The chairman of the House panel investigating possible campaign fund-raising abuses said Sunday he suspects that the White House might have "altered" some of the recently released videotapes showing President Clinton courting potential donors at White House coffees.
"We think some of those tapes may have been cut off intentionally, you know, altered in some way" because some "cut off very abruptly," Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind., said Sunday on CBS's "Face the Nation."
"We're going to talk to the technicians, the people that took all of the videotapes, and try to get to the bottom of it."
White House officials angrily dismissed Burton's accusation, saying they know of nothing that was done to alter the tapes.
"Neither the White House counsel's office nor the communications agency responsible for videotaping has any knowledge about editing of those videotapes," said White House special counsel Lanny J. Davis. "If Congressman Burton has such evidence, let him tell us what it is rather than engaging in unfortunate innuendo."
The emergence of the tapes has heightened the partisan debate about whether Clinton might have violated federal campaign finance laws by seeking donations on federal property or soliciting "soft money" -- contributions that are supposed to be used only by political party organizations for general party-building activities -- for his own re-election campaign.
Soft money can be contributed in unlimited amounts. "Hard money" -- contributions directly to candidates -- is limited by federal statutes.
Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., said Sunday that a Dec. 7, 1995, videotape proved that Clinton broke the law requiring that soft money be at the disposition only of party organizations. On the tape, Clinton credits his high poll ratings to party-funded television "issue" ads paid for with soft money.
"Now we have it from the president's own mouth that the purpose of the money being raised by the Democratic National Committee was to promote his own campaign," Specter said on "Fox News Sunday." He called Clinton's statement a "smoking gun."
Donald L. Fowler, former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, disputed that allegation. Speaking on CNN's "Late Edition," he said that those ads were designed to help all Democrats and that the 100-plus hours of the White House videotapes "demonstrate (that) our fund-raising activities were conducted in accordance with the law."
Also on CNN's "Late Edition," former President Jimmy Carter said Sunday the incessant fund raising both by the president and members of Congress "gives the American people the impression, which is not always erroneous, that to get legislation passed or decisions made, you've got to contribute money in a so-called legal bribe."
Democratic officials, however, have defended their fund-raising practices as not only within the law but a political necessity, given the current campaign finance structure.
Democrats repeatedly have pointed out the practice of entertaining potential and former donors at the White House was not initiated by Clinton. Former Presidents Ronald Reagan and George Bush both feted top contributors at the White House.
Despite that, Republicans say they will aggressively pursue their investigation of Clinton's White House meetings.