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|Portrait of a political "pit bull"
Rep. Dan Burton, the powerful Indiana congressman who called President Clinton a "scumbag," has a few questions to answer about his own history of womanizing and alleged campaign finance irregularities.
BY RUSS BAKER
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Editor's Note: Earlier this year, Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind., the powerful head of the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee and a major critic of both President Clinton's personal behavior and his campaign fund-raising techniques, startled the country by suddenly admitting that he had fathered a child out of wedlock.
At the time Burton said his announcement was due to an upcoming article about his personal life in Vanity Fair magazine. He also issued a challenge to reporters at that time: "As far as peccadilloes and all that stuff, man, they could go from dawn till dusk digging around trying to find out stuff about that ... There's nothing else to learn."
As it turned out, with perfect postmodern irony, Vanity Fair chose not to publish the exposť of Burton's behavior that prompted him to "out" himself. But as investigative reporter Russ Baker, the author of that unpublished article, discovered when he continued his inquiry, there was in fact a great deal more to learn about the congressman's behavior.
The facts as documented in this story speak for themselves. Baker, who based his report on interviews with more than 120 sources, draws a portrait of a Capitol Hill potentate who has apparently abused his power by using strong-arm and unethical campaign finance practices and by preying on female lobbyists, staffers and constituents.
This weekend, Burton told CNN that politicians should be entitled to keep their private lives private, but their performance of "public duties" should be subject to journalistic scrutiny. The allegations contained in this article fall well within the boundaries Burton himself has established for media inquiry and comment.
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Sept. 13, 1995. Dan Burton was outraged. The Republican congressman from Indiana, looking a little like a military chaplain with his helmet of gray hair and aviator-style glasses, rose from his seat in the House of Representatives to ask why President Clinton was not yet facing serious scrutiny over the Paula Jones matter, whereas Bob Packwood, the Republican senator from Oregon, had been forced just days before -- appropriately, Burton emphasized -- to resign over his sexual improprieties.
"But why, I ask, are we excusing or ignoring similar behavior?" he demanded. "No one, regardless of what party they serve, no one, regardless of what branch of government they serve, should be allowed to get away with these alleged sexual improprieties, and yet it is obvious to me ... that a double standard does exist."
Burton's political career has been punctuated by uncompromising sermons on personal morality in high places. His Web site states in large type, "Above all, Dan Burton believes the people have a right to principled leadership and that character does matter," and boasts that "Dan Burton is the leader in the Congress fighting against all odds to get at the truth on all the Clinton Scandals."
A self-described "pit bull" of the political right, Burton made headlines last April when he told the editorial board of the Indianapolis Star: "If I could prove 10 percent of what I believe happened, he'd [Clinton] be gone. This guy's a scumbag. That's why I'm after him." The comment earned him a mountain of rebuke from colleagues and the press. "Dan Burton is a crude, crass man who is a disgrace to his district, his state, his party and the House," the Chicago Tribune editorialized. Burton refused to apologize.
This past fall, in his role as chairman of the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee, Burton cast himself as a moral watchdog for political fund-raising, threatening to cite Attorney General Janet Reno for contempt of Congress over the issue of appointing an independent counsel to look into alleged Democratic fund-raising abuses. "Is it any surprise to find Chinese arms dealers, drug dealers and fugitives from justice attending Democratic National Committee events at the White House with the president?" he asked at the start of the House campaign finance hearings.
Burton's critics and not a few of his friends find it strange, however, that the congressman is given to such strident moralizing. He has repeatedly faced questions about his own campaign fund-raising tactics, including accusations from a lobbyist that Burton strong-armed him for contributions and threatened to destroy his career if he did not pay up. Even more disturbing are allegations uncovered by Salon of the illegal use of congressional offices by Burton and a member of his committee staff for campaign fund-raising -- the very charge that has been leveled by Republicans at President Clinton and Vice President Al Gore.
Burton receives a 100-percent rating from the Christian Coalition for voting its positions on key issues. Yet the championing of family values by this father of three is undermined by a personal history of marital infidelity. In September, fearful of revelations that might surface in an article by this reporter, then scheduled for publication in Vanity Fair, Burton admitted that he had fathered an illegitimate son in an extramarital affair in the early 1980s.
