Burton Fires Aide over Tapes Fiasco

Article excerpt

Rep. Dan Burton's chief investigator was fired yesterday over his role in the bungled release of edited tapes of Webster L. Hubbell's jailhouse conversations, which President Clinton labeled a "violation" of Mr. Hubbell's privacy.

"I think it was clearly a violation of privacy of Mr. and Mrs. Hubbell for the tapes to be released," Mr. Clinton said at a news conference with Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi. "I think virtually everyone in America now recognizes it was wrong to release selected portions of the tapes, apparently to create a false impression."

Mr. Burton said David Bossie had "chosen to resign," although House Speaker Newt Gingrich said Mr. Burton "fired the one person he should have fired." GOP sources said the speaker, angry about the House inquiry, ordered the firing during a closed-door meeting.

In his resignation letter, Mr. Bossie wrote: "I hope that the Republican leadership will have the courage to stand up under the weight of the coordinated attacks by the White House and the Democrat minority and support your efforts to uncover the truth."

The firing came at the direct request of GOP leaders, who, according to Republican sources, wanted to expel the chief investigator as long ago as September. But while the dismissal brought sighs of relief from Republicans, Mr. Gingrich reprimanded Mr. Burton in front of the entire House Republican Conference yesterday morning. The admonishment would not have been so harsh, perhaps, had Mr. Burton not spoken up to defend himself.

"I know Dan is embarrassed," Mr. Gingrich said, according to two sources at the meeting. "I'm not embarrassed," Mr. Burton said. "Well, you should be," Mr. Gingrich told him, adding, as he looked around the room, "Just ask your colleagues who are embarrassed for you."

In a letter of apology sent late Tuesday to GOP lawmakers, Mr. Burton claimed responsibility for the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee's mishandling of the tapes but said he was "sickened" anyone believed he would "release anything less than completely accurate information."

"I want to apologize to you if this matter has caused you any embarrassment," he said. "A mistake was made in not including in the 30 pages of transcripts a couple of comments made by Mr. Hubbell about himself and the first lady. They were relevant, and they should not have been left out."

Members who attended the session, some of whom said they were still concerned about Mr. Burton's control of the House probe, said the speaker's tone was "stern" and he was "clearly exasperated" with Mr. Burton, who has weathered criticism not just from Democrats, but from within his own party for mishaps as chairman.

For the time being, Mr. Burton will continue to control the campaign fund-raising investigation, but Republican leaders are giving serious consideration to moving control of parts of the inquiry over to the House Oversight Committee, chaired by Rep. Bill Thomas, California Republican.

Mr. Thomas, in an interview with reporters yesterday, declined to discuss his role, if any, in the probe but confirmed he had talked with the speaker about assuming a role. He said his committee always has had jurisdiction over the campaign-finance matter, but the question, he said, was whether he wanted to exercise it.

Mr. Gingrich also said the tapes show that Suzanna Hubbell, an Interior Department employee, was pressured by White House aide Marsha Scott to take hush money for her husband or else lose her job. He said Mr. Hubbell received $720,000 from 18 different organizations, including more than $100,000 from the Lippo group. …