TIME: Burton's Glass House (5/26/97)
Burton Wins Committee Vote For Unilateral Deposition Powers
By Charles Bierbauer/CNN
WASHINGTON (June 18) -- Following a day of partisan bickering, Rep. Dan Burton, chairman of the House panel looking into 1996 campaign finance irregularities, today won a divided committee vote giving him broad authority to take depositions from witnesses.
The Indiana Republican said the committee may need to take depositions from "hundreds of witnesses" with particular interest in far-flung contributors and collectors for the Democrats in several Asian countries including China. "The committee must be able to obtain the testimony of those who would not otherwise be inclined to volunteer it," Burton said.
The House Government Reform and Oversight Committee probe is leading up to hearings, which Burton yesterday said he hopes will begin by the end of July, according to the Washington Post.
The full House still needs to approve Burton's request for deposition authority, but the request set off a heated partisan argument in the committee.
Democrats argued there was no precedent for such unilateral authority and complained they were being disenfranchised. Rep. Paul Kanjorski (D-Pa.) said, "Never, to my knowledge, has that power been delegated to one single individual of the Congress of the United States."
Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) agreed. "It's an outrageous and partisan grab for power," he said.
The debate today was less about who handed out the money in the 1996 campaign than it was about who holds the cards in 1997.
Republicans argued that there is precedent for such power.
Rep. Christopher Cox (R-Calif.) said, "From Watergate to Whitewater, from Iran-Contra to October Surprise, Congress has voted to give members and staff deposition authority, period."
Rep. Robert Wise (D-Calif.) said, "House travel, nope. Senate Whitewater, House arms to Bosnia, Senate POW-MIA investigation, House October Surprise investigation -- there were no unilateral subpoenas issued."
The Democrat who chaired the Iran-Contra committee, Lee Hamilton, wrote in a letter to the committee that he'd never issued a unilateral deposition.
Burton countered, "He may not have utilized [the power], but it was granted."
If the House grants Burton the authority he wants, the investigation could be far-reaching. Rep. Dan Mica (R-Fla.) explains, "We've got Charlie Trie in China. We've got Pauline Kanchanalak in Thailand. We have the Riadys in Indonesia. We have Ted Seong here in Hong Kong."
Burton focused his complaint on China. "The American people have the right to know if our system of free and fair elections, revered throughout the world, was infiltrated by hostile foreign sources," Burton said.
Rep. Bernard Sanders (I-Vt.) asked, "Does the U.S. Congress regard China as hostile foreign force?"
"I think it's almost as dangerous as an attack on us from a military standpoint," Burton answered.
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