10/08/97 - 08:00 AM ET - Click reload often for latest version

Justice Department opens White House video probe

WASHINGTON - The Justice Department Tuesday expanded its probe of White House fund-raising to include the delayed release of 44 videotapes, a step toward possible obstruction of justice charges.

Lanny Breuer, a White House lawyer and the contact person between the White House and Justice Department, has been subpoenaed to testify today about the videotapes before a grand jury.

The tapes show President Clinton hosting coffees in the White House for major contributors in 1995-96. Justice Department officials want to know where the tapes have been, who knew about them and whether they were intentionally withheld.

The White House says the videotapes were discovered last Wednesday. Attorney General Janet Reno was told about them Saturday, the day after she rejected calls for an independent counsel.

One tape shows Clinton meeting contributors in the Oval Office. Republicans say that violates a ban on fund-raising on government property.

Word of the expanded probe came on a day of heightened furor on Capitol Hill.

Chairman Fred Thompson of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, demanded Clinton "step up to the plate and take responsibility" by forcing supporters who have refused to testify to do so.

Thompson also wants Clinton to join the GOP push for a special prosecutor. "Nobody wants this to go down looking like a successful cover-up," Thompson said.

During a White House appearance to push for passage of campaign-finance reform in the Senate, Clinton offered defense of his fund-raising role.

"I'm not ashamed of the fact that I did the best I could within the present system," he said.

Meanwhile, the proposed campaign finance reform bill went into legislative limbo after Senate Republicans blocked a vote on it.

Majority Leader Trent Lott declared the drive for "phony reform" dead for now.

By Gary Fields and Tom Squitieri, USA TODAY