Arlin Adams, the independent counsel investigating the Reagan-era Department of Housing and Urban Development, is one of three special prosecutors still in business.

The others - all appointed before the independent-counsel law expired on Dec. 15, 1992 - are looking into the Iran-contra affair and the State Department's search for then-candidate Bill Clinton's passport file last year.

No more independent counsels may be appointed unless Congress reenacts the portion of the 1978 Ethics in Government Act that allows the attorney general to ask a panel of appellate judges to select a special prosecutor to look into high-level misconduct. President Clinton has said he favors extending the independent-counsel law, but Congress is not likely to take up the issue for several months.

The law has been highly controversial. Opponents charge that it creates a "witch-hunt" atmosphere, while defenders of the legislation say it is necessary to avoid a conflict of interest that would result if the Justice Department were forced to look into wrongdoing by top administration officials.

Mr. Adams has been in business since March 1990 and has spent more than $7.5 million. Four people - most recently Colorado developer Philip Winn - have pleaded guilty to charges brought by Adams. But the independent counsel has been less successful in winning courtroom victories.

For example, Lance Wilson, a one-time top aide to then-HUD Secretary Samuel Pierce, was convicted last month of only one of 28 counts of influence-peddling brought against him.

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