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Videos of the DNC coffees

GOP Rep. Says Tapes Appear Altered

By Michael A. Fletcher
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 20, 1997; Page A04

The chairman of the House panel investigating possible campaign fund-raising abuses said yesterday he suspects the White House may have "altered" some of the recently released videotapes showing President Clinton courting potential donors at White House coffees.

"We think some of those tapes may have been cut off intentionally, you know, altered in some way" because some "cut off very abruptly," Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.) said yesterday on CBS's "Face the Nation." "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," he said.

White House officials angrily dismissed Burton's accusation, saying they know of nothing that was done to alter the tapes.

"Neither the White House counsel's office nor the communications agency responsible for videotaping has any knowledge about editing of those videotapes," said White House special counsel Lanny J. Davis. "If Congressman Burton has such evidence, let him tell us what it is rather than engaging in unfortunate innuendo."

Burton yesterday also accused White House officials of "trying to mislead Congress" by not turning over the videotapes until seven months after his committee subpoenaed them.

"They indicated that they didn't have them. They indicated that they didn't know anything about any tapes," Burton said. "And yet the president is walking through all these tapes, bumping into the camera and everything else, but the president and his counsel said they didn't know anything about them. Obviously they were trying to mislead the Congress, in my opinion."

White House officials have said they produced the tapes as soon as they were discovered. Moreover, they have said the tapes offer no evidence that Clinton improperly solicited funds during the hundreds of coffee klatches.

Former president Jimmy Carter, speaking yesterday on CNN's "Late Edition," said the incessant fund-raising both by the president and lawmakers "gives the American people the impression, which is not always erroneous, that to get legislation passed or decisions made, you've got to contribute money in a so-called legal bribe."

Democratic officials, however, have defended their fund-raising practices as not only within the law but a political necessity, given the current campaign finance structure.

"What these tapes demonstrate is our fund-raising activities were conducted in accordance with the law," said former Democratic National Committee chairman Donald L. Fowler, also on "Late Edition."

Democrats repeatedly have pointed out the practice of entertaining potential and former donors at the White House was not initiated by Clinton. Former presidents George Bush and Ronald Reagan both feted top contributors at the White House.

Despite that, Republicans say they will aggressively pursue their investigation of Clinton's White House meetings. Burton said his committee "may have some lip readers look at some of the tapes to try to make sure we get the whole story" because many have poor sound quality, making them nearly impossible to hear.

Burton also criticized Clinton for having "selective memory loss" following a report in this week's Newsweek magazine, which quotes retired investment banker Richard Jenrette as saying that the president personally solicited a DNC contribution during an Oct. 18, 1994, phone call. Previously, Clinton has said he could not recall whether he made such solicitations.

Th fund-raising call reportedly came from the White House residence, where such solicitations are legal. But news of the call reportedly angered Senate investigators, who told the magazine the White House never turned over a Jenrette memo saying he had made a $50,000 donation to the DNC.

"This is baloney," Burton said. "The president said in this conversation that he was contacting 40 of his friends to raise $2 million. What about the other 39 of his friends that he may have called? We're going to look into that."

Rep. Henry J. Hyde (R-Ill.), chairman of the Judiciary Committee, reiterated his call for an independent counsel to investigate the White House fund-raising, saying Attorney General Janet Reno faces a conflict of interest investigating the man who appointed her.

But unlike some other Republicans, Hyde said he sees no need for her to step down. "I think she's an honest person," he said on ABC's "This Week." "I just think her judgment needs to be beefed up a little."

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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