American Spectator

November 1998



Michael Ledeen and Mike Moroney

Bill Clinton has repeatedly tried to commit political suicide, but the Republicans keep sending rescue squads up the ladders to talk him off his balcony and administer first aid. Nowhere is this clearer than in the spectacular pattern of corrupt activities that Clinton and his henchmen have carried out in cahoots with a new generation of labor leaders and their political associates. The evidence of wrongdoing is so overwhelming that even the most unreconstructed publications of the Left, even the Nation itself, acknowledge and condemn it. Most of the facts have been reported in many of the "mainstream" publications (albeit watered down in the usual fashion by National Public Radio). Federal prosecutors have obtained several indictments and guilty pleas. The trail of malefaction leads right into the White House Counsel's office, and the adjoining rooms of the Deputy Chief of Staff. But the milquetoasts and pantywaists that compose the Republican ranks in Congress have been unable to expose the pattern of corruption, and more often than not those who have undertaken the task--such as Senator Fred Thompson--have ended up looking like fools. More's the pity, because not only is it a great story, but it's a harbinger of things to come. If the Clintons survive the current crisis, we will likely see the same methods applied on an even broader scale.


The heart of the matter is the symbiotic relationship between major financial donors and elected officials, which is much like that between candidates and voters. Politicians and parties can generally count on a traditional support base, but the outcome of the election is often decided by a "swing" block that can go either way. In the case in point, the Democratic Party has long been the recipient of votes and dollars from the trade union movement, but in the 1950's the International Brotherhood of Teamsters--the largest union in the country and an enormously powerful political force--left the fold to support Eisenhower. This alliance lasted through the Reagan and early Bush years, to the great resentment of Democratic political leaders and organizers, and leftist intellectuals, who regarded the Teamsters' support of Republican causes and candidates as a form of treason.

The Teamsters returned to the Democratic fold in time for the 1992 elections, a rapprochement made possible by the election of Ron Carey as president in December of 1991. Carey was the darling of the media elite ("60 Minutes" ran a puff piece just before the election, and the Washington Post was reportedly dissuaded by liberal icon Joe Rauh from running a positive article on one of Carey's opponents) and some talented people from the New Left. Carey seemed singularly unsuited to play this role. An ex-marine with a ducks-ass hairdo and the instinctive conservatism of blue-collar workers, he was even a registered Republican. But, as one of the more philosophical of the union leftists acidly remarked at the time, "You can't always choose your Third World dictator." He was theirs, and they created an image for him that was far removed from the real picture: Carey was portrayed as a white knight who would make the Teamsters mor democratic, drive out the Mafia families, and eventually free the organization from the oversight of the Independent Review Board that had been imposed on the Teamsters by the government after the exposure of massive corruption in the late eighties.

Carey's image as labor's Galahad--a classic bit of disinformation apparently first launched in Steven Brill's book on the Teamsters--lasted a surprisingly long time, especially since the FBI had very reliable information--from Alphonse "Little Al" D'Arco, a former boss of the Lucchese family in New York who turned government informant and helped convict an impressive number of Mafiosi--that Carey had worked closely with the mob. Carey's relationship with Mafia gangsters was underlined when, less than six months after his election, he appointed William Genoese as a trustee of a New York City Teamsters local. Genoese's Mafia ties were so well known that the appointment was rejected by the Independent Review Board's trustee Judge Frederick Lacey, who, in a statement that set the pattern for his future actions, absolved Carey of any fault at the same time he noted it would have been easy to uncover Genoese's unsavory connections.

If Carey had been serious about making life difficult for La Cosa Nostra inside the Teamsters, he would never have nominated the likes of Genoese to positions of power in the locals, which, in keeping with long tradition, maintained considerable autonomy from the national executive. And if Carey had had a sensitive political ear, he would have demonstrated a willingness to work with Lacey, who could easily have criticized Carey for the Genoese fiasco. Instead, Carey launched a campaign to abolish the Review Board. He declared Lacey's fees excessive, and attacked the government's reform program itself, even though that program was the key element in Carey's election victory. Finally, he appointed his campaign manager, Eddie Burke, to the Review Board and authorized Burke to resist the appointment of a third member. Carey lost on both fronts: a federal court rejected the appeal to end government supervision, and Judge William Webster, former FBI and CIA chief, was appointed to the Board.

Thus chastised by Republican appointees, Carey looked to the Democrats for salvation. The Democratic Party convention was scheduled for New York that summer, and Carey established contact with Clinton's New York campaign chairman, the well-known labor lawyer Harold Ickes, Jr. The contact was arranged by Carey's friend and advisor Barry Feinstein, the head of Local 237, whose corrupt practices (such as compiling a substantial private art collection, courtesy of the union) led to his lifetime expulsion from the Teamsters a few years later. Feinstein had asked for the Genoese appointment in exchange for political assistance to Carey, and the match he made between Carey and Ickes was a beauty.

Ickes had developed a successful practice representing New York unions, including some, like the New York Hotel and Restaurant Workers local, with notorious Mafia influence. This would delay Ickes's appointment as deputy chief of staff to Clinton for a full year, pending a governmental investigation of his role in union activities. During that year, Ickes was retained by several unions which were specific targets of the Organized Crime Commission, including, as luck would have it, Feinstein's Local 237. Ickes also represented another Teamsters local that Bobby Kennedy had exposed as an exclusive domain of Lucchese family boss Tony "Ducks" Corallo.

The Ickes-Carey meeting lay the groundwork for years of intimate cooperation between the Teamsters and the Clinton administration. Once installed in the White House, Ickes wrote a memo spelling out Carey's great importance to the political ambitions of the Clintons, and urged the president to establish a personal relationship with the Teamsters leader. The alliance promised enormous benefits for both sides. For the Democrats, support from the Teamsters provided the two pillars of political power: money and votes from the largest union in America. For the Teamsters, support from the White House could provide, at a minimum, more tolerant treatment from the hated investigators and overseers. At best, Carey could hope for support for labor causes and even the eventual abolition of the Review Board and a free hand for the union. The Teamsters delivered millions of dollars to Clinton's 1992 campaign, and quickly gained easy access to the White House. The Clinton administration intervened in a long-running strike in California, instructing Mickey Kantor to urge management to settle the matter.

Things improved with the overseers as well. One never knows people's real motivation, but for the next several years the Review Board treated Ron Carey quite generously, and Judge Lacey made it emphatically clear that he considered Carey the best available Teamsters president. When two trustees of a New York City Teamsters local threatened to make public the damaging information about Carey, Judge Lacey wrote one of them that

[I]f you brought Carey down...there were "old guard" Teamsters throughout the country that were hoping that Carey would be eliminated as a candidate in 1996 so that the clock could be turned back to what it was when I first came on the scene as Independent Administrator....

As for Judge Webster, William Hamilton, the head of the Teamsters' governmental affairs office, felt comfortable enough by the spring of 1995 to send the former chief spook some "To Do" lists, including calls to key senators and representatives to lobby them to vote for the appropriation of federal money for the Teamsters elections scheduled for the following year.

Michael Ledeen holds the Freedom Chair at the American Enterprise Institute. Mike Moroney is a former labor rackets investigator.

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