Magazine article Insight on the News

Oversight Chairman Burton Pledges Patience - for Now

Magazine article Insight on the News

Oversight Chairman Burton Pledges Patience - for Now

Article excerpt

Rep. Dan Burton has earned a few monikers during his career, most alluding to his aggressiveness. However, he's keeping It all in check as leader of the committee investigating Democratic fund-raising.

Personal Bio

Home: Indianapolis

Born: June 21, 1938, Indianapolis

Family: Wife, Barbara. Children: Kelly, Danielle Lee and Daniel Lee II. Grandchildren: Christian and Alexandra. Protestant.

Education: Attended Indiana University, 1958-59; Cincinnati Bible Seminary, 1959-60; U.S. Army, 1956-57; U.S. Air Force Reserve, 1957-62.

Career: Founder, Dan Burton Insurance Agency, 1968; Indiana House of Representatives, 1966-68, 1976-80; Indiana Senate, 1968-70 and 1980-82.

Committees: Chairman, Government Reform and Oversight. International Relations Committee, serving in the International Operations and Human Rights and the Western Hemisphere sub-committees.

Favorite Movies: Chariots of Fire and Red River, but especially Casablanca.

One of his ancestors crossed the Delaware River with George Washington during the Revolutionary War. Like Washington and his forebear, Indiana Rep. Dan Burton doesn't have a readiness problem. He carries a cellular phone with him wherever he goes, "even on Saturdays and Sundays," he tells Insight. Burton is chairman of the House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, charged with looking into the ever-expanding scandals involving the Democratic National Committee, the Clinton administration and their fund-raising activities.

"I guess I'm controversial," Burton says with a laugh. He's speaking about the too-partisan-even-for-politics labels Democrats, liberal Republicans and many in the media have stuck on him. In person, what comes out above all is his uncommon sincerity. He mentions waking up at 4 a.m., thinking about the committee s work. He means to be fair. "I want to investigate illegal activities -- if the Republicans did it or if the Democrats did it," Burton tells Insight. "Thus far' the vast majority of the problems are from the Democratic side."

Insight: What's on the front burner now with the committee hearings?

Dan Burton: One of the things we have to do is get immunity for some of the witnesses, because we now have 61 people who have taken the Fifth Amendment or left the country.

That's an extraordinary number. Not one or two or three or so, but 61. Many of these people are very close to the president. Web Hubbell. Mark Middleton. John Wong. Charlie Trie. They're all scared to death, I guess, so they're taking the Fifth. They've all hired lawyers, and I think before it's over the number will be up around 100 or more who take the Fifth Amendment to avoid self-incrimination -- which is quite a condemnation of the administration.

We're looking at the White House tapes. I sent a subpoena to the White House in March but they didn't remember they had those tapes, which I think is incredible. We want to find out who in the White House counsel's office was in charge of complying with the subpoena. Chuck Ruff? Or did he designate someone else to be in charge? We want to talk to those people to find out why we didn't get that information and why it's been coming so slowly.

As I understand it, we still don't have probably 30 or 40 of the tapes -- or more. If you look at the tapes the committee now has, you come to the conclusion that there's a possibility they have been altered, because some of them stop right in the middle of a sequence. In others, words are chopped off; some of them, you can't hear the words. They're not bleeped out, there's just no sound. All kinds of problems like that.

Insight: Some of your critics say you are too aggressive to head the committee.

DB: When I first became chairman, they said I would be a pit bull and I wouldn't be able to conduct hearings. Some people said I would be too aggressive, too partisan. Now people are saying I'm too nice, I'm too patient! I will tell you this: One of the reasons you haven't seen me be as aggressive as people would like is that I was urged by some in our leadership to be patient and see how [Senate Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Fred] Thompson's hearings were going.

Now, Thompson is about to end his hearings, and I think you'll find we will be aggressive and try to fill in all the gaps. There are only a few ways they can stop me from being fully involved in this investigation. The leadership could chop my head off. I could be shot. I could be put in jail for some reason.

The problem is that every time we open one door, there are four or five more places we have to look. I think people who are at home reading an article like the one you're doing, they only see the circus of the investigation. They see the witnesses. They see and hear the testimony.

