The House’s chief campaign-finance investigator was granted authority Friday to summon witnesses and take sworn testimony despite objections by Democrats that he was waging a “political witch hunt.”
The House voted 216-194, mostly on partisan lines, to approve the resolution empowering Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind., and his staff investigators to conduct depositions of witnesses without the concurrence of Democrats.
Although he has promised to consult Democrats, Burton said the seriousness of the allegations that the 1996 election was tainted by illegal fund raising justified the unilateral authority he sought to question at least 150 witnesses.
“We are investigating a possible massive scheme for funneling millions of dollars in foreign money into the U.S. electoral system” and an allegation that “the Chinese government at the highest level decided to infiltrate our political system,” Burton said.
“We are investigating a White House which was a frequent stop for major contributors with foreign ties who have now fled the country or taken the Fifth Amendment,” Burton said.
Rep. Paul Kanjorski, D-Pa., said Burton’s description of the probe showed “this is not going to be an investigation to find facts; this is a political witch hunt.”
“The chairman has just written the conclusions that he intends to find,” Kanjorski said.
Republicans argued that the authority Burton received was no different than powers given to House chairmen who investigated the Iran-Contra affair and other alleged wrongdoing.
But Democrats argue that such authority was seldom exercised by House chairmen, who instead chose to confer with leading members of the minority before issuing subpoenas or questioning witnesses.
“No member of Congress, no American, has ever had this breadth of power,” said Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif. “It is a terrible idea even if it were being handled responsibly. But it’s not. The record proves it is being used as a raw partisan tool.”
Waxman noted that Burton has already issued 282 subpoenas aimed at Democrats, compared with 10 seeking documents from Republicans.
Investigators “don’t seem to be out to get facts, they seem to be out to get Democrats,” said Rep. Joe Moakley, D-Mass.
“This is campaign reform Republican style … intimidate anybody who gave money to the Democrats,” said Rep. Thomas M. Barrett, D-Wis.
“We are not going to try to intimidate anybody,” Burton said.
Republicans argued it would be impractical to require Burton to seek votes of the 44-member House Government Reform and Oversight Committee each time he sought to question a witness.