IT IS TOO EASY to hear echoes of Watergate in Philip A. Lacovara's resignation as special counsel to the House investigation of alleged Korean influence-buying on Capitol Hill.The Committee on Standards of Official Conduct retained Mr. Lacovara's law firm last winter precisely because he had gained a reputation for legal toughness and integrity as a member of the Watergate special prosecuation team. Since then, however, the panel has obviously not been proceeding as quickly or forcefully as Mr. Lacovara and many others would like. Chairman John J. Flynt Jr.'s lackadaisical scheduling of meetings and his slowness avout pursuing information have given plausibiliity to Mr. Lacovara's charge that the committee made his work "unreasonably difficult."
It does not necessarily follow, however, that Mr. Lacovara should be hailed as the Archibald Cox of the Korean case. There may well be something to Chairman Flynt's remark about the counsel's "temper tantrums" and "ego trips," regardless of the fact that Mr. Flynt has not kept his own temper in check during the past several days. Moreover, both men have noted that their conceptions of their proper relationship were very different. Mr. Lacovara saw himself as an independent counsel, empowered to managed the investigation and speak freely. Mr. Flynt, however, viewed him as a committee employee who was expected to function with more diffidence and deference ot the chairman's leadership.
It is not clear just how blame for the blowup should be distributed. But that does not make too much difference. The important point is that the Flynt-Lacovara clash has beens serious blow to an investigation shadowed from the start by doubts about the House's ability to investigate a major scandal that, by some accounts, may involve more than 100 current and former congressment.
A growing number of legislators, mainly Republicans and junior Democrats, want to turn the whole case over to a special prosecutor.In our view, that would be a mistake. A special prosecutor would be taking over the Justice Department's job of investigating violations of law - and, as we noted the other day, nobody has presented any concrete evidence that the department is incapable of finishing that job. On the other hand, a special prosecutor could not take over Congress's job. That job is to ivestigate and lay out publicly conduct by lawmakers that may not rise to the level of an indicatable offense. Such conduct may well involve violations of ethics codes and abuses of the public trust and may require disciplinary action. Either the House does that disagreeable work itself, or the work will not get done.
The question for the House, then, is how to get its own investigation on the proper track. Some members want to persuade Mr. Lacovara to stay on. Some want to replace Chairman Flynt or set up an entirely new committee of some sort. A special panel might be useful if one could be lauched without losing the benefits of the work the Fltnt panel and its staff have managed to get under way. What matters most, however, is the willingness of the House and its leadership to assign the responsiblility to members with enough independence and backbone to conduct a fair, thorough investigation that may hurt some of their colleagues and friends.