Burton Releases More Hubbell Tapes
He says he's ready to release even more conversations if questions about his fairness persist
WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, May 4, 1998) -- Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.) released more Webster Hubbell tapes Monday, trying to defuse Democratic charges of selective editing of the Hubbell prison phone conversations he made public last week.
And Burton says there are still "a number of incriminating conversations" in the prison recordings that have not been made public.
In a "Dear Henry" letter to Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Cal.), Burton has threatened to release the additional material "if it appears that the public is being misled" about Burton's fairness. Late last week Burton released excerpts from some 54 prison conversations of Hubbell, a longtime friend of Bill and Hillary Clinton.
Burton said he witheld the additional tapes because he wanted to "bend over backwards to be fair to Mr. Hubbell." However, Burton warned if these "rash allegations" persist, he will "have little choice but to release the information that makes the public record complete."
Waxman has been in the forefront of Democratic critics hammering Burton for a "selective" release of tape excerpts last week. In response to the criticism, Burton began releasing the tapes of the entire conversations. In a chaotic scene, an aide tossed sets of the first three audio casettes to eager Capitol Hill reporters.
Committee sources said there are seven 90-minute tapes in the release. There are 54 conversations between Hubbell and his family, friends and lawyers involved in the latest release, and 43 of those conversations were in the materials released Monday.
In a point-by-point response to Waxman's charges, Burton says the
release of the complete tapes of the excerpted conversations will prove Waxman is making a "mountain out of a molehill."
In a telephone conversation Sunday night, Hubbell told CNN he thought it was "outrageous" that Burton planned to release more tapes of the phone conversations Hubbell had while in prison.
One hundred fifty hours of taped conversations were turned over to
Burton's House Reform and Oversight Committee by the Justice Department as part of that committee's probe into campaign finance abuses during the 1996 election.
Burton released edited excerpts of the tapes following Hubbell's
indictment last week on tax-evasion charges by the Whitewater grand jury in Washington.
Following criticism that he was releasing the excerpts for political gain, Burton said on CNN's "Late Edition" Sunday he would turn over all the conversations on Monday if Hubbell's attorney, John Nields, agreed.
Burton later announced in a press release that all of the
previously released tapes would be made public.
Nields told CNN late Sunday he was not contacted about the disclosure but said earlier in the day that none of the material should have been made public. Burton committee spokesman Will Dwyer said Burton did not feel he needed to consult with Hubbell's attorney because not all 150 hours of material were to be released.
Hubbell called the conversations private, among "my wife, my children and lawyer ... These tapes were never, ever supposed to see the light of day unless I had committed a crime ..." He called Burton's decision "disgraceful" and said the release of the tapes was "like Chairman Burton sitting in a confessional with a recording device and then releasing the tape."
Hubbell said the American public should be outraged as well by Burton's decision. "Is he above the law? ... I don't want to hear Burton or anyone else saying the president is abusing power. The only one acting above the law is Congressman Burton. It isn't about Webb Hubbell, it's bigger than that."
Hubbell said no matter how much or how little was released, "it still is a violation of law." Burton's office contends that the committee is in full compliance with the federal privacy act and that Burton has the authority to disclose the material.
A behind-the-scenes request for a delay
Top aides to House Speaker Newt Gingrich appealed to Burton's staff Monday to delay releasing the additional Hubbell tapes, but were rebuffed, CNN has learned.
GOP leadership sources say several top Gingrich aides met with Burton's committee staff to push a Gingrich proposal that a third party outside of Burton's committee review the Hubbell tapes and decide what should be released to the public.
Burton's staff ended the meeting saying the request would be considered and there was talk in the Capitol that the release of the tapes would be delayed. But GOP sources say the staff consulted Burton and he authorized them to go forward with the release, saying he would not have his authority as chairman undermined.
One of the sources, a senior Republican, said Gingrich tried to reach Burton directly as he traveled Sunday and Monday but the two were unable to connect, so the message was relayed through senior staff.
At the meeting, sources say, Gingrich aides told Burton's staff the committee had uncovered substantial evidence of Clinton Administration
misconduct but was "obscuring the goodness of their work" by making tactical and strategic mistakes in releasing information.
One senior Gingrich aide said on a scale of one to 10, anxiety in
the Republican caucus about Burton's handling of this latest development was "roughly a 7." The aide said most Republicans wanted to support Burton and his work but wanted it impressed on the chairman that he and his staff were falling well short in developing a coherent communications strategy.
Senate leaders are divided, too
Senate leaders divided along party lines over the release of the taped prison phone conversations.
Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) said the release "is just outrageous and it again demonstrates the extraordinary abuse on the part of the chairman [Rep. Burton]."
But Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) defended Burton and ripped the Clinton Administration. "The White House always viciously
attacks anybody that brings out any information that they don't like," Lott said. "It is their usual pattern of behavior."
Lott warned reporters they may be focusing too much on the messenger
rather than the message. He said reporters were "picking up the White House spin."
"You are focusing on why the tapes were released and how they were
released," Lott said. "Why don't you focus on what the tapes show?"
CNN's John King contributed to this report.