Burton Threatens Bush
With Contempt Charge

By P. Mitchell Prothero

WASHINGTON (UPI) - House Government Reform Committee Chairman Dan Burton Thursday threatened to hold President Bush in contempt of Congress unless the administration releases several sets of subpoenaed Justice Department documents to his committee.

The documents relate to a series of investigations the committee has held into possible campaign finance violations by the Clinton administration and into the misuse of informants by federal law enforcement.

"Should I get about 30 Republicans and all of the House Democrats and vote to hold the president in contempt of Congress?" Burton, R-Ind., asked during Assistant U.S. Attorney Jay Bybee's testimony before the committee. "That's exactly what we're going to do if you don't give us those documents."

Burton's committee has requested documents on three separate investigations. One is a long-running investigation by Burton and the committee into the improper use of informants by the FBI over a 30-year period of organized crime investigations in New England.

The committee first informally requested 13 memos related to prosecution decisions and later subpoenaed them from the Justice Department. The committee also requested two documents related to separate campaign finance investigations under the Clinton administration.

On Dec. 12, Bush announced that none of the materials would be supplied to Congress because they are deliberative in nature and, thus, fall under executive privilege.

But Burton has repeatedly argued that the documents -- most of which deal with decisions made from 1967 to 1995 in the organized crime investigations -- are harmless to the current administration. He says they could shed light on a series of failures by the FBI that led to several innocent men spending decades in prison for crimes they did not commit -- despite clear evidence the FBI was aware of their innocence.

They could also help explain the rise of two top FBI informants who leveraged their relationship with law enforcement against their competitors and expanded their criminal empire with the help of their handlers.

"Our government put an innocent man in jail for 30 years, and you don't want us to know why," Burton said. "We want to find out if there are people in jail or that have been put to death by the Justice Department for crimes they did not commit. If I have to fight my own party (to get the contempt citation), I will. But I don't want to do this, so you people must be nuts."

Thursday's hearing explored whether the FBI influenced the early 1970s murder trial of a top informant -- who at the time of the murder was in the witness protection program -- by providing testimony to the defense.

Burton alleges that the FBI and Justice Department ignored the threat to the community posed by the informant because of his previous contributions to convicting mobsters. Joe "The Animal" Barboza eventually received a prison term of 5 years to life in 1971 for his 26th known murder. He was released after just three years from a minimum-security prison.

Committee investigators are convinced that the FBI helped him avoid a longer sentence, despite having a famously violent criminal history, because of his previous value as an informant against organized crime.

Bybee denied that the administration was refusing to help with the investigation, and said that both the White House and Justice were willing to work with the committee to determine which documents needed to be shared with investigators.

"With respect to the documents, the administration will be happy to sit down with you and discuss your needs," he said. "That is our instruction from the president."

But this answer did little to appease Burton, who first responded with the threat to hold the president in contempt. He also repeatedly said that his committee and its power of subpoena should have final say in which documents it needs to see while investigating abuses of power.

Adding to the irritation of the committee members was the arrival on Wednesday night of thousands of pages of Justice Department documents -- which had been requested, but not subpoenaed by the committee -- for committee staff. This coincided with the administration allowing investigators to view, but not copy or release, one of the subpoenaed memos.

Such arguments over the responsibility of the White House to provide documents to Congress are nothing new to the Bush administration, which is already embroiled in several fights with the General Accounting Office, Congress's investigative body, and with Burton's Democratic counterpart on the committee, California Rep. Henry Waxman.

The GAO has been demanding notes from meetings between Vice President Dick Cheney and energy industry officials during the deliberations that led to the formation of the Bush energy policy proposals last year. The White House has refused to provide them, and the GAO has threatened to sue the vice president to gain access to the notes.

Waxman has also been vocal on the same issue, but so far, has been unable to convince Burton to issue subpoenas to administration officials over the energy policy talks. But a Republican committee source expressed frustration with the White House because these latest refusals are making it more difficult for Burton to deny Waxman's requests for a subpoena.

Copyright © 2002 United Press International. All rights reserved.

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