Attorneys for Charles H. Keating Jr. said Saturday they formally have asked the Senate ethics committee to grant the embattled savings and loan owner immunity from prosecution in exchange for his testimony about the ``Keating Five' scandal.

In letters to the committee's special counsel, a lawyer representing Keating said that ``neither the American public nor the committee can know the whole story' about the scandal without hearing his client's testimony.Unless Keating is granted immunity, however, attorney Stephen C. Neal said the former S&L chief would refuse to testify about his involvement with five senators who intervened with regulators on his behalf after accepting $1.3 million in campaign contributions from him.

Keating, former owner of the failed Lincoln Savings & Loan in Irvine, Calif., is the central character in the ethics committee's investigation of Sens. Alan Cranston, D-Calif., Dennis DeConcini, D-Ariz., Donald W. Riegle Jr., D-Mich., John Glenn, D-Ohio, and John McCain, R-Ariz.

The senators are accused of pressuring federal regulators to resolve an investigation of Lincoln's financial affairs and to drop an investment rule that Keating opposed. Keating and the five senators have denied any wrongdoing.

In October, as the committee prepared for a series of public hearings that began last week, Neal suggest-ed that Keating might testify if he received a promise from the panel that his statements could not be used against him in other legal proceedings.

Such assurances would provide Keating a measure of protection against pending criminal investigations into his role in Lincoln's $2 billion collapse, expected to be the most expensive thrift failure on record. Keating also is the target of a fraud lawsuit filed by federal regulators and a number of private civil suits.

Efforts to reach committee members for comment Saturday were unsuccessful, but they appeared to rule out an immunity deal when the subject was raised at one point in October. In the words of one panel staffer, the idea was rejected ``out of hand' by committee Chairman Howell Heflin, D-Ala., and Vice Chairman Warren B. Rudman, R-N.H. The two senators refused to allow the suggestion to come before the full six-member panel for consideration, sources said.

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