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White House Angry About GOP Charge

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  • By Howard Kurtz
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Friday, December 18, 1998; Page A40

    White House officials reacted angrily last night after Republican House members charged without evidence that the administration was behind the surprise admission of past affairs by incoming House Speaker Bob Livingston (R-La.). They were equally angry at Cokie Roberts after the ABC correspondent reported that someone close to the White House had told her a rumor about a Livingston affair at a party.

    "There is no evidence that anyone at the White House had anything to do with this story," said White House press secretary Joe Lockhart. "Any suggestion to the contrary, without evidence, might be irresponsible.

    "It doesn't surprise me the Republicans are doing this," he said. "What is surprising is that the media will roll over as easily as they do and assume the burden is on us to prove we had no involvement."

    Responding to the White House criticism of Roberts, who made her comment while discussing Livingston's statement, Shelby Coffey III, ABC's executive vice president, said Roberts was merely "reporting what was told to her at a party. Cokie reported fairly and accurately what she was told." The White House criticism was "understandable," he said, because "they're feeling under pressure."

    Hustler publisher Larry Flynt confirmed that he is investigating the Louisianan, and sources say Livingston told colleagues that "I've been Larry Flynt-ed." Flynt, who had offered financial rewards for information about infidelities involving members of Congress, told the Associated Press last night that his magazine had found four women, one from the Washington area, claiming to have had affairs with Livingston. But since a Flynt spokeswoman said the investigation has not been completed, it is unclear why Livingston chose yesterday to make his announcement, which was posted on the Internet by Roll Call before Livingston told colleagues at a party caucus.

    After the meeting, a succession of House members emerged to blame the story on the White House. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) said that Clinton's allies "have done everything they could to try to intimidate people. All these women that he's abused, every one of them has been threatened. Every time you turn around they're trying to find any little thing to dig up on somebody. This is the worst God-awful tactics that I've ever seen by anybody on the planet."

    Rep. Brian P. Bilbray (R-Calif.) said that "anyone who is perceived as a threat to the administration is immediately attacked" under a "scorched earth strategy."

    Asked if the White House planted the story, Rep. Thomas J. Bliley Jr. (R-Va.) said: "Do you think the sun will come up in the morning?"

    The Republican charges, on the eve of today's debate on impeaching President Clinton, are a form of political jujitsu. Livingston's admission of infidelities that threatened his marriage could be viewed as undercutting the seriousness of charges that Clinton -- albeit under oath -- lied about his affair with Monica S. Lewinsky. But blaming a White House attack machine shifts the focus from Livingston's conduct to how it became public.

    Three times in the last four months, prominent Republican House members -- Dan Burton (Ind.), Helen Chenoweth (Idaho) and Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry J. Hyde (Ill.) -- have preempted news accounts by acknowledging past infidelities. In each case, no evidence of administration involvement has surfaced.

    The White House and its allies have a track record of assailing Clinton's accusers -- notably independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr and House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) -- but have generally done so in public, and not about their sex lives. White House officials publicly released letters written to Clinton by Kathleen E. Willey, for example, after she went on "60 Minutes" to accuse the president of groping her. James Carville, Clinton's friend, once likened Paula Jones to trailer-park trash.

    In September, when Hyde acknowledged having an extramarital affair during the 1960s, House Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) argued without evidence that the story was unleashed by "the president's attack dogs" and demanded an FBI investigation. Rep. Ray LaHood (R-Ill.), who will preside over today's impeachment debate, blamed the Hyde story on White House aide Sidney Blumenthal and urged that he be fired. Asked what evidence he had, LaHood cited the "process of elimination."

    Blumenthal strongly denied any involvement, and Salon, the left-leaning online magazine that broke the story, named as its source a friend of the ex-husband of Hyde's onetime mistress. The source, Norman Sommer, confirmed that he had no contact with the White House.

    Two weeks earlier, Burton acknowledged fathering a son, now 15, out of wedlock. Burton charged, without evidence, that Clinton supporters had been spreading rumors about his affair and were linked to a forthcoming article in Vanity Fair. But the story was broken the next day by the Indianapolis Star-News, and the Vanity Fair article never ran.

    © Copyright The Washington Post Company

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