Complaining that their integrity was being questioned, members of the House ethics committee investigating charges of South Korean influence-buying in Congress refused yesterday to consider a plan to disclose whether they themselves had accepted gifts from foreign governments.
The committee voted 6 to 2 to table a motion by Rep. Bruce F. Caputo (R-N.Y.) that originally would have required that the members acknowledge under oath any gifts from South Korea or any other foreign power.
In doing so, the committee rejected the advice of special counsel Philip A. Lacovara, who said he supported the principle of Caputo's motion. Caputo said it was aimed at ensuring the public that the investigators themselves were untouched by scandal.
In sometimes heated discussion before the vote, several members said they resented Caputo's request for a sworn statement, and Rep. James H. Quillen (R-Tenn.) accused him of headline hunting.
Other members argued that his motion was unnecessary because the committee had agreed during a two-hour closed session preceding the vote that a questionaire being prepared by Lacovara would meet the objective for complete disclosure by committee members.
Rep. John J. Flynt (D-Ga.), chairman of the committee, declined to discuss the specifics of the questionnaire. It was learned later that Lacovara intends to send the written queries about South Korea to many current and former members of the House, as well as to the members of the committee.
In a memorandum to the committee six weeks ago, Lacovara suggested that members consider making a public disclosure of any gifts they had received from anyone connected with the South Korean government.
Aside from an informal discussion in executive session some weeks ago, the committee has taken no action to make such a public disclosure.
In interviews with The Washington Post over the last week, 10 of the 12 ethics committee members said they had never accepted gifts of substantially value from the South Korean government.
For example, Rep. Millicent Fenwick (R-N.J.) said she was sent a piece of pink silk with two eagles embroidered on it by a group of South Korea women a few Christmases ago.
Rep. Albert Quie (R-Minn.) said he was given a suit on the way home from a congressional trip to South Korea with former Speaker Carl Albert in the late 1960s. He said he gave the suit to Goodwill Industries because it did not fit.
Rep. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) told The Post last fall that he had met Tongsun Park during a trip to Taiwan and Korea in 1975. Park is a central figure in the continuing congressional and Justive Department investigations because he showered cash and gifts and enterntainment on many members.
Cochran said his trip, with two other House members, was sponsored by the Pacific Cultural Foundation, which is described as a private group with close ties to the Taiwan government. He said he attended parties at Park's George Town Club after returning from the trip, but never was offered or accepted money or gifts.
Rep. Floyd Spence (R-S.C.) could not be reached for comment. Rep. Olin Teaque (D-Texas) has been hospitalized and has not been an active committee member this year.
Lacovara said in answer to reporters' questions after the vote on Caputo's motion yesterday that he was sure he would be satisfied about the impartiality of the ethics committee members before judgements would have to be made on individual cases of misconduct by other members.
Caputo said after the meeting that he was not seeking publicity with his motion. He said he was willing to withdraw the requirement that committee members make statements under oath.
He said he plans to pursue the issue again because such a statement by members should be a basic procedure in any investigation. He declined to say whether he had any evidence that some members of the committee had accepted gifts from the Korean or any other governments.
The committee rejected another Caputo motion yesterday that would have directed Lacovara to present the committee with evidence of wrongdoing by sitting members for a possible test case.
Caputo argued, as did a group of other freshman Republicans at a press conference yesterday, that early public hearings on such a test case would reassure the public that the investigation was being pursued diligently.
Lacovara countered that "it would not be in the public's or the committee's interest to fragment the investigation" by isolating a few cases for disciplinary action now.
Flynt and Lacovara took pains to insist that the investigation was proceeding swiftly, and they promised to make regular status reports about its progress. A group of 51 junior members wrote the committee recently to ask for such progress reports.