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Burton Denies "Shakedown"

Did the House chairman investigating fund-raising commit abuses himself?


WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, March 19) -- Dan Burton, the Republican leading the House investigation of questionable campaign fund-raising practices, is angrily denying allegations he threatened a Pakistani lobbyist in an attempt to "shake down" a political donation.

Lobbyist and longtime Democratic activist Mark Siegel told CNN and other news organizations that he was pressured by Burton early last year to bring in a $5,000 campaign contribution for the congressman's re-election campaign.

"I have been in politics since 1964," Burton said today. "I have never had my integrity questioned like this and I categorically say that this is a bunch of lies." (256K WAV file)

Siegel released a 1996 exchange of memos he had with his lobbying client, the government of Pakistan. The memos, first disclosed in The Washington Post, claimed Burton said he was "owed support" because he chaired the congressional Pakistan caucus and wanted at least a $5,000 campaign contribution.

Siegel wrote that Burton "said that if 'I knew what was good for me I'd deliver the money.'" Siegel was responding to a message from a high level Pakistani official saying Burton told the country's ambassador "you are no longer 'persona grata' in his office."


In a statement, Burton insisted he "did not threaten Mark Siegel or say 'if I knew what was good for me I'd deliver the money,' or anything of that nature, as alleged."

Before cameras, Siegel would only read from a prepared statement: "The story that appears in today's Washington Post and other newspapers is accurate. The memoranda cited are genuine. ... I do not desire to engage in a debate with Congressman Burton through the news media. I am prepared to testify under oath before Congress or any other appropriate body."

Siegel has been involved in Democratic politics since the 1970s. He served as executive director for the Democratic National Committee and as a political director under President Jimmy Carter.

Said Burton, "I don't think there's any question that they're trying to discredit me because of the investigation."

This comes right in the middle of a bitter fight over how much control Republicans will exert the committee's investigation, how much power Democrats will have, and the scope of the investigation.

The ranking Democrat on Burton's investigative committee, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), says Burton is attempting to limit the scope of the House investigation to focus only on the president and the Democratic Party. He and Burton are at an "impasse," Waxman said, over how to proceed on congressional hearings investigating campaign finance.

Criticizing Burton for "wanting to unilaterally issue subpoenas," Waxman contends Burton would release confidential information and even jeopardize national security. He also called the $12 million Burton is requesting for the probe an "extraordinary amount of money for one investigation."

Other Democrats jumped on Burton today on the House floor. Said one, "In light of today's allegations the gentleman from Indiana [Burton] should recuse himself from the committee's investigation. He should also open up the committee's probe to a much wider scope than the White House and include both parties in Congress."

Burton says he has no intention of removing himself from the investigation. Democrats make it clear that if they're going to suffer they'll try to make Burton squirm a little bit, too.

CNN's Bob Franken contributed to this report.

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