This did not come as a complete surprise to reporters following Burton, who had been hearing rumors about a former Burton mistress with an out-of-wedlock "love child" for years. The woman involved, who is now in her late 40s, told Salon she worked for a Cabinet-level state agency when Burton came calling, wooing her with flowers. The woman, who declined to be interviewed at length or on the record, did affirm reluctantly that Burton is her son's father. The boy, who recently turned 15, would have been conceived during the 1982 campaign when Burton was first elected to Congress as "a man who cares."
But Burton's moral standing is further clouded by allegations of on-the-job sexual harassment, including an accusation that he groped a lobbyist from Planned Parenthood in the mid-1990s when she visited his Washington office. According to several sources, Burton has also maintained sexual relationships with women on his congressional and campaign payrolls.
(An initial request for an interview with Burton was met by a plea from his press secretary, John Williams, that there be "no personal questions," in order to protect "privacy." Subsequently, Burton decided not to be interviewed at all. "We've had just about enough profiles of him done this year," explained Williams. On Monday, Williams declined a final interview request.)
The portrait of Burton that emerged from a seven-month investigation is that of a man much like his nemesis, President Clinton: Both rose from troubled, violence-plagued, working-class childhoods to political prominence, and both have put their careers at risk with sexual indiscretions. But unlike Clinton, Burton has made a career of attacking people who are most like him, and lionizing those whose values he himself cannot live by.
Back in his home state, the 60-year-old Burton, who favors gold bracelets and custom-made suits that flatter his tall, slim frame, is still "Danny" to just about everyone. He represents one of the safest and most conservative seats in the country: Central Indiana's 6th Congressional District has one of the highest concentrations of Republican voters in America; a key county in the district, Hamilton, is the nation's eighth wealthiest.
Burton's constituents seem to like their congressman's outspoken ways. Not even his well-publicized gaffes have dampened local enthusiasm. "He was already extremely popular here," says Republican state Sen. Beverly Gard, whose district overlaps with Burton's. "But with his committee investigation (into campaign fund-raising violations by the Democrats), I would suspect that his approval rating has gone even higher." His reelection in November became a foregone conclusion when his Democratic opponent, Bob Kern, was reported by the media to be a cross-dressing felon. (Kern had been convicted more than a decade ago of felony theft and forgery and spent time in prison.) A furious and deeply embarrassed Indiana Democratic Party even sued in an unsuccessful effort to get Kern off the ballot. In short, Burton has not had to worry about serious competition.
In Washington, though, Burton is regarded by many colleagues, even in his own party, as an obstructionist and something of a kook. Glowering or smiling through gritted teeth, he delights in blocking committee action by raising procedural issues, talking until his allotted time is up, then, after losing a voice vote, demanding a recorded count -- thereby flushing indignant colleagues from their offices for an exercise in futility. "More than a decade of contention on many issues has purchased Burton a reputation in Congress as something of a flake," wrote the Indianapolis Star's George Stuteville in 1993. "Members of the Hoosier delegation ... note privately that virtually everything Burton proposes is bound to be defeated."
Burton regularly makes headlines with attention-getting stunts. In 1993, he fired a rifle at a "headlike thing" in his backyard in front of a homicide expert to prove his theory that Clinton advisor Vincent Foster did not commit suicide but was murdered and that his body was moved to a Virginia park. In 1995, he wrote Clinton, demanding to know whether taxpayers were footing the cost of stationery and postage for the fan club dedicated to Socks, the first cat. (They were not.)
In May, Burton released transcripts of former Associate Attorney General Webster Hubbell's prison conversations, but selectively edited out comments suggesting that the first lady was innocent of Whitewater charges. An uproar ensued, and Burton apologized on the House floor.
"Dan is a very complicated guy, and yet on the other hand he's very simple," says Brian Vargus, who polled for Burton in his first successful congressional race, in 1982, and who now runs Indiana University's Public Opinion Laboratory. Friends describe the congressman as remarkably driven and fiercely partisan. Yet even some Democrats note that he can be heroically loyal, sticking by people during tough times. He is often empathetic and emotional on a one-to-one basis with people and can change his mind on issues that touch him personally.
For example, in 1992 he moved to cut $1 million from funding for breast-cancer and cervical screening programs, plus $20 million from the National Cancer Institute; but after his wife, Barbara, was diagnosed with breast cancer, he reversed course and wrote to a House subcommittee, "You have my complete support to make sure that women have the opportunity to get mammograms as early as possible."
