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Donation Probe Halted; Panel's Head Accused


WASHINGTON — The House investigation of alleged White House fund-raising abuses has temporarily halted amid questions about the money-raising practices of the GOP congressman leading the inquiry and rising objections to its partisan nature.

Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.), a self-described "pit bull" who is leading the foreign-money investigation, on Wednesday was attempting to deal with allegations that he had pressured the Washington lobbyist for Pakistan to raise funds for his congressional campaign, then retailiated against the envoy when he did not.

Burton abruptly postponed a meeting of the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee. Democrats had hoped to broaden the investigation beyond the White House and Democratic Party at the session and to limit Burton's free-swinging ways.

"Dan Burton has abused his power and the Republican leadership has been willing to allow him to run over the rules of the House in this investigation," said House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.), vowing to use parliamentary tactics to delay funding for all House committees scheduled for a vote today.

As the major investigative stage of the fund-raising controversy nears on Capitol Hill, some Republicans now fear that their own party could suffer damage if they are overzealous, too partisan or adopt a holier-than-thou attitude. But they are facing stiff opposition from some GOP lawmakers who are eager to embarrass the president and his aides.

The Senate already has voted, 99 to 0, to allow Sen. Fred Thompson, chairman of its chief investigating committee, to include problems with Republican fund-raising in his $4.35-million inquiry. But in the House, Burton has set his gunsights clearly on the Democrats and steamrolled the Democratic minority on his panel, unilaterally issuing subpoenas and releasing documents.

Burton has proposed a $3.8-million budget for his investigation. Democrats, however, have complained that he has access to nearly $10 million in additional funds.

Questions about Burton's own fund-raising illustrate the vulnerability of critics investigating the president yet participating in the same cash-driven political system. Besides Burton, Rep. David M. McIntosh (R-Ind.), once an aide to former Vice President Dan Quayle, and John L. Mica (R-Fla.), an ally of House Speaker Newt Gingrich, have been leading the charge.

"We expect this to be only the beginning of an attempt to discredit members of the investigative and oversight committees," said Mica, who has been looking into any improper mixture of politics and government at the White House. "They'll do anything to discredit us."

Before Burton took the reins of the House investigation, he had been sleuthing on his own for White House wrongdoing.

When he suspected a coverup in the suicide of former presidential aide Vince Foster, he staged a mock shooting in his backyard to test his suspicions. And this fierce Clinton critic left no one at the White House unscathed--asking the administration at one point if any government money had been spent responding to letters to Socks, the Clintons' cat.

A July 1996 memo from former Pakistani lobbyist Mark A. Siegel alleges that Burton complained to the Pakistani ambassador and declared Siegel persona non grata in his congressional office when the lobbyist did not raise $5,000 in donations for his campaign.

"I should tell you that I worked in Washington for over 25 years and have never been shaken down by anyone before like Dan Burton's threats," Siegel complained last year to a top aide to then-Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. "No one has ever dared to threaten me into contributing money and no one has ever followed through on such threats by contacting one of my clients. Despite what you may see in the movies, this isn't the way most U.S. politicians conduct themselves."

Burton, a member of the House International Relations Committee, co-chairs a caucus on U.S.-Pakistani relations and receives significant financial support from the Sikh community in the United States. He acknowledged through a spokesman that he asked Siegel to help raise funds in 1995 from the Pakistani American community, as reported in Wednesday's Washington Post. But he disputed that he had demanded money from Siegel or had threatened to interfere with Siegel's access to Congress because the lobbyist did not raise funds for him. Burton said that he had merely mentioned "in an offhand way" Siegel's failure to follow through on his fund-raising commitment during a meeting with the ambassador to Pakistan.

"When I assumed this responsibility, I expected to be the target of some unfair and malicious attacks," Burton said in a statement. "However, I did not expect them to come this soon. This is a sign of desperation on someone's part. . . . It comes with the territory. The committee will move forward and get to the truth."

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