FEBRUARY 25, 1997
A storm continues to brew around the White House with allegations that the Lincoln bedroom has been given out for overnight stays in return for campaign donations. President Clinton has denied that any such practice has been going on and that all 938 guests were friends and workers from his 1992 campaign. In face of the President's denials Congress prepares to start probing all White House fundraising activities. For a closer look at this story, Elizabeth Farnsworth talks to Rep. Dan Burton (R-IN), who is heading up the House investigations as Chairman of the Government Reform and Oversight Committee and Lanny Davis, special White House counsel.
A RealAudio version of this NewsHour segment is available.
A RealAudio version of Kwame Holman's setup piece is available.
February 25, 1997:
Elizabeth Farnsworth discusses the growing DNC fundraising scandal with White House Special Counsel Lanny Davis.
November 28, 1996:
Margaret Warner discusses campaign finance reform with three members of Congress.
November 28, 1996:
The NewsHour's Kwame Holman reports on this year's efforts to reform campaign financing and how "soft money" may have been the biggest story of this election.
November 18, 1996:
House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt (D-MO) discusses campaign finance reform and his party's role in the 105th Congress.
October 25, 1996:
Mark Shields and Paul Gigot discuss the role of money in this election year.
October 24, 1996:
Ross Perot blasts what he sees as President Clinton's corruption.
October 21, 1996:
Margaret Warner examines campaign money and its sources.
October 21, 1996:
A panel debates campaign finance reform and allegations of illegal foreign contributions and egregious misuse of lots of "soft money".
October 18, 1996:
Margaret Warner reports on the recent emergence of campaign finance issues on the campaign trail.
Oct. 18, 1996:
Ellen Miller, director of the Center for Responsive Politics, participates in an Online Forum on campaign finance reform.
Oct. 11, 1996:
Shields & Gigot debate the latest accusations of campaign finance abuses.
Oct. 6, 1996:
Bob Dole and Bill Clinton discuss campaign finance reform during the first presidential debate.
Sept. 29, 1996:
The leaders of Congress discuss reforming the system during the Debate Night: The Future Congress.
Aug. 16, 1996:
Margaret Warner looks at the corporate lobbying and sponsorship at the national conventions.
June 28, 1996:
Shields and Gigot look at the failed attempt to pass the McCain-Feingold reform.
June 28, 1996:
Ellen Miller participates in an Online Forum on the campaign finance reform efforts.
June 24, 1996:
Senator Feingold defends the McCain- Feingold campaign finance reform bill against an opponent
April 15, 1996:
NewsHour coverage of "soft" money contributions.
April 10, 1996:
NewsHour coverage of complaints against organized labor for millions of dollars in campaign spending.
June 24, 1996:
Senators John McCain of Arizona and Russ Feingold of Wisconsin tried, but failed, to pass campaign reform legislation.
Browse the Online NewsHour's Congressional coverage.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Now, two back-to-back interviews. First, one of the key congressional players in this story, Republican Dan Burton of Indiana is chairman of the Government Reform & Oversight Committee which will be the lead investigative committee on the House side. While no hearings have been scheduled yet, the Committee has issued 23 subpoenas. Thank you for being with us, Congressman. Would you lay out the main concerns that your committee plans to address.
REP. DAN BURTON, Chairman, Government Reform & Oversight Committee: Well, we're looking into a number of things. As you know, the investigation seems to broaden every single day. We've had some real problems because people who were in the administration like Mr. Long and Mr. Hubble would not cooperate. They've taken the 5th Amendment, won't give us documents. We're going to pursue those, but, nevertheless, that's an impediment to the investigation. Mr. Tree, we believe he's fled the country. We can't serve him--
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And remind people who Mr. Tree is.
REP. DAN BURTON: Mr. Tree is another principal in the investigation. But the fact of the matter is that Mr. Tree and Mr. Middleton, I think, is going to cooperate. But there's been a stonewalling by people who are in the administration to giving us the documentation we need to conduct the investigation adequately.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: But your committee's planning to look at both what was talked about today, the President was responding to allegations that the White House had sold the Lincoln bedroom and invited people to coffees and sort of sold those too. Are you looking at that, and are you also looking at the foreign connection?
REP. DAN BURTON: Well, we're looking at all of that. We're not sure that there was any illegality that took place by the President renting out the Lincoln bedroom, but the fact of the matter is that the President said it was not for sale; that he wasn't renting it out like Motel 6. There were 938 people who stayed there over a two or three year period. That's No. 1. I don't--he says those were all his friends. I guess he has a wide array of friends. But in addition to that, he said there was no connection with contributions. Again, we have a written statement that he wrote with his own hand saying that if they'll give fifty thousand, a hundred thousand, or more, then we should do this. So he was a party, if not the architect, of selling or renting the Lincoln bedroom and other facilities for campaign contributions.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: So that's one of the main things you'll be looking into?
REP. DAN BURTON: Well, it's not one of the main things, but what it does, what it shows is a pattern of do whatever it takes to get money. And we've got six countries we're investigating right now that may have their money through their governments or through sources in their government to people in this country for the DNC and the President's campaign in exchange for influences. And we're looking into that right now.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: How are you looking into it? What are your--what methods are you pursuing right now to try to find out about the foreign contributions in particular?
