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GOP, Democrats spar over what Hubbell tapes reveal

Insisting that a Democratic charge of selective editing "does not hold water," the Republican chairman of a House committee released tape recordings Monday of more than 10 hours of Webster Hubbell's telephone calls from a federal prison.

Rep. Dan Burton of Indiana, chairman of the Government Reform and Oversight Committee, and Rep. Henry Waxman of California, the committee's ranking Democrat, traded charges over the tapes for a second day in letters to each other that also were released to the press.

Waxman complained of a "systematic effort to mislead the public," while Burton said, "the entire record will reflect that I was very fair and evenhanded in respecting the people's right to know."

Although many of the conversations heard Monday followed the transcripts made public by the committee last week, Waxman said that his own staff had reviewed the excerpts and found crucial passages deleted, other text heavily paraphrased and at least one instance, he said, in which Burton or his staff "simply made up text."

Democratic staff members pointed to an instance in which the transcript said, "The Riady is just not easy to do business with me while I'm here," an apparent reference to the Indonesian Riady family, which figured in the 1996 campaign finance investigation. The Democrats said that Hubbell actually said, "The reality is, it's just not easy to do business with me while I'm here."

The release of the tapes _ strenuously opposed by Hubbell's lawyer _ came just days after Hubbell, once the third-ranking official in the Justice Department, was indicted for a second time on charges of tax evasion, this time along with his wife, Suzanna.

The indictment says that while the Hubbells earned more than $1-million between 1994 and 1997, much of it in consulting fees he received from Clinton allies after leaving the Justice Department, they paid less than $30,000 in taxes during the same period. According to the charges, the Hubbells failed to pay more than $850,000 in taxes and penalties over the four years.

Hubbell already had been sent to prison once by Kenneth Starr, the Whitewater independent counsel, after he pleaded guilty to tax evasion charges and others related to defrauding his former law firm.

Transcripts released by the Republicans after last week's indictment provided a glimpse into Hubbell's anxieties about his situation, about investigations by Starr and congressional committees. In the transcripts, Hubbell repeatedly stated his loyalty to his friends and to the Clintons.

Over the weekend, Democrats gave two examples in which the transcripts omitted excerpts that seemed exculpatory, including a statement by Hubbell that Hillary Rodham Clinton had "no idea" of billing irregularities at the Rose Law Firm where they were both partners in Little Rock, Ark. Also omitted was a statement by Hubbell that he was not being paid hush money to keep him from cooperating with Starr.

In a letter to Waxman on Monday, Burton said that the committee had narrowed 150 hours of conversations to one hour's worth of transcripts. "In such a massive undertaking, anyone could argue after the fact that this or that passage should have been included or excluded from the final product."

Burton also threatened to release even more tapes than he did Monday if Waxman kept charging him with selective editing.

Many of the tapes released Monday provided poignant glimpses of Hubbell trying to calm his wife and deal with their financial situation. "Honey, I have no idea what kind of money we have," he said.

Much of the released transcript matches the tapes. In other cases, however, the transcript seems selective. At one point in a telephone call on Oct. 8, 1996, between Hubbell and his wife, Hubbell discussed a column by William Safire of the New York Times and accusations that Hubbell received $250,000 from the Riady family.

The excerpts omit Hubbell's response to these accusations: "One of the problems is some of the jerks read that, and believe that I got paid that, which we know _ I wish I did," Hubbell said.

In another instance, in a taped conversation between Hubbell and his sister Terry Collins, the two discuss Hubbell's decision to delay publication of his memoir. The transcript quoted Hubbell saying the publisher wanted him to "tell stuff he can't do."

But the fuller quote seems more ambiguous. "They wanted it to be kind of a Newsweek cover piece," he said. "To do that, would probably have to tell stuff that maybe I can't do. This way I can work on it and do it the way I want to do it. And it gives me more time to catch up on my letters and my reading and my self-improvement and write it the way I want to do it. You know. Whether it's a success or not. And I think it will be. I really do. It will be much more honest you know from my standpoint. They were kind of pushing hard in some directions that I wasn't comfortable in."