His staff members say he is unusually concerned and solicitous during their personal difficulties. Some of the people who have been bludgeoned by him publicly find him charming and warm in private. And some witnesses before his committee, though they have complained about his aggressive partisanship, praise his manner, which they say was refreshingly professional. "While I was at the White House, I attended Congressman Burton's hearings and was publicly critical of what amounted to blatant partisanship he displayed, which undermined his credibility," says Lanny Davis, former White House deputy counsel. "But he always treated me as a gentleman and was always fair when there was an opportunity to do otherwise."
Last May, Burton narrowly averted attempts to remove him as chairman of the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee and to dilute the committee's power. His confrontational and sometimes clownish behavior, which included having staff members construct a giant mural made up of pictures of questionable Democratic contributors with Clinton in the center, led Rep. Henry Waxman of California, the ranking Democrat on the committee, to claim, "There has never been an investigation that has been so plagued by mistakes, raw partisanship and wrong judgments." Even Republicans began expressing dissatisfaction with his missteps.
More recently, after having cobbled together a compromise on rules with the Democrats, Burton once again generated headlines this fall for his efforts to force Reno to appoint an independent investigator to look into Democratic fund-raising abuses. After Burton threatened to cite her for contempt of Congress, Reno announced a preliminary 90-day investigation, after which she once again declined to appoint an independent counsel in the matter.
Yet Burton's critics claim that he has demonstrated carelessness bordering on recklessness in his own political fund-raising. For example, Burton has been eager to take up the causes of special-interest groups that have little to do with his core constituents. In 1996, 84 percent of his individual campaign contributions came from outside Indiana, and almost 25 percent of the total came from Florida, where Miami Cubans regard the congressman as one of their chief congressional patrons. He was a sponsor of the 1995 Helms-Burton Act, which aimed to penalize companies doing business in Cuba. Burton presents the law as a strike against Castro and communism, but CEOs from companies including General Motors, Sears, Zenith and Hyatt Hotels oppose it as harmful to American business interests.
Perhaps the strangest Burton constituency is American Sikhs; in 1996 a large number of Burton's donations came from individuals with identifiable South Asian surnames. Burton has become the Hill's leading supporter of Sikh rights and a harsh critic of India, where the Sikhs are seeking to carve out their own independent nation. Burton's fellow Hoosier Lee Hamilton, the well-respected former chairman of the House International Relations Committee, has chastised Burton for supporting a separatist movement.
Last year Burton, who has been investigating contributions to Clinton by U.S. Buddhist temples, was compelled to return two of his own campaign contributions from Sikh temples after the donations became public. Burton's staff reportedly said they thought "Gurudwara Sahib" was a Sikh name, and didn't realize Gurudwara means temple -- although virtually all Sikh men use the surname Singh.
Shortly before his hearings into Clinton campaign-finance violations began, the congressman flew to California, where he played golf at an AT&T-sponsored tournament in Pebble Beach with Robert Allen, the company's chairman. He also allowed AT&T to throw a fund-raising bash for him while he was there -- this at the same time that his committee was overseeing the awarding of a $10 billion government telephone contract, on which AT&T was bidding.
Even more serious fund-raising charges against Burton emerged last year, when a former lobbyist for the government of Pakistan, Mark Siegel, claimed that the congressman had used heavy-handed tactics in pressuring him to deliver campaign contributions, including threats of serious consequences if Siegel failed to do so. Siegel's allegations were referred to a grand jury; that investigation, which has received little press coverage, apparently is still active. Burton has denied threatening Siegel.
In a recent interview, Siegel elaborated that Burton may have committed other violations, including making illegal telephone solicitations from federal premises. Siegel says the calls clearly came from Burton's Capitol Hill office; and notes that the return phone numbers left were for that office. Siegel says he has told this to the grand jury.
"I've spoken to Burton many times," says Siegel, who says the congressman called him at least five times to ask for money. "He always made the calls; he always left the office number as his return phone number, which is amusing because he was attacking the vice president for using his office for making campaign fund-raising calls. The vice president was making soft-money calls, which was potentially illegal, but Burton was making hard-money calls, which is explicitly illegal." Siegel says Burton's language was both inappropriate and inelegant: "Several times he said, 'If you know what's good for you, you'll get me my money.' My money, as if it was his."
