Members of the House Assassinations Committee are expected to meet behind closed doors today to discuss getting rid of both their chairman and chief counsel and limiting their controversial inquiry to the murder of Martin Luther King Jr.
On paper the committee is scheduled to meet publicly at 9 a.m. for a potential showdown over the attempts by Chairman Henry B. Gonzalez (D-Tex.) to fire chief counsel Richard A. Sprague for allegedly "divisive and deceitful conduct."
But others on the 12-member committee want to avoid any unseemly public tirades and plan to press for closing the session before the shouting starts in order to discuss a possible solution.
The outcome is far from certain and would have to be ratified by the House leadership but tentative proposals were being developed yesterday by Rep. Richardson Preyer (N.C.) ranking Democrat on the committee in cooperation with Rep. Richard Bolling (D-Mo.).
According to informed sources, the suggestions include abandoning the investigation of the 1963 assassination of President Kennedy and reconstituting the committee with a new chairman and a new chief counsel.
Preyer and Bolling refused to discuss the matter except to confirm that they were attempting to fashion a viable statement. Sources who recited the details emphasized that they were simply possible "options" that were being bandied about.
But the House Democratic leadership, and especially Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr (Mass.), have never been keen about reopening the investigation into the Kennedy assassination, especially in light of opposition from the Kennedy family.
At one point last year, Bolling a ranking member of the House Rules Committee, recited that opposition in squelching proposals to create the assassinations committee.
He changed his mind, and so did the House leadership, only after what Bolling regarded as new evidence in the 1968 assassination of King was brought to his attention by Del. Walter E. Fauntroy (D-D.C.) and members of the Congressional Black Caucus. King's widow, Coretta, also appealed for a new inquiry. Thus converted, the House voted last September to investigate both the King and Kennedy assassinations.
The current furor broke out last week after Sprague, with the apparent backing of a committee majority, successfully resisted Gonzalez' demands that he economize by cutting back the committee's 73-member staff, at least temporarily.
Angry at the resistance to his economizing and at what he called subsequent attempts to malign him, Gonzales ordered Sprague's dismisal last Thursday. He was countermanded within hours by all 11 other members of the committee, who told Sprague to stay on the job.
The entire investigation is currently in limbo. Bogged down for weeks in controversy over Sprague's proposed $6.5 million budget and questions about his investigating techniques, the committee will go out of business March 31 unless it can win a more permanent charter from the House.
In refusing to discuss the backstage maneuvering, preyer said yesterday he felt the best way out of the impasse was "least said, soonest mended."
"This has been an embarrassement to the Congress, the chairman and the committee," Preyer said. "We are trying to resolve it with as much dignity and order as possible."