Attorney General Edwin Meese III ended his controversial tenure at the Justice Department Friday by signing an order that provides for independent counsels to investigate members of Congress.

Meese, who has been investigated by two separate counsels since he came to Washington in 1981, said his final act will ensure that members of the legislative branch and top executive branch officials are treated in the same manner during federal criminal investigations.In fact, the procedures will differ. For instance, Meese's order retained for future attorneys general the power to select any independent counsel to investigate members of Congress. But the ethics act invests that appointment power in a special three-judge panel in cases involving top executive officials.

Meese said he had discussed the order with his successor, former Pennsylvania Gov. Richard L. Thornburgh, though not with anyone on Capitol Hill. Thornburgh could rescind the order if he chose to.