THE Iran-contra scandal developed out of the Reagan administration's mistrust of the Congress to carry out its obligations under the Constitution. It would be a pity for the President to circumvent the fair functioning of the third branch of government, the judicial, by pardoning Rear Adm. John Poindexter and Lt. Col. Oliver North before the investigation of special prosecutor Lawrence Walsh and the findings of a grand jury have been allowed to run their course. The political argument in favor of a quick pardon at Thanksgiving time is that any expected public outcry would be overtaken by attention to the President's summit meeting with Mikhail Gorbachev. He could say he was acting compassionately, that ``a pardon is not necessarily a recognition that any criminal conduct has occurred,'' as former national-security aide William Clark has counseled, and that the main Iran-contra story is already known.
A parallel with the Watergate pardon of Richard Nixon would be inexact. Mr. Nixon was facing impeachment and prosecution; Mr. Reagan is not. Nixon's top aides - many of them amiably reunited this past weekend at a special review of the Nixon presidency at Hofstra University - took the full brunt of the ordeal. It must be noted that these former aides have survived and begun new careers that are in many ways remarkable - in real estate, fiction writing, religion. The Haldemans, Ehrlichmans, Colsons have proved there is life after Watergate.
If Colonel North and Admiral Poindexter, why not also arms merchants Richard Secord and Albert Hakim? Where would the pardoning end? All these men made decisions that may or may not have been criminal. Implicit or explicit presidential authority may or may not be an excuse.
Justice is no calamity. Justice implies a full finding of facts and charges so there can be a squaring of accounts.