May 12, 1998
Partisan rancor has risen to new heights in the House committee investigating campaign finance abuses. Democrats are calling for the removal of Rep. Dan Burton (R-IN) for his release of the Webster Hubbell tapes. Can Congress overcome the delays and disruptions and continue its investigation? After a background report, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Rep. John Mica (R-FL) address the issue. You can also participate in an online forum regarding congressional investigations of the president.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, we pick up the debate with back-to-back interviews with two key members of the Government Reform Committee: first, the ranking Democrat, Congressman Henry Waxman of California. Welcome, Congressman.
A RealAudio version of this segment is available.
May 12, 1998:
A background report on the partisan rancor in the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee.
May 12, 1998:
Rep. John Mica discusses the partisan showdown.
May 19, 1998:
Participate in an Online Forum on congressional investigations of the president.
May 8, 1998:
A report on Dan Burton's release of 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 U.S. Senate.
The U.S. House of Representatives.
The White House home page.
REP. HENRY WAXMAN, (D-CA) California: Thank you.
MARGARET WARNER: Your response to what Chairman Burton had to say on the floor today.
"It's not Dan Burton's investigation. It is the committee's investigation..."
REP. HENRY WAXMAN: I think it's important that we have an investigation on foreign money in our campaigns and it be a legitimate investigation. We wrote to Speaker Gingrich, and we still haven't received a reply. The only way this investigation can go forward and have any credibility is if we get another person to head it. I think that Congressman Burton has disqualified himself because of his actions in heading up this investigation. And we also need to do something else. The committee Republicans delegated all the power to Dan Burton. He can unilaterally issue subpoenas. He can release information. He could call people in for depositions. This is extraordinary power. No other chairman, no other member of the Congress has ever had it. I want our members to take that power back. It's not Dan Burton's investigation. It is the committee's investigation, and we ought to operate under the same rules that Sen. Thompson had, that the Watergate committee had, the same practices, where the committee makes the decision. We've seen an abuse of power by Dan Burton in his inflammatory statements and even more outrageously in the selective editing of those Hubbell transcripts to try to look as incriminating as possible. He was out to smear Mr. Hubbell, but in doing so, he invaded the privacy of American citizens, not just Mr. Hubbell and his wife, but his children, who were talking to him, and people that they talked about. This is inexcusable. These tapes are there for evidence. And Ken Starr has them for evidence. But they shouldn't be made public.
MARGARET WARNER: Let me ask you about a couple of specific points he made because he really laid out a whole litany of what he said was obstruction, stone-walling delay by the White House and also by you Democrats on the committee. Does he have a point about that?
REP. HENRY WAXMAN: No. He has no point about the Democrats on the committee. We have been willing from the very beginning to be together in a bipartisan investigation. When he first became chairman, I suggested to him that we had a bipartisan investigation, and we look at Democratic and Republican campaign abuses. He pretty much said he didn't want to look at anything to deal with the Republicans, and he didn't want to work with Democrats. So he took all the power in his own hands. We've been excluded from this investigation. The only time they need us is when there's a requirement that they get two thirds for immunity. But we've not been able to do anything when he wants to issue subpoenas or call hearings, or release information, even when he wants to selectively edit what the public will have by way of information that he releases. So we haven't been obstructing. Now, there are people who have refused to come in and testify because they've exercised their Fifth Amendment rights, or they fled the country. We have nothing to do with that. We would wish that everybody would cooperate. There is a Constitution of the United States, and some people are not willing to talk to him or the Justice Department or Ken Starr or anyone else, and you have to do what you can. The White House has, I believe, cooperated. They've turned over millions of pages to this committee, and I don't think he has a complaint against them.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, you mentioned--you acknowledged that many of these witnesses have fled the country or taken the fifth--more than 90 he was saying today.
REP. HENRY WAXMAN: Not that many.
MARGARET WARNER: Not that many.
REP. HENRY WAXMAN: That's a number he's just made up. It's not that many.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, four of them who've taken the fifth he says have important information about the possible funneling of foreign money into campaigns, and they're the ones you're going to vote on tomorrow whether or not to grant immunity. Now, do you think any of your fellow Democrats will change their vote and vote to grant immunity?
"Whenever you put too much power concentrated in one person, it invites abuse, and Dan Burton's abused it."
REP. HENRY WAXMAN: Not unless we see that the investigation is going to be fair and that we adopt rules where we all can participate in the investigation, then the power is not in Dan Burton's hands alone. Whenever you put too much power concentrated in one person, it invites abuse, and Dan Burton's abused it. So we want the rules changed. We want to make sure that we get a clear written proffer as to what these people are going to say. Last time we voted for immunity. The only other time we were asked to vote on immunity we voted for it. And it turned out that the committee didn't vet the witnesses, and we ended up giving immunity to a witness for a crime that we didn't know he might have committed. So we wrote to Burton after that incident, and we said we want the rules to change, we want this to be a fair investigation, and he rejected our request. If he will agree to our request and put someone else into his place to head that investigation, then I will recommend to the Democrats to vote for it. Otherwise, we're not going to be part of a partisan, reckless investigation.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, Speaker Gingrich is reportedly considering if you all block the immunity tomorrow of just transferring a good part of the authority for this investigation to another committee where the Republicans hold two thirds. Now, is that what you want?
REP. HENRY WAXMAN: That's really up to him. He's the one who's leading the House. He's the one who selected Dan Burton to head the investigation. He can have the investigation handled by another committee. What we've asked of him is if he's going to be the leader, he should be the leader for all the House and bring us together, not do this partisan name calling, which he's engaged in, that drives wedges and polarizes the debate, bring us altogether. He wants to be President of the United States I read in the papers. A president tries to bring people together and a president doesn't keep people in office under him if they've acted unethically. He ought to replace Dan Burton, agree to fair rules, and bring us altogether on an investigation if he thinks it's serious. If it just a use of public funds for partisan purposes, then why should we be part of it?
MARGARET WARNER: Now, the minority leader, Dick Gephardt has suggested over the last few days that if Speaker Gingrich doesn't do something, that he will try to bring a resolution to the floor to somehow either call on Dan Burton to give up his chairmanship or strip him of his chairmanship. Is that likely? How would that work?
REP. HENRY WAXMAN: Well, I asked Mr. Gephardt not to offer that resolution on the House floor because I wanted to go to the committee members. They're the ones who voted to give this extraordinary power to Dan Burton. And I want to ask them to be responsible. They can't just vote and let Dan Burton do an investigation and act like they have nothing to do about it, nothing to say about it. They are the members and the members ought to run this investigation. It ought not to be one person acting as if he's above the law.
MARGARET WARNER: And are any Republicans from the committee indicating to you that they might want to change the ground rules?
REP. HENRY WAXMAN: I don't know. I'll find out tomorrow. We've made our appeal. We've held out an olive branch to the speaker. We've asked in a very sincere way for the Republicans to join with us. The campaign investigation is important. There are troubling things that have gone on. In fact, our whole campaign finance system ought to be, in my view, changed because it leads to so much corruption. But this is a serious matter, not one for partisanship. And all we've had is this flailing around--about, attacking Democrats and not even agreeing to let us look at abuses by the Republicans from foreign contributions and other campaign violations.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Well, thank you, Congressman Waxman, very much.
REP. HENRY WAXMAN: Thank you.