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05/12/98- Updated 09:45 PM ET

Burton blasts White House 'stonewalling'

WASHINGTON - In a defiant defense of his campaign fund-raising investigation, Rep. Dan Burton accused the White House of "stonewalling" and defended his handling of recorded prison conversations of presidential friend Webster Hubbell.

Burton, under fierce attack by Democrats who accused him of conducting a partisan witch hunt, demanded that the opposition stop blocking immunity from prosecution for four witnesses. All four may possess key knowledge of illegal foreign contributions, Burton said Tuesday in a speech on the House floor.

"This investigation has been stonewalled" by the White House, the Democratic National Committee and some 90 individuals who have fled the country or asserted their Fifth Amendment rights against testifying, Burton said, shouting most of his lines.

He accused the Clinton administration of conducting "a smear campaign" against him "and everybody else who investigated any aspect of the White House."

It was Burton's most sweeping statement in his own defense in the wake of mounting pressure by Democrats for his ouster as the committee chairman heading the House investigation of Clinton-Gore campaign fund raising in 1996. Democrats assailed him for using derogatory language to describe President Clinton and for releasing partial transcripts of the Hubbell tapes that left out information favorable to Hubbell and to first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton.

The Indiana Republican ran through a familiar laundry list of issues before his committee: documents that were withheld for months; questions of whether Hubbell received no-work employment to protect the Clintons; obstacles placed by the Chinese government to prevent investigators from tracing foreign money.

He said his House Government Reform and Oversight Committee will conduct another vote Wednesday on immunity for witnesses. But Democrats are expected to again block that effort. If that happens, Republican will likely try to move the issue to another panel that has the necessary Republican-to-Democratic party ratio to muster the required two-thirds vote.

Burton, who was forced by Speaker Newt Gingrich to fire chief committee investigator David Bossie in connection with the controversy surrounding the Hubbell tapes, admitted that "mistakes were made" in releasing selective material from the Hubbell conversations.

But he said the incident "detracted from important facts," since Hubbell and his wife, Suzy, spoke on the tapes of the need to protect Mrs. Clinton, a former law partner of Hubbell.

Earlier Tuesday, Burton released a letter chiding Clinton for proposing a global anti-crime program without addressing illegal foreign contributions.

Burton wrote Clinton that "campaign finance crimes" should be part of any effort to combat international lawbreaking.

"He's just trying to ... make some politics," presidential spokesman Mike McCurry responded.

Burton's letter prompted a new round of pro- and anti-Burton speeches on the House floor.

"Remove the chairman," said Rep. Bart Stupak of Michigan, one of many Democrats demanding that Burton relinquish control over the fund-raising inquiry.

Republicans responded with attacks on Democratic fund-raising practices during the 1996 Clinton-Gore re-election campaign and on what they said was the partisanship of the senior Democrat on Burton's panel, Rep. Henry Waxman of California.

By The Associated Press

Copyright 1998 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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