Associated Press

Sweeney Gives Teamsters' Views

By Kevin Galvin
Associated Press Writer

Thursday, April 30, 1998

WASHINGTON (AP) -- AFL-CIO President John Sweeney defended his deputy Thursday against allegations he took part in an illegal scheme to funnel money into Ron Carey's 1996 campaign for the Teamsters presidency.

Testifying for the first time about charges the AFL-CIO was used to launder money for Carey's campaign, Sweeney told a House panel that he has seen no evidence that any federation official did anything improper.

Sweeney confirmed that AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Richard Trumka, who invoked his Fifth Amendment right and refused to appear, also has declined to explain a questionable transaction to federation attorneys.

Nevertheless, he told the House Education and the Workforce subcommittee on investigations that he doubts court testimony that implicated Trumka.

``He tells me that he is innocent and that I will come to that same conclusion when the investigation is completed,'' Sweeney said.

Carey's re-election was overturned, and his campaign manager and two consultants pleaded guilty over a scheme to siphon $885,000 from the union treasury to boost his campaign.

The union's former political director, William Hamilton, was indicted.

Martin Davis, a consultant to Carey, told a federal judge he persuaded Hamilton to give $150,000 to the AFL-CIO after Trumka agreed to pass the money along to a liberal consumer group, Citizen Action.

Within days, Citizen Action paid $100,000 to Davis' direct mail consultancy to offset the cost of a last-minute Carey campaign mailing.

Documents provided to the subcommittee included a written request from Trumka to Hamilton for the funds, and a memo from Trumka to the director of Citizen Action.

Sweeney conceded the evidence linking the Teamsters check to the AFL-CIO and the AFL-CIO payment to Citizen Action.

But Sweeney insisted there was no evidence that anyone knew the money would eventually be used to boost Carey's re-election.

The allegations pose a problem for Trumka.

Rep. Pete Hoekstra, R-Mich., the subcommittee chairman, had planned to hear testimony about the transaction from Trumka's executive assistant, Brad Burton, and Susan Mackie of the AFL-CIO comptroller's office.

But Hoekstra reversed course after receiving a letter from Mary Jo White, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, which said testimony from Burton and Mackie at this time ``could seriously undermine'' a criminal investigation.

While the letter indicated Trumka remains under scrutiny, it was good news for Sweeney. The federation president has never been directly implicated in the alleged scheme, and White raised no objection to his testifying.

Sweeney testified AFL-CIO policy would only allow removal of an elected officer for invoking the Fifth Amendment only if it was determined the officer did so to cover up wrongdoing.

Subcommittee members suggested they believed Trumka was doing just that.

``Trumka's role in the events of two years ago is extremely unfortunate. It leaves a dark cloud over the AFL-CIO,'' Hoekstra said. ``It is especially troubling that Mr. Trumka remains a key official of the AFL-CIO.''

The labor federation brought three dozen workers to sit behind Sweeney during his testimony, and the labor leader voiced suspicion that the House inquiry was merely a partisan attack against labor.

``I hope no member of this committee has any intention of using this committee's work to further the nationwide effort to intimidate the union movement and silence working families,'' he said.

But generally the exchange was amiable between Sweeney, under whose leadership the AFL-CIO mounted a $35 million political campaign in 1996 that targeted a couple dozen House Republicans, and the GOP-controlled panel.

© Copyright 1998 The Associated Press

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