WASHINGTON — Secretary of State George P. Shultz, whose testimony has cast the Administration's sale of arms to Iran in a new and critical light, fell under blistering criticism himself Friday from congressional conservatives who charged that he could have prevented the disastrous arms sales if he had been bold enough to quit over them.
"I can't escape the notion that had you opposed this flawed policy and were willing to resign over this policy difference . . . you could have stopped it dead in its tracks," Rep. Henry J. Hyde (R-Ill.) told Shultz during his second and final day of testifying to the congressional committees investigating the Iran- contra affair.
"I doubt it very much," Shultz replied. The secretary, who had vigorously opposed the sales from the outset, said he was repeatedly deceived into believing the deals were not going forward.
'You Cut Yourself Out'
"You discussed your resignation on three separate occasions . . . but you did not discuss it in regard to what has turned out to be the major foreign policy disaster of this Administration," Rep. Michael DeWine (R-Ohio) noted.
"In my opinion, you purposely cut yourself out from the facts," DeWine added. " . . . You walked off the field when the score was against you. You took yourself out of the game."
"That's one man's opinion, and I don't share it," Shultz shot back.
On the other hand, Rep. Ed Jenkins (D-Ga.) said it would have been a mistake for Shultz to resign at the time the Iran-contra affair became publicly known last November.
"You were criticized because you did not resign in protest, yet it appears to me that of all times that the President of the United States needed you, it was at this particular time, to try to undo any harm that might have been done with our relations with other nations," Jenkins said.
When the Iran arms sales and the diversion of profits to Nicaragua's rebels became public last November, the question for Shultz was no longer whether to quit. Instead, he found himself fighting instead to hold onto his job amid charges that his criticism of the policies was tantamount to disloyalty.
Casey Opposed Shultz
It was disclosed during Shultz's testimony that the late William J. Casey, then CIA director and one of President Reagan's closest confidants, wrote a letter urging Reagan to fire Shultz and get "a new pitcher"--presumably one who would not press Reagan to acknowledge publicly that the sales had been a bumbling effort to swap arms for hostages.
"It's clear there was unhappiness with Secretary Shultz," said Sen. William S. Cohen (R-Me.), who quoted the Nov. 23 letter during his questioning of Shultz. "He was not following the party line."
In addition, Rep. Dante B. Fascell (D-Fla.), another committee member, disclosed that Casey in mid-1986 suppressed an intelligence report showing that Iran was continuing to support terrorism.
Fascell, who is also chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, charged that Casey withheld the report from Administration colleagues for fear it might undercut support for the arms sales.
Shultz's blunt criticism of the Iran-contra affair followed weeks of spirited defense by those who had carried out the Iranian arms sales and diverted some of the profits to Nicaragua's rebels, despite a congressional ban on aid to the contras.
Committee members had watched in dismay as patriotic appeals by an unrepentant John M. Poindexter, Reagan's former national security adviser, and Marine Lt. Col. Oliver L. North, his charismatic aide, generated an outpouring of public support.
Shultz, in his testimony Friday, continued his staggering account of how Casey, Poindexter, North and others had misled the President.
"I feel like I'd like to wring somebody's neck," Shultz said of his former Administration colleagues.
Although conservatives on the committees had their knives out for Shultz, most committee members welcomed him as nothing short of a hero.
Boren Thanks Witness
Sen. David L. Boren (D-Okla.) told Shultz he wanted "to simply stand up and cheer." Cohen added: "Thank you for bringing the hearings back into focus."
Shultz's testimony did not appear to have stirred the public, however. "The phones have been virtually silent," Boren said in an interview. "I don't know what to make of it."
Rep. Edward P. Boland (D-Mass.) also lavished praise on Shultz. He recalled that the secretary had acknowledged in previous testimony that he would give himself "less than an A-plus" for his role in the Iran-contra affair.
"You might have given yourself less than an A-plus when you were here in December before the Foreign Affairs Committee, but I'm going to give you an A-plus for yesterday and today," Boland told Shultz.
'A Voice of Reason'
"Regrettably," he said, "you were viewed by the architects of these policies as an impediment to be circumvented, rather than as a voice of reason to be consulted."