D-Md) said, "Democracy cannot withstand the damages of policies that are based on lies and deceit." He said there were individuals prepared to act "outside the constitutional process to achieve their ends, and of course that path leads to the subverting of democracy."
Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger, the last public witness, told the committees today that he fought the arms sales to Iran "every step of the way" and cited the latest Iranian rioting in Mecca as further proof that "we simply cannot deal with people like that."
The panels will take testimony from three CIA officials in closed session beginning Tuesday and will use the balance of the month of August to write a formal report.