U.S. REPRESENTATIVE YOUNG THREATENS CONTEMPT CITATION PERTAINING TO OFFICE OF INSULAR

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AFFAIRS ISSUE

By John Bresnahan

WASHINGTON, D.C. (July 26, 1999 – Roll Call Online)---House Resources Chairman Don Young (R-Alaska) is threatening to seek a contempt citation against a top Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee official over the DCCC's failure to comply with a subpoena.

The subpoena, issued two weeks ago, stems from a probe of alleged illegal partisan political activities by an Interior Department employee who was trying to dig up dirt on several top Congressional Republicans.

"This a very serious matter," Young wrote in a letter sent late Friday to DCCC Executive Director David Plouffe. "Unless you and the DCCC provide the subpoenaed materials, I intend to issue notice that the full Committee will consider a motion to hold you in contempt of Congress."

While a GOP-run committee issuing a subpoena to a Democratic campaign committee is rare, Young noted in his letter that the Resources Committee had successfully subpoenaed materials from the Democratic National Committee in a previous inquiry.

"I hope you will reconsider your decision and decide to do likewise," wrote Young.

The chairman also denied Democratic claims that he was trying to unearth political secrets from the DCCC. "This is not an effort to discover anything about the DCCC donor base," he wrote.

But Robert Bauer, the DCCC's legal counsel and a managing partner at the law firm Perkins Coie, said Young's subpoena was too broad and Democrats expect to negotiate with the committee before the panel takes any further action.

Young was upset by the DCCC's unwillingness to provide any response at all to allegations that a former DCCC official may have had ties to the Interior Department official at the center of the committee's probe, David North.

North reportedly tried to dig up political dirt on House Majority Leader Richard Armey (R-Texas), House Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-Texas), Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.), Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Frank Murkowski (R-Alaska) and other Republicans because they opposed Clinton administration policy on the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.

Young is seeking evidence of contacts between North and the DCCC. North sent a former senior DCCC official a memo in October 1997 suggesting they cooperate in finding incriminating information on DeLay, Armey and Rohrabacher and their ties to the Mariana Islands, as well as the American corporations that do business there.

But Bauer, who sent a letter to Young on Friday outlining why the DCCC declined to respond to the subpoena, insisted the request was too broad.

"There's information they're asking us to turn over that you can't have any legitimate concern about in any legitimate investigation," Bauer said in an interview.

The DCCC's response clearly upset Young, who allegedly has strong evidence that North may have violated the Hatch Act, which forbids partisan activities by executive branch employees. North has refused to comment since the allegations surfaced.

"I am surprised and disappointed in your lack of cooperation with this important inquiry, which is based on specific and credible information provided to this Committee of improper political activity using government resources," wrote Young.

He added that his panel has the right and responsibility "to ensure that resources under its oversight are not misused. The subpoena, which was narrowly tailored to discover the truth about the actions of the Interior Department employees using official resources, must be complied with."

In refusing to comply with Young's subpoena, DCCC officials are relying, in part, on a precedent established during Sen. Fred Thompson's (R-Tenn.) 1997 campaign finance probe.

In his response to the Resources Committee, Bauer enclosed copies of separate 1997 letters from interest groups who refused to cooperate with Thompson's probe, such as the Association of Trial Lawyers of America.

A total of 25 groups, led by the National Right-to-Life Committee and the American Civil Liberties Union, banded together to refuse to comply with broad subpoenas by Thompson's committee. The panel was trying to gather information about the groups' campaign activity as part of the committee's second phase of hearings into the campaign finance system.

The groups stiffed the Senate committee, which could not enforce the subpoenas before its mandate expired. At the time, several Senators on both sides of the aisle -- notably Sens. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) and Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) -- groused that Thompson's committee was allowing a dangerous precedent to take hold.

"The United States Senate is going to have to live with this precedent," said Sen. Robert Torricelli (D-N.J.), a key member of the committee. "Subpoenas are going to be ignored."

But in his letter of response to the DCCC, Young declared that the Thompson precedent in this case will not carry any weight.

"I would merely point out that the Thompson Committee investigation was in a much different, and much broader, context than this narrow review of the Interior Department," wrote Young. "Do not make the mistake of assuming that because those subpoenas were not enforced that this Committee will react in like fashion."

Young added ominously, "We have taken steps to enforce compliance with subpoenas before -- once in this same inquiry -- and will not hesitate to do so again."

No timetable had been set at press time about when Young will go ahead with the contempt citation against the DCCC, according to GOP sources familiar with the investigation, although the Alaska Republican is unlikely to be too patient.

Interior Department officials, after initially balking at Young's subpoenas for the Office of Insular Affairs, have agreed to turn over all the requested materials by August 20. Resources Committee investigators will also be allowed to examine the hard drive of North's computer to search for evidence of political activities.

Young issued subpoenas on July 13 to Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt; Ferdinand "Danny" Aranza; the acting head of the Office of Insular Affairs; and North, as well as the DCCC, in a probe of North's alleged illegal activities.

The Republican lawmakers, most notably DeLay, have been criticized for their opposition to altering labor laws in the Marianas.

Mark Preston and Ben Pershing contributed to this report.

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