A former computer technician for Burton's committee, Jeffrey Senter, claims that he listened while Dan Moll, general counsel for the civil-service subcommittee, made telephone calls soliciting campaign contributions for Burton from subcommittee offices during the workday. "His tone was the hard sell: You will give us money or we will never help you again," the technician recalls. Senter, a registered Democrat who has done computer work both for the Clinton-Gore 1992 campaign and inauguration and for a committee chaired by a Republican, says that he would be willing to testify before a grand jury.
Senter says he mentioned the calls to several other staffers, who told him that they had complained about similar calls by Moll from the Committee on Post Office and Civil Service affairs, which was later merged into Government Oversight. Steve Williams, another former committee staffer, says he remembers running into Moll in hallways, and Moll telling him he was busy raising money for Burton. Senter says Moll was calling postal industry political action committees. Moll declined to comment for this article.
Ray O'Malley, a lobbyist and attorney who formerly worked for the prominent Washington firm of Cassidy & Associates, tells of receiving calls from Burton staffers urging him to attend fund-raisers for their boss. This lobbyist is certain that Moll called him from the congressional-committee offices, since, he claims, messages left for him to call back had phone numbers whose prefixes ring only inside the Capitol. Also, he believes other Burton solicitations came from Capitol fax machines. The lobbyist says he complained to Burton himself about the calls. "I did advise him personally that he shouldn't be calling from there," he says. But Burton shrugged off his complaints, he recalls.
Like Bill Clinton, Dan Burton had a damaging childhood. He grew up poor, in a series of trailers and motel rooms and a house with no indoor plumbing. His father, Charles, a 6-foot-8 former policeman, was brutal and violent. He regularly beat his wife, Bonnie, sometimes knocking her unconscious, and often took off after the kids. A close relative recalls seeing the father laughing while administering a savage beating.
"Our father was a con man," says Indiana State Rep. Woody Burton, Dan Burton's 53-year-old brother, who spoke to me at his home in suburban Indianapolis. "He could sell you anything. He'd sit there and cry crocodile tears one minute and the next minute he'd steal you blind."
Burton's parents were divorced early on, but when Dan was 12, Charles Burton broke into Bonnie's mother's house, where the family was living, and kidnapped Bonnie at gunpoint, holding her hostage for 10 days before she managed to escape. The children were sent briefly to the Marion County Children's Guardian Home; their father served two years in jail. When Charles Burton got out of prison, he tried to return to the house. Dan, then a teenager, grabbed a shotgun the family kept by the front door and pointed it at his father, who promptly left. The event eerily echoes President Clinton's story of standing up to his stepfather and stopping him from beating his mother.
"It does something to a guy when you have to face your dad down in a driveway," says a former top staffer for Burton's House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight. When Burton was 21 and working in a local restaurant, his father suddenly reappeared. "When he came in to see me and put his hand down on the counter, there were no knuckles there along the ridge of his hand, just scar tissue from all the fights," Burton once recalled. Burton heard from his father only one other time before he died in 1969.
"We were considered the scum of the earth because of the reputation of our dad," says Woody Burton, "but our mom was always a very proud person, and she always taught us to stand up for what we believe in and never give up." At an early age, Dan Burton saw that life was a struggle, but one that could be won. His mother was a waitress. The family's clothes came from a Goodwill store. As a boy, Burton shined shoes in a barbershop, often using his earnings to buy groceries and heating oil. One day, in came an imposing man with a huge diamond ring, a big black car and a good-looking suit. "He made a real impact on me," Burton told a reporter years later. "I said when I grow up I want a diamond, big car and clothes like that. And he said in America, you can do anything, if you have a purpose ... If you set a goal and never give up, never give up."
Burton took the advice to heart. Like many of his friends, he began caddying at a local country club, where he learned to be an outstanding golfer himself, going on to win a state high school championship. Like Clinton, he enjoyed not only the competitive aspect of sports but also the opportunity to rub elbows with the rich and powerful. In 1956 he enlisted in the Army, but quit the following year and later enrolled at the Cincinnati Bible Seminary, which he left without getting a degree or pursuing the ministry. Instead he went to work in the insurance industry. He met his future wife, Barbara, in Cincinnati in 1959. She was a secretary, and after they married she began working with him in the insurance business.