REP. DAN BURTON: Well, we've issued a number of subpoenas. We've asked people to come in. We've asked people to give us documents. And so far they said we've been stonewalled by most of the principals. But in addition to that, we asked the FBI and the Justice Department to give us the electronic records, the records of the electronic eavesdropping that took place on the Chinese embassy, because there are strong indications the Chinese embassy may have tried--the Chinese government--may have tried to buy influence by giving campaign contributions. We have not yet received that from the FBI, and yet, they've already given that to the White House. The White House asked for those documents. They got that information, and that's like giving the fox the key to the chicken house. If the White House did do something wrong, the FBI has given them the information before they gave it to the investigating committee, and that would give the White House, if they did do something wrong, the ability to cover their tracks. I think that's unconscionable.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: I thought the White House said that they did not get anything from the Justice Department relating to this particular investigation but rather just material that would be necessary for Secretary of State Albright if she went to China.
REP. DAN BURTON: Well, I don't know what she would expect them to say, but that's something that I would expect them to say. The fact is I've written to the White House and asked them for the documents that they did request. I want to see what they requested. I want to see what they got. And we've also contacted the FBI and the Justice Department to ask them why they sent that, and what they did send. Now, Louie Freeh, who's overseas, the FBI director, I understand, called the FBI office this week and complained that that documentation was given to the White House. So I think even he's upset about this.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: What will you do if you do not get the documents you're looking for from John Huang and from Webster Hubble?
REP. DAN BURTON: We'll do whatever it takes to get those documents. We'll try to talk to their legal counsel, try to talk to them to find out what we have to do to get those documents, and, if necessary, we'll try to take it through the committee into the House floor with the contempt of Congress citation.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Rep. Burton, you heard the President today. I think you heard the clip that we ran just before I started interviewing you. He's fairly up front about saying, yes, I invited people to the White House; these are my friends; these are people that helped me in 1992; they were dispirited after the ‘94 elections; what's wrong with doing that? What's your response to that?
REP. DAN BURTON: Well, my response is that the President is very adept at deflecting accusations and allegations, but the fact of the matter is there were 938 people, almost a thousand--that's several per week that have been sleeping at the White House. That's not Motel 6, No. 1. No. 2, he said in his own hand, look for these people, if they'll give fifty to a hundred thousand dollars, then we'll accommodate them. If that isn't renting out the White House and the Lincoln Bedroom, I don't know what is.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Although, he says that there was never a tit for tat; that people were invited; that they weren't demanded. It was demanded that they give money.
REP. DAN BURTON: Let me just say Shakespeare said, "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet."
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Tell me this also. Trent Lott, Sen. Trent Lott today called for an independent counsel. Do you support that?
REP. DAN BURTON: Yes, I have for sometime. I think Janet Reno should have several weeks ago--maybe months ago--should have appointed an independent counsel. And I believe ultimately she'll be forced to that because this is expanding at a very rapid rate. I need more staff. My staff is working day and night trying to keep up with all this, and we're just not able to do it because the huge amount of documents and the number of people. We have over 525 people we have to talk to right now.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: What would happen to your investigation if an independent counsel was appointed? Would it make it difficult for you because some people would be given immunity?
REP. DAN BURTON: We would work with the independent counsel to make sure that we didn't step on each other's toes, but our function is to make sure the American people know what's going on. And if we find evidence there was wrongdoing, then we can certainly contact the independent counsel, the Justice Department, and make a criminal referral, which we would do.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And Rep. Burton, what is different about the Democratic fund-raising from what Republicans have done? A "New Yorker" article about all this that ran earlier this month quoted from fund-raising literature from the Reagan period promising donors of $2500 or more a chance to meet the Reagans personally and to wander through the second floor of the White House. Is there something significantly different about what happened in the Clinton administration and in the last two years than what has happened before?
REP. DAN BURTON: I can't think of any administration, Reagan included, that said if somebody gives fifty or a hundred thousand dollars, we'll let them stay overnight at the White House or come to a radio speech that the President is giving to the nation. I think this is the first time this has ever happened. I think it's unethical, to say the least, and I think the American people will be appalled.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And back on the foreign matter, the President has said that--and perhaps there were mistakes made by the DNC--but that it was nothing that "he" knew anything about; that people were too eager, and they weren't--there wasn't time to vet the money coming in. What's your response to that?
REP. DAN BURTON: Well, my response is the President said he didn't rent out the Lincoln Bedroom. The fact of the matter is he asked for anybody that gave fifty or a hundred thousand dollars or more to be invited, and so he was setting the stage for that kind of activity. And so when the President says that, I think you have to take it with a big grain of salt.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: I mean, in a foreign matter, the President said that's not something that we could control everything, and a lot of that money has been sent back. This is something we just didn't know, all these people were foreign, or they were passing money through aunts and uncles, and that's been sent back. What's your response to that?
REP. DAN BURTON: Mr. Huang, Mr. Tree, those people were close to the President. They met with him many times. They were involved with the White House. They were involved with the Commerce Department. They got illegal contributions which have been returned, and it's highly questionable, in my mind, whether or not the President knew about it, when he knew about. I think this thing could end up being much bigger than Watergate ever was.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Well, thank you very much for being with us.
REP. DAN BURTON: Thank you.