- 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
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
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.
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