House Goes It Alone
Slow start for first session since Senate hearings closed up shop
WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, Nov. 6) -- Rep. Dan Burton's fund-raising hearings got off to a slow start today as he squabbled with the committee's Democratic members over internal matters and spent little time extracting information from witnesses.
Burton's House Government Reform and Oversight Committee called presidential counsel Charles Ruff, deputy Cheryl Mills, associate counsel Dmitri Nionakis and special counsel Lanny Breuer on the carpet today to explain delays in producing videotapes of White House coffees.
All four will return Friday for more questions.
Ruff and Mills were questioned on the 15-month delay in handing over a White House staffer's memo. The note suggested that President Bill Clinton wanted a White House database integrated with one belonging to the Democratic Party.
Mills said she and former counsel Jack Quinn made the decision to withhold the note from the committee since it did not fall into one of the seven categories of information requested by Indiana GOP Rep. David McIntosh's reform subcommittee.
Burton characterized the White House legal staff as engaging in an "unprecedented stonewalling of investigations." But Ruff said the counsel's office was complying fully with the demands of the many different bodies investigating campaign finance.
"There is not in my office, and never will be, defiance, stonewalling, obstruction or any other inappropriate conduct," he said.
Ruff suggested that committee members were making premature accusations regarding the coffee videotapes. "The charges of impropriety surrounding that discovery, although readily disposed of, are symptomatic of a tendency on the part of some, I submit, to reach hasty and ill-considered conclusions," he said.
A week after Sen. Fred Thompson called off his panel's public sessions, saying, "I will not be having hearings just for the sake of having additional hearings," Burton (R-Ind.) made the case for why his hearings continue.
Burton rattled off a litany of instances where he said the White House has engaged in questionable activity or has been unresponsive to congressional requests. "If anyone wonders why we must continue this investigation, just consider the history of this White House," he said.
Burton also said he had requested that Clinton ask Chinese President Jiang Zemin to return fund-raising figure Charlie Trie from China, where he has been beyond the reach of congressional investigators.
But, Burton said, "that question was never asked of the Chinese president, and I'd like to know why the president didn't ask him that if he really wants to get to the bottom of this investigation.
"Could it be because Charlie Trie has answers we want and can't get, as long as he's in China? That's something I'm very concerned about," Burton said.
Ranking Democrat Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) started off the day with a complaint that the committee's Republican majority would not approve Democrats' request for consultants to aid the minority side's investigation.
Burton replied that Democrats had opposed GOP consultant requests "in lockstep," and forced him to proceed on party-line votes. The Democrats' request to hire an investigative firm failed on a voice vote.
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