The chief counsel of the House Assassinations Committee yesterday blamed its setbacks on its missing chairman and urged the other members to renew their inquiry into the murders of both President Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr.
"I do not think one person marching out of step ought to destroy the work of everyone else," the commitee's chief counsel, Richard A. Sprague, said of Chairman Henry B. Gonzalez (D-Tex.).
The 11 other members of the committee met without Gonzalez, who submitted his resignation last week after a futile attempt to fire Sprague on charges of mismanagement and insubordination.
Rep. Charles Thone (R-Neb.) voiced his doubts that the committee could ever issue a report that will be believed by the American people "after this three-ring circus we've had here, this Keystone Kops adventure."
Sprague conceded that no dramatic breakthroughts would be possible by March 31 when the committee will go out of business unless it can win a permanent charter from the house.
"The concept of coming up now with a smoking gun . . . if that is the only way in which the investigation can proceed, then in my opinion, the job cannot be done," he told Thone. But he said he still thought a thorough, credible investigation was possible if the committee can win "an appropriate budget" and a bigger staff.
"I take it you do not feel the ship is sinking?" asked Thone.
"I feel there's been some torpedoes shot," Sprague replied. "The question is whether it has been sunk with the Congress," alluding to the committee's uncertain future in the House.
Under questioning by Rep. Yvonne B. Burke (D-Calif.), Sprague vigorously resisted the notion that the investigation, it is to surive at all, must first concentrate on one assassination, probably that of Dr. King.
Speaking of the present 73-member contend is large enough, Sprague as staff, which many House members serted that it is too small to handle either inquiry, let alone both of them.
"I do not think that with the existing staff, you can do a credible investigation with either (assassination)," he told the committee. "There is a need for additional staff."
With Rep. Richardson Preyer (D.-N.C.) presiding in place of Gonzalez, whose resignation has yet to be acted upon by the House, the committee put off any discussion of the post-March 31 budget it will seek and postponed until Wednesday a discussion of the evidence compiled thus far in the two murders. Rep. Louis Stokes (D.-Ohio) was named chairman of a task force to come up with a new budget in place of the $6.5 million Sprague initially proposed in December.
Yesterday's daylong session was devoted instead, amid a display of premeditated harmony, to adoption of procedural rules for the investigation and to housekeeping details such as unplugging paychecks for the staff for February. In clearing the way for the back pay, which had run into a snag over the current $84,000-a-month spending limit, the committee also quielty removed any cloud over Sprague's claim to his job.
The snag over the spending limit was removed when most of the staff agreed to take a small additional pay cut, leaving them at 61.5 per cent on agreed-upon salary.