Like Clinton, Burton was a young and ambitious entrant into politics. His public life has been marked by both coalition building and confrontation with Indiana's powerful Republican machine. After serving in the Indiana legislature, and failing twice in congressional bids, he launched his third try for Congress in 1982 by challenging four prominent Republicans, including the GOP state chairman, Bruce Melchert (for whom a new district had been drawn). Burton won by outsmarting and outworking his rivals. He sent volunteers into tiny towns on a fire truck he had bought for campaign purposes.
His mentor, political kingmaker L. Keith Bulen, who sponsored many of Indiana's up-and-coming politicos, says that issues were never Burton's passion. It was the thrill of the game he enjoyed. He also appeared to relish the physical advantage that nature had bestowed on him, something that seems to have carried Clinton, too, through the hardest of times. When Burton won the GOP primary, the Indianapolis Star wrote: "In the age of television, it may have been which guy came across best on the tube, and Burton is nothing if he is not good-looking. The other three major contenders, frankly, weren't as handsome."
Anyone familiar with Burton's childhood experience might have assumed that he would be an advocate for single mothers and children from abusive backgrounds. Yet Burton has always cited his own pulled-up-by-the-bootstraps success as proof that entitlements are a waste of money. The way to really help children, he has said, is not to provide social services, but to cut the budget deficit. In blazing such a contrarian path, Burton was establishing a pattern that would define his political career: denying and even attacking people and issues that most mirrored his own life.
Burton, the family-values champion, has been married for 38 years, but he is known to have a marked weakness for attractive women. "All of the important people know the truth about Burton and pretend he's upstanding," says Harrison Ullmann, a former Indianapolis Star reporter who edits NUVO Newsweekly, Indianapolis's alternative paper. After Burton's September admission that he had fathered an illegitimate child, Dick Cady wrote in the Indianapolis Star, "During part of the 1970s and '80s, Dan Burton was known as the biggest skirt-chaser in the Indiana legislature ... Privately, some of his fellow Republicans expressed embarrassment. Lobbyists whispered about the stories of Burton's escapades. Statehouse reporters joked about him. Yet no one ever wrote about, or probably thought about writing anything. To the people who sent him first to the legislature and then to Congress, Burton was Mr. Conservative, the devout husband and father who espoused family values."
Cady recently dug up a report from 1980 of the Indianapolis Press Club's "roasting" of Burton, which included the following jokes about the then-state senator:
"He wants to become the District of Columbia's first senator. Why, you ask? Because someone told him that three-quarters of a million people in Washington go to bed each night without a senator."
"For a man who claims to be such a moralist, Danny does have a reputation as a ladies' man. He is all for life, liberty and the happiness of pursuit."
"He likes to get out there and see sin up close."
From the time of Burton's election to Indiana's General Assembly in 1966 at the age of 28 to his departure for Washington 16 years later, there were a number of alleged incidents involving women -- stories not only of philandering, but also of an established pattern of sexual harassment. "Everybody who was around him at the Statehouse and everyone who knows him at all says the same thing: God, how did Dan Burton get away with this?" grumbles a female Statehouse lobbyist.
"None of the [female] staff wanted to be caught in a hall with him," recalls retired Indiana legislator Hurley Goodall, a Democrat who served with Burton until 1983, when Burton left for Washington. "Then, when he ran for reelection and they had a picture of his family in the paper, everybody wanted to puke." One woman, a former staff attorney for the Indiana legislature, recalls being with Burton one day after hours: "He put his hand on the back of my neck and said, 'Would your husband, your boyfriend, be upset about you being here late with me tonight?'" Just then, she says, a male staffer appeared -- "bless his heart," the woman added.
A man who worked for the GOP in the state legislature says Burton propositioned his daughter when she was a secretary there. "She was very upset," the man recalls. "I said to him, 'Dan, I would appreciate it if nothing more like that happened.'"
Virginia Blankenbaker, a former Republican state senator (Burton attended a fund-raiser for her recent, unsuccessful bid for a neighboring congressional seat), says that her late husband, who was director of public safety for Indianapolis, told her of numerous Burton problems, and she recalls one of her own. "One of my interns -- I don't remember if she also worked for him -- was flattered when he invited her to dinner at the end of the session in 1981 or 1982, and then was most embarrassed when he propositioned her," she remembers. "It's bizarre he's so outspoken on moral issues." The former intern, Judith Murden, now a federal employee, would confirm only that Burton had commented on her appearance, suggesting that she had rebuffed an advance, and noting that "nothing goes anywhere if there is a red light."
