Democrats Block Immunity, Fail To Oust Burton
Gingrich may move fund-raising investigation to another committee
WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, May 13) -- Democrats on the House campaign finance investigation failed Wednesday to oust its controversial chairman, Rep. Dan Burton, but did succeed in their threatened block of immunity for four potential witnesses.
With the day's developments, House Speaker Newt Gingrich indicated he may take the campaign finance investigation away from Burton and move it to another committee.
In what has become usual behavior for members of the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee, partisan wrangling dominated the day's hearing. Opening the session, Burton (R-Ind.) warned, "We are not going to have a pretty debate today."
With Democrats withholding their support, the 44-member panel failed to reach the required two-thirds majority to grant immunity. As expected, the 24-19 vote fell along party lines.
Democrats, dissatisfied with the Republican handling of the fund-raising probe, vowed to block the immunity request unless Burton was removed as chair or the Republicans agreed to significant changes allowing the Democrats more say in the direction of the investigation.
But using his powers as head of the panel, Burton refused to allow the panel's ranking Democrat, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), to introduce a motion to curb Burton's powers.
With a second failure to grant immunity to these witnesses, Gingrich said he was "disappointed and saddened" that Democrats on the committee voted against the motion. He said that Republicans will "do whatever we have to do" to tell the American people that laws have been broken.
On his way to an anti-drug news conference, Gingrich said "I think that we'll have to talk it out among our members but my guess is, given the Democrats refusal to allow witnesses to testify about crimes, that we'll have to find a way to move it to a committee where we can insure that these witnesses testify."
There has been talk of moving part of the campaign finance investigation to the House Oversight Committee, chaired by Rep. Bill Thomas (R-Calif.).
Referring to committee Democrats who voted against granting immunity, Gingrich said, "I don't care what their excuse is for covering up crimes, the fact is that the Democrats voted today to cover up illegal foreign contributions and to block witnesses from testifying about crime and I think that's a very sad comment on the mindset of how partisan the Democrats are becoming as they try to protect the administration, but we will do whatever we need to do in order to get at the truth."
The Immunity Debate
Waxman, the chairman's chief critic, said in his opening statement Burton has too much power in the investigation and had proved himself unable to lead an impartial investigation of President Bill Clinton.
"This morning, I will again attempt to explain why the Democratic minority is deeply frustrated with this investigation and why we believe fundamental change must be made," Waxman said. "Our view is that the chairman is too partisan and has been given too much power and has abused his authority. He alone controls this investigation, not the committee, and he is accountable to no one."
The political heat on Burton has been ratcheted up by the Democrats since the chairman called Clinton a "scumbag" two weeks ago, and declared he was out to get the president. Burton's release of Whitewater figure Webster Hubbell's taped prison phone conversations further outraged Burton's critics.
"Today some of my colleagues are going to accuse me of abusing my powers," Burton said. "If you want to have a debate about abuse of power, that is a debate I would welcome. Let's discuss whether it is abuse of power for the president to misuse executive privilege to keep witnesses from testifying in criminal investigations."
Before the rancorous immunity debate, Burton spoke on the House floor Tuesday for 40 minutes to "lay out for the American people the facts about this investigation."
Gephardt targets Burton too
Meanwhile, House Republicans successfully used parliamentary maneuvers to thwart Minority Leader Dick Gephardt (D-Mo.) from offering a motion to remove Burton as head of the House investigation into campaign finance. Gephardt will have to wait a day to offer the motion.
Gephardt hoped to bring the motion to the House floor after Waxman was unsuccessful in having a similar motion considered during the committee hearing.
But first Republicans delayed the committee meeting by an hour, buying themselves more time, and then House Republican leadership pulled the first piece of planned legislative business from the House floor schedule.
The only time that Gephardt would have been able to bring the motion to the floor was at 11:30 a.m., between a financial services bill and the debate on the rule for the "Mandates Information Act." But the government reform committee had not yet voted on Waxman's motion to remove Burton from heading the investigation at that point.