Burton Preempts Article on Personal Life
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 2, 1998; Page A04
Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.), one of President Clinton's harshest critics, has taken the unusual step of telling reporters that he and his wife have been separated three times during their 38-year marriage.
Burton was trying to preempt what he called a "scandal story" by a Vanity Fair writer, although the magazine has not even scheduled the article for publication. The chairman of the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee, which has been investigating Clinton's campaign fund-raising, also said at town meetings Monday in Indiana that he believes Clinton's supporters are spreading personal rumors about him in an attempt at intimidation.
Senior White House adviser Rahm Emanuel called the subject "off-limits," saying: "We have our disagreements with Congressman Burton. . . . But we never have and never will discuss or be involved in his private life. . . . I participate in every meeting here and nobody's ever talked about it. . . . The president doesn't think his personal life should be dragged through any public arena and nobody else's should be."
Vanity Fair spokeswoman Beth Kseniak called the charge "totally ludicrous," saying: "There is no reason any Vanity Fair story would be orchestrated by the White House."
Burton told his constituents he has done nothing "illegal" but acknowledged that he and his wife once nearly divorced. "If something comes out, that you read about, that you think Danny shouldn't have done, I will own up to it," he said. "I won't lie about it. I will tell the truth."
Burton's comments come amid a growing buzz in Washington that the private lives of lawmakers may become fair game if Congress begins examining Clinton's relationship with Monica S. Lewinsky during an impeachment inquiry.
In recent days, the Wall Street Journal said the administration's "anti-impeachment strategy" involves "pointing to alleged congressional sexual peccadilloes." Salon, a left-leaning online magazine, quoted "one close ally of the president" in charging that "die-hard Clinton loyalists" were raising "the threat of exposing the sexual improprieties of Republican critics." Burton was listed as "among those under scrutiny," along with House Speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.) and Majority Leader Richard K. Armey (Tex.).
Last week, Salon said Gingrich had "muted" his comments on the Lewinsky matter because of concern about published allegations of infidelity during his first marriage.
Christina Martin, Gingrich's spokeswoman, said the speaker is concerned with the Constitution, "not the printed garbage that repeatedly bubbles forth from the sewer. It is beyond me why anyone at the White House or in the Democratic Party would want to highlight sex, and thus the president's extramarital sexual relationship with someone his daughter's age."
William Kristol, editor of the conservative Weekly Standard, said one journalist told him a White House aide recently suggested that he look into sexual rumors about another senior House Republican. Kristol called such conduct "genuinely reprehensible."
But the alleged tactics may be effective, said commentator Tony Blankley, a former Gingrich spokesman. "There's a certain chilling effect that occurs because it's a plausible threat. . . . Those members who feel vulnerable presumably will keep their heads down," he said.
Burton aide John Williams cited the Salon article in contending that Vanity Fair could be tied to "a smear campaign to get him to back off his investigation. . . . There are an awful lot of solid coincidences here." He said the Vanity Fair writer has interviewed nearly 200 people, including Burton's "former female staff members."
The Indianapolis Star-News reported yesterday that it is "investigating reports that Burton has had relationships with women outside his marriage." Burton told the paper he would not answer such questions.
The Vanity Fair freelancer, Russ Baker, who has written for Columbia Journalism Review and the Village Voice, offered to write a Burton piece for The Washington Post three months ago but was turned down.
Burton's younger brother, Woody, said in a telephone interview yesterday that Baker had questioned him as part of his "witch hunt," adding: "The guy's just digging for dirt. . . . He asked if my brother had extramarital sexual affairs. I said, 'I don't know, why don't you ask him?' I told Dan, 'You ought to go public.' "
Woody Burton, a state representative, noted that former Clinton press secretary Dee Dee Myers is a Vanity Fair contributing editor. "I didn't know that Vanity Fair was working on a piece about Dan Burton," Myers said. "But I think it's a great idea, don't get me wrong."
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