Other Hoosier women seethe with anger over Burton's hypocrisy. "I know wise men who in political life have had affairs," says Beth Green, a retired civil servant for the Indiana legislature who knew Burton. "There are many whom I think handle those relationships with respect. Perhaps there are mutual benefits. And, yeah, it's OK what they do. But I do care when they're up there preaching family values. My feeling is that [Burton] is not sincere about anything."
One woman who worked for an Indiana government agency and saw Burton frequently at political events remembers that when she was in her early 20s Burton came on to her in a "friendly" way by inviting her for a drink. They did not have a relationship, only a "one-night stand ... at my place," because "I suspect that he was worried that I was going to say something to somebody else in politics, and I didn't," she recalled. "It has been a source of both irritation and amusement to me over the years to hear him campaign and tout himself as having such strong family values and being such a defender of the conservative point of view, because I think, 'This is so much bullshit. What a hypocrite!' Even though I am a registered Republican and have been all my life and have worked both formally and informally on political campaigns, my favorite candidate is whoever is running against him."
In 1983 Burton put an Indianapolis woman, Rebecca Hyatt, on his Washington congressional staff as "assistant to the administrative assistant." Hyatt, according to a former boyfriend, James Rutledge, said that Burton had pressured her into an affair when she baby-sat for the family. "She said, 'I've got a problem at work. Dan wants me to have sex with him. He keeps bugging me every day,'" recalled Rutledge, who dated Hyatt in the early 1980s. After she and Burton began an affair, Rutledge said, "He took her up there [to Washington]. He promised her a job, everything." Hyatt's ex-husband, Byron Hyatt, says she told him of the affair with her boss. When contacted recently, Rebecca Hyatt, who left Burton's staff in the mid-1980s, said, "I don't talk to reporters."
Jeannie Blair, a registered Republican, recalls still another Burton episode, in the mid-'80s. The woman in question was Blair's next-door neighbor, for whom Blair baby-sat. On one occasion, Blair accompanied the woman to Louisville, en route to picking up the children elsewhere, and, she says, Burton followed in his car. Blair says she took a motel room, while Burton and her neighbor took the one next door. On another occasion, while at a bar with the couple, Blair said Burton "brought some other guy along [because] maybe I might like him," even though the congressman knew she was married. She declined the opportunity. Blair's former neighbor confirmed that she had known Blair well, and that she had worked on Burton campaigns, but denied having an affair with the congressman.
Bill Smith, who served as Burton's chief of staff in the 1980s and now runs the Indiana Family Institute, a conservative "family advocacy" organization dedicated to discouraging divorce, says that while canvassing door-to-door in Burton's 1982 congressional campaign, he met a woman who told him that she would not vote for Burton because he was a "womanizer." Smith says he immediately approached Burton and asked him about it. Burton, he recalls, replied: "Well, you know, a few years ago Barb and I separated. There was a good chance we were gonna get divorced. And during that time, I dated."
Smith says that he accepted Burton's explanation until three years later, when a pastor in Washington approached him "along the same lines. And my response to him was, 'Oh, I've talked to Dan about that. And here's the situation.' But just hearing it again troubled me and I went back to Dan." Burton claimed that it was just the same story being recirculated.
In the early 1990s a Planned Parenthood delegation visited Washington to lobby members of Congress and paid a courtesy call on Burton, even though they knew he was unsympathetic to their cause. They expected to meet with a staff member. Instead, Burton himself bounded out and escorted the three lobbyists into a tiny inner office. "This was almost a closet," says one participant, a middle-aged woman and a Republican. "There was a lot of junk around ... and there was maybe one chair, and he pulled in another chair, and there was the sofa that sat practically on the floor. It was uncomfortable for all of us. And he came in and was talking to us about his years at the seminary."
Soon thereafter, the trio took their leave, with Burton standing in the doorway so that each had to pass him. As she tried to exit, "he grabbed my arm and pulled me back. I thought that he was just angry (about our discussion). I was there maybe 30 seconds, and he had his hands up my skirt so fast I didn't even know what was coming." The woman says she was able to stop Burton's hand before it reached its target.
