When South Korean businessman Tongsun Park sat before the television cameras at a House hearing in April and ticked off his long list of payments - mostly in cash - to some 30 members of Congress, his unsavory litany didn't impress many.
Most of the largesse Park passed out in little white envelopes had been detailed before by the press in months of front-page headlines. Fewer than 10 members were seriously implicated by his testimony - far less than the 115 that had been predicted in one New York Times account. And those most incriminated were no longer in Congress.
In the months since, the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct has filed and heard charges of misconduct against four colleagues.
The panel voted to recommend that Edward R. Roybal (D-Calif.) be censured and that Charles H. Wilson (D-Calif.) and John J. McFall (D-Calif.) be reprimanded. If found Edward J. Patten (D-N.J.) not guilty.
Supporters of those accused complained that the committee was "grading on the curve" because those most guilty were beyond the reach of House discipline.
Now the committee apparently has quietly given up all hope of getting information from King Dong Jo, the former Korean ambassador suspected of conducting a cash-based lobbying campaign similiar to Park's.
The parrallel Justice Department investigation also is winding down, though a half-dozen cases are still open, investigators say. The Justice scorecard shows a handful of indictments, a couple of convictions, and a few more who escaped because their crimes were too old to be prosecuted.
Thus, the South Korean influence-buying scandal - Koreagate, as it became known in more evcitable circles - is ending with the same unmet expectations as Tongsun Park's first public testimony in April.
In recent interviews, Justice Department and congressional investigators and members of Congress involved in the several inquiries spawned by the revelations of Korean lobbying over the past two yars cite two main factors in accounting for the less-than-advertised results.
The press blew the story out of proportion, in a post-Watergate race to be first with the gory details about the hot new scandal in town. "Nothing we could have done would have met the expectations raised by press," said a House investigator.
The most frequently mentioned media sin was a spiraling numbers game about how many members would be touched by the scandal. Continuous front-page treatment, such as that given by The Washington Post, which broke the first accounts nearly two years ago, also added to the anticipation, according to some participants.
Others involved, though, said an active press was needed to keep pressure on investigators.
The investigators themselves raised expectations by focusing too much attention on Tongsun Park and later his rival, Kim Dong Jo.
Park, the urbane Washington party-giver, fled to London when the scandal broke, and last year to Seoul, just before his secret indictment. By the time he returned to tell his sordid tale early this year, the statute of limitations had expired on some cases, preventing the law from reaching three former House members.
While the Justice Department concentrated last fall on negotiations to get Park's testimony, House committee special counsel Leon Jaworski turned his attention to Kim.
But the former Watergate special prosecutor was stymied by the diplomatic immunity that protected the former ambassador. The Korean investigation was tougher than Watergate, Jaworski said, because Kim and other key witnesses could not be reached by American law, as President Nixon's tapes had been.
After the House voted to cut off economic aid to Korea in retaliation - a move that horrified the State Department - and Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr. (D-Mass.) intervened, Kim did agree to answer written questions about cash payment she was suspected of making to members.
His response, however, was "not what we expected," according to committee Chairman John J. Flynt Jr. (D-Ga.). "It was unsulting," said another committee source.
"Everyone here feels that we didn't complete the investigation because we didn't get Kim Dong Jo," said John W. Nields, the committee chief counsel.
"It is probable that there are people on the Hill who ought to be exposed but haven't been," for want of Kim testimony, said Peter A. White, Jaworski's deputy.
Participants do talk of possible benefits from the multimillion-dollar series of investigations.
"We may have brought forth a mouse, but it was an honest mouse," said Rep. Millicent Fenwich (R-N.J.), considered one of the most diligent members of the ethics committee.
Other expressed concern, though, about the inherent problems that arise when an institution investigates itself. Both Jaworski and Philip A. Lacovara, who preceded him as the House committee's special counsel, suggested an independent investigating committee might head off skeptics' doubts about members' motivation for hunting down colleagues.
