May 8, 1998
Two developments in the continuing White House drama: Dan Burton created a flap by releasing audio tapes of Webster Hubbell and a judge rejected President Clinton's executive privilege claim. After this background report on the Hubbell tapes, Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot and syndicated columnist Mark Shields discuss the week's events with Jim Lehrer.
JIM LEHRER: Now some Washington commentary by Shields & Gigot. Their first subject is the week of partisan charge, counter charge, and audio tapes at the capital. Kwame Holman sets that up.
A RealAudio version of this segment is available.
May 8, 1998:
Shields and Gigot discuss the Hubbell tapes.
May 6, 1998:
A debate over executive privilege with two former White House counsels.
May 1, 1998:
Our pundits discuss the war of words between Mr. Gingrich and Mr. Clinton.
May 1, 1998:
A report on the week's developments in the Starr Investigation.
April 30, 1998:
The NewsHour's commentators assess the President's press conference.
April 17, 1998:
Our pundits discuss Kenneth Starr, Paula Jones & a poll of government leaders.
Browse the Online NewsHour's coverage of the White House and Shields & Gigot.
The White House home page.
Rep. Burton: "When you hear the other side squealing like a bunch of pigs, then you understand that you're getting somewhere near the truth."
KWAME HOLMAN: The House Government Reform and Oversight Committee room took on a chaotic look on Monday. Committee staff members summoned the news media and gave out audio cassettes containing hours of conversations involving imprisoned former associate attorney general Webster Hubbell, his wife, and others.
The Committee's Chairman, Dan Burton of Indiana, decided to release the extensive recordings after giving out transcripts containing snippets of such conversations a few days earlier. In the transcripts Hubbell discussed with his wife how his conviction for cheating clients at the Rose Law firm might impact Hillary Rodham Clinton, who was a partner at the Arkansas firm. Democrats charged Burton selected the transcripts to portray Hubbell and the First Family in the worst possible light. Burton denied those charges Monday on the CNN program "Inside Politics."
JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN: Did you or your staff, again as Mr. Waxman charges, intentionally alter the transcripts?
REP. DAN BURTON: Of course not. But when you've got 150 hours of taped conversation and you condense it down to one hour, obviously, you're going to do some things that people will be concerned about. They'll say you left too much in, or took too much out. But I'll tell you this: Anybody who came in and wanted to listen to those tapes, along with the transcripts, we were allowing them to listen to those tapes.
KWAME HOLMAN: And Burton vowed to stay on as chairman of the committee investigating alleged Democratic fund-raising abuses.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Do you plan to stay on in that position?
REP. DAN BURTON: Of course. You know, you don't stop an investigation like this right in the middle of it. And when you hear the other side squealing like a bunch of pigs, then you understand that 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 doggone 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.
Speaker Gingrich to the defense.
KWAME HOLMAN: On Tuesday, House Speaker Newt Gingrich publicly defended Burton.
REP. NEWT GINGRICH, Speaker of the House: Chairman Burton was in a difficult position. They had tried to issue an edited set of tapes that they felt were directly relevant to the question of whether or not, for example, Mrs. Hubbell thought she was being squeezed by the White House, to use her words, or whether or not Mr. Hubbell thought he was going to roll over one more time, to use his words. They offered one version. The Democrats, partly, I think, coordinated by the White House, decided to come back and instead of being concerned about the top Clinton appointee at Justice being squeezed, instead of being concerned about the interior department employee being squeezed, instead of being concerned about somebody who had gotten $720,000 rolling over one more time, the Democrats have desperately tried to make Dan Burton the issue. So I would say Dan Burton has entered a very tough arena, where those who are covering up the crimes and those who participated in the crimes are doing all they can to smear anybody who seeks the truth.
KWAME HOLMAN: However, the very next day Burton sent a letter of apology to his House Republican colleagues, saying: "Although the vast majority of the material was completely accurate, some mistakes and omissions were made. I take full responsibility for those mistakes." And, reportedly under pressure from Gingrich, Burton called for and got the resignation of his chief investigator, David Bossie, who supervised the release of the Hubbell transcripts.
The Democrats go on the offensive.
But House Democratic leader Dick Gephardt said the departure of Burton's top aide wasn't enough.
REP. RICHARD GEPHARDT: We intend to bring a resolution to the floor next week for the purpose of getting Mr. Burton to step aside because he has clearly disqualified himself. It does no good to fire a staff member. The staff member did not say that he was out to get the president. The staff member didn't release the edited tapes. The staff member didn't decide to issue over 500 subpoenas without a vote of the committee, for the first time in the history of any congressional committee.
KWAME HOLMAN: And House Democrats followed their leader, taking the floor with strong attacks of their own.
REP. TOM BARRETT: It's not the Republicans that deserve an apology. It's the American people because the American people are the ones that have paid the million dollar bill for this circus. The American people want one thing from this committee. They want fairness. And time and time again Chairman Burton and his staff have showed that the last thing they're interested in this committee is fairness.
REP. FRANK PALLONE: At a minimum Burton should be removed from any further role in this investigation. He clearly cannot operate as chairman in a fair manner. And not he or any other member of this house is above the law.
KWAME HOLMAN: Republicans fired back.
REP. JOSEPH PITTS: The same White House that hired private investigators to look into the private lives of Judge Starr and his deputies now is offended that the privacy rights of his convict friend, Webb Hubbell, has been violated. The same White House that releases documents, subpoenaed documents no less, one drip at a time, now is complaining that the Oversight Committee is not being forthcoming in release of documents. The same White House which collected 900 FBI files, just all happened to be Republicans, is a defender now of privacy rights.
REP. DAVID WELDON: Webster Hubbell, who plea-bargained with Judge Starr and then refused to cooperate with Judge Starr and who then took the Fifth Amendment before Chairman Burton's government Reform and Oversight Committee. Now the Democrats are trying to portray him as the victim.
KWAME HOLMAN: The House Government Reform and Oversight Committee is scheduled to hold a vote on immunity for witnesses next week. A two-thirds majority is needed. And if, as expected, Democrats don't cooperate, Speaker Gingrich has said he may move jurisdiction over the campaign finance investigation to another committee--where Republicans hold a two-thirds majority.