The two male lobbyists from Planned Parenthood accompanying the woman, Randy Price and Dr. John Peterson, did not see the alleged groping incident. But they recalled being surprised that so many of Burton's staff seemed to be young, attractive women, wearing short skirts, who were seemingly unprepared and uninformed about the issues they were supposedly responsible for. The lobbyists say they were especially shocked to interrupt one male staffer under a desk aiming a camera up a young female staffer's skirt. When the lobbyists expressed their astonishment at the scene, the staffers explained that they were merely checking to see whether an unscrupulous person could take photographs up a woman's skirt undetected. Price added that he heard Burton make inappropriately graphic sexual remarks to one of the young women staffers.
An additional serious issue for Burton is his close relationship with a former model, Claudia Keller, who until recently was his campaign manager, a position she carried out from the Dan Burton for Congress campaign office, located in her Indianapolis home -- which is outside his congressional district. Although the nondescript ranch-style house in a residential area bears no external signs, Burton has paid from $2,400 to $4,000 a year in rent for it since 1991, according to his campaign disclosure forms. In addition, Burton pays Keller an annual salary of more than $40,000, as well as expenses and bonuses of several thousand dollars; regular payments totaling $2,500 in 1993 to a business called Buttons & Bows (not listed in the Indianapolis telephone directory, but identified on Burton's forms as being located at Keller's address) for her appearances as a clown at campaign events; and an annual salary of more $10,000 to Elizabeth Keller, Claudia Keller's sister, who lived a block away. Burton's campaign has also made payments to Claudia Keller's daughter, aunt and ex-husband. In addition to the full-time campaign salary, Keller has also received a salary for part-time employment in Burton's congressional district office. Last fall, a Burton spokesman had trouble explaining what Keller's job entailed; he said he would need to look into it.
Burton's frequent visits to Keller's home were ostensibly to discuss business, though he often arrived dressed as if he were headed to the golf course, according to Denise Range, a neighbor, and was sometimes greeted at the door by Keller wearing a teddy. Melissa Bickel, another neighbor, recalls that Keller would often send her daughter over to their house when Burton came calling, which she says was as often as three or four times a week.
According to Keller's neighbors, when Burton arrived, Keller would move her car so Burton could pull into the driveway, after which she would pull in directly behind him, as if to block the license plate. This struck them as odd because there was abundant street parking in the residential area.
In a recent conversation, Bickel says, Keller's daughter told her that Burton "was worried about all this stuff with Clinton, that he would get people to start investigating him. And I said, 'He's done the same things, so he should be worried about it.'"
As a result of inquiries, a U.S. attorney in Indiana has reportedly expressed interest in exploring ghost employment on Burton's congressional payroll. After Burton was reelected in November, Keller moved to Washington to join his staff there, where she now works as his "scheduler," according to a Burton spokesperson.
For the past decade, Burton has exhibited an unusual pattern: Though he has had no serious opposition, he has paid campaign salaries every single month, even in non-election years, to two people: Claudia Keller and Sharon Delph. Delph knew Burton back in high school, and served as secretary to Burton when he was president of the Young Republicans in the 1960s. When Delph's ex-husband, who maintains regular contact with her, was asked what she did for her regular Burton campaign salary, he expressed amazement she was being paid at all, noting that she has a full-time job in a bank. Her son, Michael, whom Burton recommended for graduate school and hired onto his Washington staff as a key aide immediately upon his graduation, also said he was unaware that his mother received a regular paycheck from Burton's campaign. Delph herself declined to comment on what she does for the Burton campaign.
An extensive review of Burton's campaign reports for recent years reveals frequent reimbursements to Burton himself, totaling many thousands of dollars, for unidentified expenses for travel, meetings, hotels and the like.
Given how relentlessly Burton has criticized Clinton, it comes as something of a surprise to find out what he really thinks of the president. A friend of Burton's, Bob Mahowald, says that in private Burton has called Clinton the best politician he's ever seen, and indicated that he likes him personally. Others agree. "I would bet anything that Danny Burton could tee it up with Bill Clinton tomorrow and be just the most friendly, charming fellow you'd ever want to come across," says Louis Mahern, a lobbyist who served in the Indiana state Senate for 16 years, some of those alongside Burton. "You remember in 'The Godfather,' when they find out that Sal Tessio has been double-dealing, they're gonna take him out and shoot him, and Tessio says, 'Tell Mike it was only business. I always liked him.' You know, I think that's Danny's attitude (toward Clinton). I mean, I don't think he means anything personal by this."
SALON | Dec. 22, 1998
Russ Baker is an award-winning New York City investigative journalist whose work has appeared in the New Yorker, the Los Angeles Times and the Columbia Journalism Review.
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