By DAVID JOHNSTON
October 7, 1998
-- A House panel investigating the Teamsters union disclosed internal
White House documents Tuesday that shed a fuller and harsher light
on an effort by Harold Ickes, former White House deputy chief
of staff, to resolve an agricultural labor dispute in California
in behalf of the union.
The new documents are significant because
they have surfaced at a time when Ickes' truthfulness about his
activities with the teamsters is the subject of a 90-day Justice
Department inquiry that could lead to the appointment of an independent
prosecutor. Attorney General Janet Reno has until December to
decide whether to go forward with an outside inquiry.
Reno is examining Ickes' statements last
year to the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, which first
investigated the matter in its campaign finance investigation.
When Ickes was asked by Senate investigators what the Clinton
administration did regarding the strike at the Diamond Walnut
Growers cooperative, he replied, "Nothing that I know of."
But on Tuesday the House subcommittee on
oversight and investigations released a March 6, 1995, memorandum
by Ickes to Mickey Kantor, who was the U.S. trade representative
at the time. It said Ickes had met with a group of Teamsters officials
and wanted to meet with Kantor to persuade him to intervene in
behalf of striking Teamsters.
"Given the situation I would like to
meet with you at your very earliest possible convenience to discuss
this situation," Ickes wrote to Kantor.
Additional documents released Tuesday showed
that Ickes did meet with Kantor on March 24, 1995, and followed
up the meeting with a thank-you letter on March 27, 1995. Then,
on April 4, 1995, Kantor telephoned William Cuff, the president
of Diamond Walnut Growers.
Ickes' efforts on behalf of the Teamsters
occurred against the backdrop of White House efforts to rejuvenate
a relationship that had cooled after the union supported Clinton
and other Democratic candidates in the 1992 campaign. The Senate
inquiry found that in the early months of 1995, Ickes considered
several specific proposals to enlist the Teamsters' support.
Rep. Peter Hoekstra, R-Mich., said his committee
would continue to investigate the Teamsters, including the union's
activities with the Democratic National Committee and its dealings
with Charles Ruff, the White House counsel who was hired by the
union when he was a lawyer in private practice in 1993.
On Tuesday, Robert Bennett, Ickes' lawyer,
dismissed the significance of the documents unearthed by the committee.
Bennett said Ickes did not interpret his meeting with Teamsters
officials, his memorandum to Kantor or even Kantor's telephone
call to Diamond Walnut as "doing anything for the union"
because Clinton officials did not take concrete action to pressure
the company into settling the strike.
At a subcommittee hearing Tuesday, Kantor
testified that his call to Cuff was nothing more than a brief
status inquiry. Kantor said he asked "for an update and what
are the prospects for settlement." Kantor added, "I
considered the call benign, part of my job and of no great consequence."
But Cuff testified Tuesday that he never
before received a phone call from such a high-ranking official.
He said the inquiry unsettled him enough to report the call officially
to his company's board.
"There was absolutely no explicit threat,"
Cuff said. "The only thing I would say is that when you get
a call from a senior official of the administration you have to
He added, "I figured it was part of
the ongoing significant effort by the union to try to bring us
to our knees."
Copyright 1998 The New York Times Company