WASHINGTON -- The independent prosecutor in the Iran-contra inquiry is discussing a guilty plea with a former senior CIA official who would give testimony that could produce a big break in the investigation, according to two people directly involved in the case.
The former official, Alan D. Fiers, was in a position to know many details of the government's efforts to assist a guerrilla army inside Nicaragua during a period from 1984 to 1986 in which Congress had effectively banned military aid to the contra rebels.
The independent prosecutor, Lawrence E. Walsh, apparently hopes that Fiers can resolve two crucial questions in his &L; 4 1/2 -year-old inquiry: Whether high-ranking officials in the CIA or elsewhere in the government personally helped run a secret arms pipeline to the contras, and whether they have hidden their involvement from investigators.
Since November 1986, when the arms pipeline was uncovered, the White House has maintained that only a handful of executive branch officials led by Oliver L. North, a White House aide, were involved in the arms deals.
The White House has insisted that President Ronald Reagan and his vice president, George Bush, were unaware of the officials' activities.
The CIA similarly concluded after an internal inquiry in 1987 that only six of its employees, with Fiers the most senior, knew any details of the arms trade.
Fiers has conceded that he knew more about North's operations than he sometimes admitted, and he has hinted in sworn testimony that his CIA superiors were also aware of those operations. But in his testimony on the affair he has consistently denied wrongdoing.
The Washington Post reported yesterday that Fiers could agree as early as this week to plead guilty to a single misdemeanor charge, probably stemming from conflicts in his sworn testimony, in exchange for providing Walsh with fresh testimony.