The "Inside Politics" Interview: Rep. Dan Burton
Aired May 4, 1998 - 5:12 p.m. ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JUDY WOODRUFF, CO-HOST: Now joining us, the man at the center of the Hubbell tapes controversy, the chairman of the House Government Reform & Oversight Committee, Dan Burton, Republican of Indiana. He joins us now from Indianapolis.
Mr. Burton, thank you for being with us.
REP. DAN BURTON (R-IN), HOUSE GOVERNMENT REFORM & OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: You're welcome, Judy. I'd like to start off saying that when I do interviews on shows like yours and Bernie's, I really expect to be treated fairly, and I want you to know that that pre-interview piece that you showed was very biased, and I think your producers know it. All I ask out of you and CNN is a modicum of fairness. Regarding my subpoena power, I didn't get that out of the air. That was granted to me by the U.S. House of Representatives.
WOODRUFF: Mr. Burton, we appreciate that. As you know, we try not to be biased in our reporting. We identified that as flashbacks to some of the more controversial moments on your committee. But if I may, I'm going to go ahead and launch into these questions today. As you're aware the ranking Democrat on your committee, Mr. Waxman, had said the release of these tapes today would be a serious invasion of the privacy of Mr. Hubbell and his wife and their friends and associates.
Did you take that into consideration?
BURTON: I certainly did. We had over 150 hours of tapes, Judy, and we condensed them down to about an hour. Then we were criticized because they said we altered the tapes and altered the meaning of the tapes. We can't have that. The credibility of this investigation is so important that even though I don't want to divulge personal things about Mr. and Mrs. Hubbell, in order to keep the integrity of the committee intact, and the investigation intact, I had no choice but to release those tapes.
WOODRUFF: Does this new material on balance cast Mr. Hubbell and the Clintons in a better light?
BURTON: Oh, I don't think so. I think that when any objective person listens to these tapes, they'll know that Suzy Hubbell and Webb Hubbell were very concerned about Suzy Hubbell losing her job, and that Webb Hubbell said very clearly "I guess I have to roll over one more time" in order that she wouldn't be jeopardized.
WOODRUFF: If that's the case, then why didn't you go ahead and release all this material to begin with?
BURTON: Because, as I said before, on those tapes and I'm sure you're going to listen to them, you'll hear personal things between Mr. Hubbell and his wife. I didn't think those things should be in the public domain. So we tried to edit those things out. But unfortunately, the media and the Democrats said oh, my gosh we altered the tapes to alter the meaning, and I don't want that to be the case whatsoever. So I had no choice but to go ahead and release the tapes in question.
WOODRUFF: So when Mr. Waxman, Congressman Waxman says quote, "there was a systematic effort to mislead the public," he says, quote, "crucial passages that appear to exonerate the president and the first lady were deleted." Your response.
BURTON: My response is that should be laid to rest right this minute because you got the tapes. You can listen to every single word on them. The American people will know for sure very clearly what was said by Mr. Hubbell and his wife.
WOODRUFF: Did you or your staff again, as Mr. Waxman charges, intentionally alter the transcripts?
BURTON: Of course not. When you've got 150 hours of tapes and you condense it condense down to one hour obviously you're going to do things people will be concerned about. They'll say you left too much in or took too much out. I'll tell you in this, anybody who came in and wanted listen to those tapes and the transcripts we were allowing them to listen to the tapes. The tapes were there and they looked at transcripts and stopped where the transcripts were instead of listening to the tapes.
WOODRUFF: Mr. Burton, what do you say to these new reports late today that Democrats are considering announcing that they will go along with immunity for some witnesses for Whitewater witnesses if you will step down as chairman of the committee?
BURTON: Let me just tell you, every single person who has investigated this administration, whether it's Mr. Starr, Senator Thompson, myself, Congressman Clinger (ph) or Congressman Leach, every single person who has even raised one issue about this administration has been attacked, vilified and they've tried to destroy them, and that includes the women that are involved as well.
All I can say to you is that I'm not going to be intimidated by Mr. Waxman or the Democrats. We're going to continue with our investigation. We're going to do it in an honorable way because the American people have a right to know the truth. They have a right to know whether or not our foreign policy was compromised because of campaign contributions, and they have a right to know if our defense was jeopardized because of campaign contributions.
WOODRUFF: What about, Mr. Burton, the so-called growing worries among Republican ranks in the House about how your investigation has been conducted? We're told that some aides to Speaker Gingrich went
to members of your staff, asking that communications be improved, and saying that they were very critical of the way these tapes were released last week.
BURTON: Well, let me just tell you this. You guys always come up with unnamed sources. You name them. The fact of the matter is I meet with the speaker on a regular basis and you and everybody in the media says unnamed sources said this and unnamed sources said that. I'm still the chairman. I'm going to be the chairman. I'm working with the speaker and I'm working with Representative Thomas to get to the bottom of this scandal, and I'm not going to change and I'm not going to back off.
WOODRUFF: So is it not the case then that some aides to Speaker Gingrich met with members of your staff to discuss the way this investigation is going now?
BURTON: I meet with the speaker on a regular basis. My aides meet with aides to the speaker on a regular basis, so that's not an uncommon thing.
WOODRUFF: Well, let me ask you about this, Mr. Burton. You have become, to a large degree now, the center of a controversy here, the focus of a controversy. Is that -- and one has to assume that wasn't your initial intent. What has gone awry here?
BURTON: Let me ask you what has gone awry with Mr. Starr's investigation? You guys report on TV all the time that his numbers have been driven down to 11 percent. Some of do you it with glee. Anyone who is investigating the president is going to be attacked, and I'm no exception.
And I fully expected that when I started. Newt fully expected that I would be attacked, and I have. But I have a job to do, just like the president says he has a job to do. I have a job to do to try to get to the bottom of this, just like Mr. Starr does, and I'm not going to shirk my responsibility.
WOODRUFF: Do you have any intention of reconsidering your royal as chairman of the committee? Do you plan to stay on in that position?
BURTON: Of course. You don't stop an investigation like this right in the middle of it. When you hear the other side squealing like a bunch of pigs then you understand you're getting somewhere near the truth. And they're all screaming to high heaven they want me out of there because they're feeling the pressure. Mr. Hubbell's comments themselves are pretty dog gone revealing, and they don't want that sort of thing out in the public, because they don't want the people to know what's going on.
WOODRUFF: And among your own Republican ranks, are you not concerned that some of your own colleagues in your own party may be having misgivings about the way this is going?
BURTON: Who are you talking about?
WOODRUFF: Well, for one Congresswoman Connie Morella, who did not vote for immunity the last go-around.
BURTON: Well, Connie has been a very good member of my committee and Connie and I work very well together. We have had differences of opinion like all members do, but she's a good committee member and I have no problem with our work relationship. So I don't know where you're getting that.
WOODRUFF: All right, Congressman Dan Burton, chairman of the House Reform Oversight Committee -- Government Reform & Oversight Committee, we thank you very much for joining us.
BURTON: Thank you.
WOODRUFF: When we come back, who is winning the political battle over the Hubbell tapes? Two members of CNN's "CAPITAL GANG" will weigh in. And if you want to hear all the Hubbell tapes being released today, look for them on the CNN-"Time" all politics Web site.