A Republican senator is calling for Attorney General Edwin Meese III to resign while another questions "whether the U.S. Department of Justice can function" with Meese in charge.

Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., planned to turn Thursday's Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing on antitrust matters into a discussion of why two top aides to Meese and four of their assistants rocked the Justice Department on Tuesday by handing in their resignations amid Meese's mounting legal difficulties.Meese is the target of a broadening criminal investigation that shows no signs of ending anytime soon. Department sources have said the top officials quit because they felt Meese's legal problems were "poisoning" the Justice Department.

On Wednesday, Sen. Bob Packwood, R-Ore., said flatly that Meese should resign.

"You finally reach a place where there is a cloud of suspicion, a sufficient cloud of suspicion, that I think you owe it to the president to remove yourself," he said.

But Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah, said Meese should remain in office "until the special prosecutor comes up with his conclusions. If he concludes there was impropriety, that's another question," Hatch said.

Specter declined to call for Meese's resignation but said the attorney general owes the American people "a full public explanation as to why his deputies have left."

"What is on my mind is the very important issue of whether the U.S. Department of Justice can function at this time with Attorney General Edwin Meese in charge," Specter said.

Meese, meanwhile, said "there's no reason to resign" and President Reagan reiterated his support for his old friend.

White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater was asked Wednesday why Meese remained on the job when White House chief of staff Howard Baker, Vice President George Bush and Mrs. Reagan wanted him out.

"I don't think any of that is true," Fitzwater replied.