Lacovara said he thought some kind of leadership-appointed commission, triggered by a small percentage of members from each party, might be an alternative to the present setup. Jaworski has suggested a presidential commission.
Several of those interviewed also felt the investigations and the accompany pulicity have forced members of Congress and those - here and abroad - who would lobby them to be more sensitive to appearances of imporpriety.
Benjamin R. Civiletti, head of the Justice Department's criminal division during most of the period, said he was surprised "by how easy it was for Tongsun Park and the others to get close to members of Congress . . . They have to be aware of how exposed they are and be more vigilant."
A Washington Post poll of House members last year found signs of what was termed the "free lunch syndrome." Congressmen were susceptible to the Korean hospitality because they were so used to other lobyists or hometown supporters picking up the tabe.
"We have a system that invites it," Fenwick said.
Some of those involved feel that at a greater distance, away from the inevitable comparisons with Watergate, the Korean investigation will be seen as a significant example of corruption in Congress.
White, the former House committee counsel, noted: "We tend to view such events as a continuing drama. The problem with this drama is that the denouement ocurred in April," with Park's public testimony. "In a different context, without pretensions of being another Watergate, it comes out to be a substantial scandal."
The Korean investigation certainly had all the elements for drama.
A foreign ally was using cash generated from the tax-supported sale of U.S. rice to influence Congress.
The case of characters included the likes of Park, the "Oriental Gatsby" with his fancy Georgetown parties; Suzi Park Thompson, the sexy aide to House Speaker Carl Albert who gave small dinners for members and Korean Central Intellience Agency officials, and Otto E. Passman, head of a powerful House Appropriations sub-committee and alleged recipient of more than $200,000 from Park.
Behind the scenes were the U.S. intelligence agencies. Eavesdropping on Korean diplomatic cables, these unseen players found - and ignored - early evidence that members of Congress were being improperly approached.
Despite a scratching donouncement of the intelligence agencies' involvement in the Korean scandal by the Senate Intelligence Committee, no one has ever adequately addressed why the CIA and National Security Agency did not pass along all the incriminating information they received.
The House investigating committee didn't even try, according to Rep. Bruce F. Caputo (R-N.Y.), a maverick freshman who generated a lot of publicity - and many colleagues, enmity - criticizing the pace of the inquiry. "There was a failure to look in likely places," he said. "We never interviewed some of the obvious executive branch officials."
Caputo attributed this omission mostly to members' respect for national security rather than to any attempted evasion of answers.
The mystery of the intelligence connection ins one of the ironies in the Korean investigations.
The Korean CIA, after all, was patterned after its American counterpart. "They were only doing what we taught them to do," one investigator said of the Korean lobbying effort.
It was ironic, though fitting, to some to see the lobbying effort backfire. For as the revelations continued, the congressional supporters Seoul had tried so hard, and brazenly, to woo felt obligated in many instances to back off.
State Department officials agree that relations between the two longtime allies have never been so strained. And Korean diplomats have said privately they fear the effects of a possible long-term ill feeling in Congress.
Rep. Donald M. Fraser (D-Minn.), chairman of a House International Relations subcommittee that studied the scandal's foreign policy implications, said he was concerned that the emphasis on finding guilty members of Congress had overshadowed other Korean government actions.
"One of the tragedies, from ny point of view, is that the scandal has tended to obscure the serious human rights problems in Korea," he said.
"The almost overriding lesson to me is that we have to be extremely wary about developing such close relationships with authoritarian governments. If a country like Korea uses strong methods to control its citizens, there's no reason to suppose a new ethic would appear in dealing with us."
A final irony, to many students of the Korean investigations: nearly $1 million was spread around by the lobbyists from Seoul, but much more apparently was stolen.
Tongsun Park, for instance, received more than $9 million from an American rice-exporting firm, but passed only a small portion of it around Capitol Hill.
Hancho Kim, another South Korean businessman apparently being groomed as Park's successor, was convincted of receiving $600,000 in cash from the KCIA. But goverment prosecutors admitted they couldn't show that he ever gave anyone in Congress a dime.