But they don't understand that you have to build your case, do your research -- and you have to give immunity, so you can get information from lower levels to reach the upper levels. You have to talk to 50 people to get one shred of information. But the buck stops here. The buck stops with me.

Insight: You came up what used to be called the "hard way." Times weren't easy.

DB: My mother and I, and my sister and brother to a lesser degree, were abused when I was a kid. My dad was 6 feet 8 inches and used to beat up on his wife. Mistreat us in a number of ways. He kidnaped her with a sawed-off shotgun after she left to divorce him. He came through the ceiling. We were staying with my aunt and grandmother, and we didn't know for a week or so whether she was dead or alive.

I was sent to the Marion County Guardian's Home with my brother and sister and we spent some time there. I became very sensitive to the kinds of problems these kids have. I think it all stems from what my mother went through. She used to stand between me and my dad -- she was only 5 feet tall -- to keep him from beating on me.

Insight: How did the experience of an abusive father change your life?

DB: It's tough on kids when they have to go through that. I've been very fortunate, because after we got out of that environment I was allowed to be pretty much on my own. I caddied, carried papers. I don't look back on that part of my life as a good thing, but neither do I look back on it as a tragedy that couldn't be overcome. I don't have any real complaints.

Insight: I see Winston Churchill's photograph on your wall.

DB: Yes. And that's Joshua Chamberlain. He was a professor at Bowdoin College before the War Between the States, and he saved the I Union Army at Little Round Top in Gettysburg. Had five horses shot from under him. Won the Congressional Medal of Honor and later became governor of Maine.

Below him is the greatest soliloquy or speech in the English language. It's the speech from Henry V [Shakespeare's play] when he was about to be annihilated by the French at Agincourt. His back was to the sea and his men beaten and decimated.

The French outnumbered them by 7-1, with fresh horses and fresh men, and the fight was to take place the next day. Everybody said, "If we just had 10,000 of the men who are in England today -- they don't have anything to do but sit on their fannies!" And he walks out and, I paraphrase, says this:

"Don't ask for one man more! I do not wish for gold or great clothes or anything. I don't covet those things. But if it's a sin to covet honor, then I'm the most sinful man alive."

Then he says at the end of the speech,

"Tomorrow is St. Crispin's Day and when you're an old man, if you're standing there with your grandson, you'll strip your sleeve and you'll show those scars you got on Crispin's Day, and then the men who are standing there with you will feel the curse that they weren't there and they'll stand a tiptoe when you start talking because of the kind of man you are."

I love that kind of person, a guy who's willing to stand there and fight the fight, no matter what the odds.

Insight: And what about Churchill?

DB: This' guy, who fought all his life while being told that he'd never amount to anything, whose father denigrated him, looked his Cabinet in the eyes after becoming prime minister and learning they had recommended making a treaty with Hitler, and said: "I have concluded that I cannot and will not deal with that man. If this beloved island nation of ours is to die, let every Englishman die choking in his own blood." Then he jammed the cigar back in his mouth, did a pirouette, walked out and saved the world.

You see what kind of men I admire.

Insight: Where do we find that kind of heroism and resolution today?

DB: It's very rare. Even leadership in Congress -- I'm not going to name any names -- at times gets a little vacillating, a little nervous and a little squishy. It really bothers me when I see that.

I'm venting my spleen to you and I probably shouldn't be doing this. But put yourself in our shoes: You've got the Justice Department giving you a hard time. You've got the White House with selective memory loss so that getting information is like pulling teeth. You're caught between everybody with an ax to grind. But I'll tell you this: We will not be deterred. If we get cooperation from the people we need cooperation from, we'll get the job done and we'll do it well.

I thought I knew what pressure was until I got this job. I thought I'd faced pressure before and been through some real battles, but I've never seen anything like this.

I think [Ben] Franklin was right. God does govern in the affairs of men, and I think people who do the wrong thing ultimately are going to be held accountable, and that's part of our charge -- to see that they are held accountable.

I'm going to hang in there and fight to the bloody end, and it may very well be a bloody end.

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