BURNING DOWN THE HOUSE - The House Committee on Government Reform, a gang of lunatics chaired by the demented Dan Burton, spent most of the first week of December conducting hearings on whether Al Gore, Rep. Maxine Waters, and Attorney General Janet Reno squashed an investigation into drug dealing by James Prince, the owner of Rap-A-Lot Records.

To listen to the Internet broadcast of the hearings was to enter a land of dementia in which Gore is beholden to Prince because of a $200,000 campaign contribution of which there is no record, Waters is trying to put the fix in for a high-roller even though her involvement stems from abuses of Prince's civil rights, and Janet Reno does their bidding without question. Seen through this looking glass, even Prince's church, the Church Without Walls, one of the most important in Houston's African-American community, is portrayed as part of the dope-dealing conspiracy. Burton even threatened DEA administrator Ernest Howard with perjury for denying that these fantasies were true.

Prince has said over and over again that he did not make any such contribution. "That would be like Lars Ulrich buying shares in Napster," said his publicist, Phyllis Pollack, who's well aware of Gore's hatred of popular music. DEA agent Jack Schumacher, who's called out by name on Scarface's Last of a Dying Breed album, refuses to identify his source for claiming that the contribution exists. There are no records of any contributions to the Democrats or Gore by Rap-A-Lot or Prince, although the latter has given the Church Without Walls more than $1 million. Schumacher was placed on desk duty last March, which he blames on Reno/Waters/Prince, not the nine fatal shootings he's committed.

Waters did write a letter to Reno. But it didn't demand benefits for a campaign contributor. It described the endless, pointless targeting of Prince for 12 years by the Houston cops and the DEA, racial slurs hurled at Prince, illegal searches of his car, and other acts of harassment. It said that Prince believes his life is in danger "at the hands of rogue officers from the Drug Enforcement Agency."

The committee didn't bother soliciting testimony from Waters, Prince, or the church's pastor. But Schumacher and a batch of Houston cops, who sound like whiney high school jocks who got caught bullying weaker students, are allowed to spread the ridiculous notion that there's a contract on the agent's life and that the government has a vendetta against Houston narcs.

These hearings were even more disgraceful than Burton's crackpot attempt to prove that Vincent Foster's suicide was murder. At least those never descended to the level of labeling a place of worship a drug den. The hearings were the equivalent of the House committee burning that church to the ground, not surprising given that Burton is in overt league with the kind of white supremacist conspiracists who pull off such torch jobs.

Some of this witch-hunt traces back to Prince hiring former drug felons; it's obviously government policy that poor black drug felons are not to be given such opportunities. But the real goal is probably to embarrass Waters, perhaps even to attempt to deny the most militant and articulate black congressperson her seat in the House when it reconvenes next year.

Meantime, James Prince, Scarface, and all other Rap-A- Lot artists are truly in danger of their very lives, from people who carry weapons legally and commit homicides with impunity. Burton's committee apparently would issue their assailants a medal, maybe even present it at a bonfire made from the embers of the Church Without Walls. And people wonder why hip-hoppers and their fans believe the government's out to get them.