In Defense of Dan Burton (cont.)
Jude Wanniski
May 11, 1998


Memo To: Cokie Roberts, ABC-TV
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: Bossie & Romer

Congratulations on clearing up the story about Rep. Dan Burton “doctoring the tapes” of Webster  Hubbell and his wife. By having the Burton committee’s chief investigator, David Bossie, on your Sunday talk show, you did what the rest of the press corps failed to do in presenting the complete sequence of events. A week ago in this space, I wrote a defense of Burton when I still had only part of the information and a surmise about the rest. It seemed obvious to me as an objective observer who has scrupulously avoided comment on all aspects of these investigations that there was and could not have been malicious intent on part of Burton in releasing the transcript in edited form. For Governor Roy Romer of Colorado, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, to then come on your show to rant and rave about Republican “McCarthyism” while smearing a general accusation that Bossie “lied” in the previous segment was in itself the essence of “McCarthyism.” Because I have previously expressed admiration and respect for Romer, I have to assume that his fulminations were based on his reading of the press accounts -- especially last week’s NYTimes column by Anthony Lewis that equated Burton with “slime” and the “depths of degradation.” Romer obviously made no attempt to find out what really happened -- nor should we expect the DNC chairman to try to be fair when he has been given an opening to take a partisan shot at the GOP, as cheap as it was. If you saw "FoxNewsSunday" with Tony Snow, you must have noted how Rep. John Conyers got all tangled up because he thought “the tapes had been doctored,” confessing that all he knew was what he read in the papers.

What I learned from Bossie confirms my surmise -- that the transcript was edited innocently, with the sole purpose of elevating the remarks of the Hubbells that were relevant to his indictment. This is what “editing” is supposed to do. The only way there could have been malicious intent on the part of Burton or his committee is if the complete tape of the conversation were not readily available. In fact, at the same time the committee released the edited transcript, it released the complete tape. Clearly there was no “doctoring” of either the tape or the transcript by Burton, Bossie or the committee staff. I also learned from Bossie on your show that an earlier tape, “Number 35,” had been released to the media last year, which contained the same Hubbell “exculpatory” remark about Hillary Clinton that was edited out of the new transcript of tape “Number 5" by the Burton committee two weeks ago. Bossie correctly pointed out on your show that the press corps chose to ignore Hubbell’s remark in tape 35, but made a big deal out of it in tape 5. It makes perfect sense to me that Burton approved the release of the edited version “innocent” of any attempt to mislead. When Bossie says Burton never listened to the tape or saw an unedited transcript, but released it on the say-so of this staff, I also assume this to be the absolute truth, for it makes no sense that Burton would have the time to go over any part of 600 taped Hubbell conversations. It is the White House spinmeisters who have gotten away with making it appear that Burton did something reprehensible. They could not have done so if members of the press corps were doing their job. 

In my memo last week to Anthony Lewis of the NYT, I said it appeared to me that he had committed a “technical foul” in draping Burton with his charge of “slime” and “degradation.” I posted Tony’s response -- wherein he said if I could believe Burton’s was “innocent,” I could believe anything. I append these memos and my rejoinder to Tony. I’ll also send this file along to Roy Romer and Newt Gingrich, who I think did a disservice to Burton by assuming he had done something wrong and tongue-lashing him in the GOP conference. I’m afraid Newt was burned by the White House spinners so badly in the 104th Congress that he still treats them with respect they do not deserve. Remember, Cokie, I spent most of my life as a Democrat, and was old enough to appreciate the evils of genuine McCarthyism. It disgusts me to see Democrats so casually toss around charges of “McCarthyism” or “Hitlerism,” especially when I find they are consciously misrepresenting facts. It devalues the charge, making it less likely people will pay attention when a genuine McCarthy or Hitler returns. It is, though, such fun to “cry wolf” and watch the scurrying for shelter.

* * * * *

From: Anthony Lewis
Date: 5/8/98
Time: 1:46:10 PM

Dear Jude:

I enjoyed your open memo, and thanks for sending it to me. Here is a quick reply.

Prisoners' telephone conversations are not private from the prison authorities, as you say. But that is the limit. It is against strict regulations of the Federal Bureau of Prison, and against the Privacy Act, to disclose the record of the conversations to outsiders. That is not just the law but an essential guaranty of due process and human dignity that should be meaningful to conservatives especially. Fidel Castro used to have trials in a football stadium, with the crowd shouting "Guilty!" Our system provides that guilt be determined by a carefully-controlled legal process: In court, not by public opinion.

If Mr. Hubbell's conversations contained any evidence of criminality, that evidence should have been used in a criminal proceeding -- or perhaps still will be. I do not want Congressional committees asking the public to adjudicate guilt or innocence on the basis of "evidence" that has not been through the legal process to determine its reliability and materiality.

As for the "editing," if you believe Dan Burton "culled these few sentences out innocently," you can believe anything.

Cheers, Tony.

From: Jude Wanniski
Date: 5/8/98
Time: 2:12:01 PM

I understand and appreciate concerns about being "tried in the press" instead of due process. I took up the defense of Michael Milken after I observed the Wall Street Journal news columns running charges against him that were not attributed to the US Attorney's office, from whence they had been leaked. By the time Milken had his day in court, nobody in the country, including almost everyone at the NYTimes, believed he was an evil man who deserved what he got. In the same vein, I have defended Louis Farrakhan, who has been routinely vilified by the Anti-Defamation League, and lynched a hundred times, with no way to fight back, except for a rare interview on a Sunday talk show. Demonizing someone in the press before asking judge and jury to look at him without prejudice is a hard thing to do.

As I wrote in my memo to you, my defense of Burton was that I did not see the "slime" and "depths of degradation" which you saw, when as I recall you never saw any slime or depths of degradation in the demonization of Milken or Farrakhan. (I once told Milken he was the most demonized Jew in America, Farrakhan the most demonized black.) Burton had to be "innocent" in his editing because he knew he was not concealing anything from Hubbell's defenders. Imagine the public is the judge, and I am out "to get" Clinton and you are his defense lawyer. We stand in the court of law. I have the transcript of the Hubbell conversation in front of me, and so do you. I ask the judge to hear an edited version of what he said, in order to elevate that part I want the judge to hear. Yet I know, you have the transcript in front of you. If you were to object that I didn't include what you wanted me to include, you could do so. The judge -- the public -- would immediately get the full transcript. This is what Burton did, and before you could whistle Dixie, the President's defenders were screaming about the "exculpatory" passage edited out.

The reply to my query you offer does make sense if Burton did in fact break the law in making public the tapes. Yet I've heard nobody say he broke any law. Just that he should have been nice and not done so. What I mean to say, Tony, is that I still don't see how your high-decibel fulmination about slime and degradation fits what actually happened.