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Hubbell allies blast release of phone talk

Responding to accusations that he selectively edited transcripts of Webster Hubbell's prison phone calls, Rep. Dan Burton said Sunday he will release 54 of the conversations in their entirety. Among them are previously omitted segments in which Hubbell asserts Hillary Rodham Clinton's innocence and states that he isn't taking hush money.

"I don't remember ever in the history of Congress a chairman of a committee altering and doctoring and selectively putting out information that changes both the meaning and content of those tapes," White House adviser Rahm Emanuel said on CNN's Late Edition.

Burton, R-Ind., said his investigators edited the tapes to protect the Hubbell family's privacy and called the accusations "baloney." He offered to release all 600 recorded conversations totaling 150 hours with the consent of Hubbell lawyer John Nields. When Nields rejected the idea, Burton announced he would release full transcripts today of the 54 conversations he has already excerpted. Burton said one of the already released excerpts includes Hubbell saying that "when it all boils down, they can't say" Mrs. Clinton did anything wrong.

Portions of Hubbell's prison tapes released to the news media were edited "so as to change their meaning," Nields said on ABC's This Week.

"None of this should be released. None of it! Absolutely none of it," Nields said. "I want none of it talked about. This is very, very wrong."

Telephone conversations of federal prison inmates are routinely taped to try to ensure that no prisoners engage in illegal activities, but they are rarely made public _ usually only in the context of trials.

Burton, chairman of the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee, began releasing portions of Hubbell's prison phone calls Thursday when the former associate attorney general was indicted on charges of conspiracy and tax evasion.

The committee's ranking Democrat, Rep. Henry Waxman, demanded an immediate session of the panel to decide "how to remedy this unconscionable situation."

"You have unilaterally subpoenaed these tapes, unilaterally released them, and apparently unilaterally altered the content to suit your purposes."

Nields rejected the suggestion that in one prison phone call, the lawyer and Hubbell were discussing a possible presidential pardon. Nields said that he and Hubbell were discussing a grant of immunity from the office of Whitewater prosecutor Kenneth Starr, which he received shortly after the 1996 presidential election. Shortly after that, Hubbell was questioned by prosecutors before a grand jury in Little Rock about payments to him from friends of President Clinton.

Hubbell "has sat down with people in the independent counsel's office for over 100 hours and if they are trying to pressure him now, it is not to cooperate, it's because they don't like what he said and they want to make him say something different," Nields said.

On Meet the Press, Burton was confronted with two of Hubbell's taped calls with his wife about the Whitewater investigation. In one, Hubbell tells Suzy Hubbell that Mrs. Clinton "just had no idea what was going on" at the Rose Law Firm regarding any billing irregularities by attorneys. In another tape, Hubbell tells his wife that despite suggestions in newspaper articles that friends of the Clintons are buying Hubbell's silence, "we know that's not true."

Burton left out those comments when he released excerpts of those two conversations.

Burton said Hubbell knew his phone calls were being taped and might have been making favorable comments about Mrs. Clinton in order to protect her after having "let his guard down" in other tape-recorded comments.

In another development, Attorney General Janet Reno ducked a question prompted by a report in Sunday's New York Times about whether Charles LaBella, head of the Justice Department's campaign finance task force, had urged Reno to seek an independent counsel to investigate Clinton and Vice President Al Gore but was rebuffed by her.

LaBella, in a statement Sunday evening, said that last year he did recommend that Reno appoint an independent counsel "with respect to telephone solicitations made by the president and the vice president." He said he had "a full opportunity to present my views to the attorney general, as did others."

"At the end of the process," LaBella said, "I was completely comfortable with her decision not to seek an independent counsel."