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05/11/98- Updated 02:29 AM ET

Democrat offers deal in finance probe

WASHINGTON - A key Democrat offered Sunday to support immunity for four witnesses in a campaign fund-raising investigation, but only if Rep. Dan Burton steps down as chairman of the committee conducting the probe.

Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., said in a letter to House Speaker Newt Gingrich that he is "prepared to recommend to my Democratic colleagues that they support the pending immunity requests" before the House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight.

But Waxman, the top Democrat on the panel, said he will make the recommendation only if a new chairman is named. Burton "has disqualified himself by his actions," Waxman wrote.

Burton, speaking on Fox News Sunday, said he has no plans to step down as committee chairman. He also said that Gingrich has been supportive.

Last month, the 19 Democrats on the committee blocked immunity for the four witnesses, three of whom are associates of people who have already pleaded guilty to charges related to campaign fund-raising. The committee is expected to reconsider the immunity issue at a meeting Wednesday.

The Indiana Republican has faced accusations of bias since last month, when he described President Clinton as "a scumbag" in a meeting with a newspaper editorial board and acknowledged that he's "out to get him."

The accusations intensified when Burton released excerpts of taped conversations of Clinton's friend Webb Hubbell while Hubbell was serving an 18-month sentence for Whitewater-related crimes. The excerpts released by Burton omitted a key passage that appeared favorable to first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton.

David Bossie, the former chief investigator for the committee who supervised preparation of the transcripts, said Sunday on ABC's This Week that the omission was a mistake "and that's all it was."

Bossie, who resigned last week in the wake of the tape controversy, also said on This Week that the committee has given information to independent counsel Kenneth Starr. He said, however, that the information was public record and that Starr's office did not share information with the House panel.

In other investigation news:

  • Time magazine is reporting that Chief U.S. District Judge Norma Holloway Johnson could schedule a hearing as early as this week on whether Secret Service personnel have to answer specific questions in Starr's investigation of the Monica Lewinsky matter.

Starr is looking into allegations, denied by Clinton, that the president had an affair with the former White House intern and sought to cover it up. Several Secret Service officers have voluntarily answered some questions from Starr's prosecutors, but they have refused to answer others, citing a special "protective function" privilege.

  • Attorney General Janet Reno must decide today whether to seek an independent counsel to investigate allegations against Labor Secretary Alexis Herman. She has been accused of influence peddling while she was a White House aide.
  • A White House lawyer scoured President Clinton's personal residence as part of a compromise to head off a search warrant from Starr in 1996, The New Yorker magazine reported. The search followed the discovery in early 1996 of Hillary Clinton's billing records for work on behalf of Madison Guaranty, a failed savings-and-loan at the center of the Whitewater investigation.

By Gary Fields, USA TODAY

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