Bureau Of National Affairs









No Improper Influence Found In DOJ Settlement With Laborers Union


By Court Gifford

Tuesday, January 14, 1997


The House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime's final report on its investigation last July into the Justice Department's handling of racketeering charges against the 750,000-member Laborers' International Union of North America and its president, Arthur A. Coia, said that no evidence was found of improper influence by the Clinton administration or officials of the Justice Department.


The 76-page report, which includes 39 pages of dissenting views by the subcommittee's Democratic members, concludes that the February 1995 settlement requiring union officials to rid the union of corrupt influences or face a government takeover “has produced positive results.” But the Republican majority faulted President Clinton for maintaining a “strong personal relationship” with Coia, a major fundraiser for Clinton's re-election campaign, who is being investigated by the Justice Department for allegedly being under the influence of organized crime. Coia has denied the charges.


Rep. Bill McCollum (R-Fla.), the subcommittee chairman, said the “most disturbing” aspect of the investigation (155 DLR A-1, 8/12/96) was that the White House “ignored repeated notifications from career law enforcement officials that Mr. Coia was the target of an organized crime investigation.” The continued contact between Clinton and Coia, he said, “shows a callous indifference to both the standards of propriety expected of the nation's chief executive officer and the potential chilling effect the relationship could have on federal law enforcement officials in dealing with Mr. Coia.”


McCollum added that as far as he knows Coia “is still under investigation” by both the Justice Department and the independent enforcement team assembled under the consent decree to direct the cleanup effort.


Union Charges Politics


LIUNA released a statement calling the subcommittee report “nothing more than another reckless act of blatant partisan politics by the Republican Party.” The union also characterized the hearings as “an unethical abuse of congressional power for purely political reasons” and a pre-election attempt by the GOP to “chill political participation by working men and women and their unions.”


Democrats on the subcommittee charged that the investigation was launched by the Republican leadership early last year in reaction to the AFL-CIO's announcement of a $35 million campaign to elect a Democratic majority to Congress. It coincided with a number of public complaints by Haley Barbour, chairman of the Republican National Committee, about the use of union members' dues to oppose Republican candidates for office. “The timing of the investigation during a presidential election year suggests a partisan motive,” the Democratic minority report states.


“Having failed to demonstrate there was evidence of any improper influence in reaching the settlement in the Laborers' case,” the Democrats said, “the majority insists that its concern is the 'appearance' of impropriety created by Clinton's continued association with Coia.” But, the Democrats observed that the Clinton administration initiated the racketeering complaint against the union that brought about the settlement, while no action was taken under President Reagan or President Bush, who also associated publicly with union officials being investigated by the government at the time.


The Democrats cited testimony by former White House counsel Abner Mikva, who observed that it was unrealistic to expect a president to restrict his meetings or associations to “alter boys and Sunday school choir[s] during [his] political career.” Quoting Mikva, the subcommittee said the main thing the subcommittee should have been concerned with was that “nothing the president did and nothing that anybody in his official family did...could in any way be construed by anybody in Justice as trying to put pressure on them [at Justice] to lay off.”


Summing up its conclusions, the minority statement, signed by Rep. Charles E. Schumer (D-NY), the ranking Democrat, and other Democratic subcommittee members, commended the administration's efforts to rid the union of corruption, and recommended that the subcommittee “study” the enforcement agreement “as a model for prospective civil [Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act] settlements and consider legislative and statutory reforms that may help working men and women.”


McCollum said his subcommittee “will continue to monitor the implementation of the settlement agreement to ensure that LIUNA's internal policing mechanism is aggressively pursuing all allegations of union associations with organized crime.”


Copyright © 1997 by The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc., Washington D.C.

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