White House may have altered videotapes, congressman suggests Burton offers no proof, but says the delay in turnover raises suspicions

October 20, 1997|By KNIGHT-RIDDER NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON -- A key House committee chairman suggested yesterday that the White House may have altered videotapes of President Clinton meeting with campaign contributors before releasing the tapes publicly.

Rep. Dan Burton, an Indiana Republican and chairman of the House committee investigating campaign fund-raising abuses, offered no proof of any tampering. But, noting the White House delay in turning over the tapes, he said he was suspicious that the tapes had been sanitized.

"We think maybe some of those tapes may have been cut off intentionally; been, you know, altered in some way," said Burton, appearing on "Face the Nation" on CBS. "And so we're going to talk to the technicians, the people that took all of the videotapes, and try to get to the bottom of it."

Burton also said his committee might ask lip readers to examine the tapes to try to make out inaudible comments.

Burton, a conservative Republican, was quickly criticized by the White House.

"If Congressman Burton has any evidence, he ought to present it, rather than relying on innuendo on a national television program," White House counsel Lanny Davis said in a telephone interview. Davis termed Burton's comments "utterly baseless."

The White House in recent days has released more than 90 hours of videotapes of President Clinton and Vice President Gore at private meetings with campaign contributors in the White House and elsewhere. The White House tardiness in turning over the tapes to Congress and the Justice Department will be the focus this week of hearings by a Senate investigative committee. Burton's panel also plans hearings.

Appearing on the news talk shows yesterday, Republicans cited one tape in particular as potentially damaging to Clinton.

In the videotape, taken at a Dec. 7, 1995, luncheon, Clinton thanked contributors for helping finance television ads run by the Democratic National Committee. The ads touted Clinton's record on such issues as Medicare and education, while criticizing the record of Republicans.

Clinton told donors he had planned to raise all the money for his re-election campaign in 1995 and devote 1996 fund raising for congressional candidates.

"Then we realized we could run these ads through the Democratic Party, which means we could raise money in $20,000, $50,000 and $100,000 wads," Clinton told donors at the DNC executive committee luncheon at Washington's Hay-Adams Hotel.

Federal law restricts contributions made directly to a candidate to $1,000 per person. But donations to political parties are unlimited.

Republicans said the tape shows that Clinton was intent on getting around the $1,000 limitation for his campaign by using donations to the Democratic Party to boost his candidacy.

"It is proof that he was evading the law, and I think we now have the smoking gun, or the smoking tape," said Sen. Arlen Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican and a member of the Senate investigative committee. He was interviewed on the Fox TV network.

Rep. Henry J. Hyde, an Illinois Republican and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said the tape should increase pressure on Attorney General Janet Reno to request an independent counsel to investigate White House fund raising.

Davis, the White House lawyer, said that the Federal Election Commission permits presidential candidates to work in close coordination with their political party to run ads of benefit to them.

Pub Date: 10/20/97

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