The future of the House campaign fund-raising investigation is before Speaker Newt Gingrich, who is considering whether to lessen the role played by embattled Rep. Dan Burton while ensuring that Burton doesn't lose face, Republican officials say.
Gingrich must perform a delicate balancing act between the Indiana Republican and Rep. Bill Thomas of California, chairman of another House committee under consideration for taking over much of the investigation, the sources said Wednesday.The speaker wants to demonstrate support for Burton against Democratic critics who accuse him of conducting a partisan witch hunt into fund-raising abuses by the 1996 Clinton-Gore campaign.
One of Gingrich's options is to seek clear, unambiguous authority for Thomas to run the rest of the investigation from his House Oversight Committee.
The sources, House members and staffers insisting on anonymity, said Gingrich is in no hurry to decide the future direction of the investigation.
They said Gingrich believes Republicans can spend some time ham-mer-ing Democrats for refusing to give Burton the votes he needed to grant immunity from prosecution to four witnesses. The speaker is even considering having another immunity vote on the House floor.
Republicans believe they have a winning issue because Burton has revealed the Justice Department does not oppose immunity for the four.
Three of the witnesses worked for Democratic fund-raisers, and the fourth - the most important potential witness - may have information on Chinese attempts to influence the Clinton-Gore re-election campaign, Burton said.
Democrats on Burton's committee forced the Republicans' hand Wednesday, blocking the chairman from achieving the two-thirds majority needed for immunity. Thomas' committee has a two-thirds Republican majority.
Burton told reporters Wednesday that additional witnesses may only be willing to testify under a grant of immunity, which would throw an even greater chunk of the investigation to Thomas.