08/24/97 - 05:40 PM ET - Click reload often for latest version

House committee issues subpoenas in latest allegations

WASHINGTON - The House committee probing campaign fund-raising irregularities has issued subpoenas regarding allegations that a businessman was pushed to contribute to a Cabinet secretary's favorite charity to get a meeting with her, the panel's chairman said Sunday.

"We're going to look at that very thoroughly," Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind., said on CBS's Face the Nation.

So far, Burton said, his House Government Reform and Oversight Committee has issued eight to 10 subpoenas on the matter.

Democratic donor and businessman Johnny Chung alleged last week that he was asked in 1995 to contribute to then-Energy Secretary Hazel O'Leary's favorite charity, Africare, in order to set up a meeting between her and a Chinese businessman.

Chung said he paid $25,000 for a 10-seat table at an Africare fund-raising dinner held in Mrs. O'Leary's honor.

She has denied that Chung was pressured to contribute.

Burton said Sunday he is considering granting Chung immunity to learn the full story.

"Immunity is a tool that we have to use, I think ... in certain cases in order to get to the bottom of a lot of these allegations," he said.

The Justice Department's campaign fund-raising task force is also reviewing the allegation.

Republicans have long called for Attorney General Janet Reno to seek the appointment of an independent counsel to handle allegations of campaign finance wrongdoing, including the allegations involving Mrs. O'Leary, and they repeated that call Sunday.

"Let's get a special prosecutor to get after those facts," James Nicholson, chairman of the Republican National Committee, said on NBC's "Meet the Press." "The attorney general cannot be independent. This stuff leads right into the White House."

Burton added: "We certainly have passed the point for a need for an independent counsel."

Reno has rejected the independent counsel requests and said last week of the O'Leary allegations that it was too early to say if they warranted an independent counsel.

Meanwhile, Colorado Gov. Roy Romer, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, told NBC that if Chung's allegations were true, "It's absolutely wrong."

"If that happened in my organization, I'd fire somebody on the spot," said Romer, who took the DNC reins after the 1996 election.

Burton said his hearings on campaign finance abuses probably would begin in mid-September, and he predicted they would uncover more than parallel Senate hearings because the House does not face the same time constraints.

The Senate hearings are "hitting the very important top of the iceberg but there's a lot of things that are submerged beneath the surface that need to be looked into," he said.

This week, he said, his committee will interview Maggie Williams, former chief of staff for first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton. But he said the committee is not planning to question President or Mrs. Clinton.

"That's something we haven't even considered," Burton said. But he added: "Down the road, we'll just have to wait and see."

By the Associated Press