IN A LETTER he sent to House Republican Leader Robert Michel last Friday, Attorney General Edwin Meese III added confusion to an issue that doesn't need any more. The subject was the dispute over the election results in the 8th Congressional District of Indiana, and the letter was prompted by a telephone call from Mr. Michel to Mr. Meese. Mr. Michel and other House Republicans were angry because the Justice Department is not backing a suit brought by the state of Indiana to force the seating of Richard McIntyre. The problem is that the issue, in Mr. Meese's words, is a "lls wholly outside the court's jurisdiction."

At that point Mr. Meese would have done well to whip out a copy of the Constitution and consult Article I, Section 5: "Each House shall be he judge of the elections, returns and qualifications of its members." Instead, he tried to soothe the partisan sensibilities of the House Republicans. "I am, quite frankly, appalled at the action of the House majority in excluding a person duly elected by the people of the 8th Congressional District of Indiana and duly certified under the laws of that state." The plain implication of those words is that the House had no right to refuse to seat someone certified as an election winner by a state. Yet, as even House Republicans will concede when they calm down, nothing in the Constitution is plainer than that the House has the power to exclude candidates certified by the states, and in fact both Democratic and Republican Houses have done so frequently over the years.

That doesn't mean they're always wise to do so. We thought the House should have seated Mr. McIntyre pending its own investigation into the Indiana results, and we believe now that it should seat neither man, since the margin the tk force has reported for Frank McCloskey is so small -- four votes -- that it depends on fine questions of which ballots should be counted, a matter on which reasonable people can and do disagree. But it's another thing to say or suggest that the Democratic majority, if it seats Mr. McCloskey, is committing a "rape," as one House Republican put it, or is acting without any legitimate basis in law. Mr. Meese's cheerleading for the House Republicans has fostered rather than dissipated confusion and lends support to the charges, which in our view are unjustified, that the House Democrats have committed a fundamental wrong or acted outside the bounds of the Constitution. They haven't.