But the President's ties to Coia did not
influence a federal probe of the Laborers' union, a subcommittee
By JOHN E. MULLIGAN
Journal-Bulletin Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON -- President Clinton's dealings
with Laborers' unionchief Arthur A. Coia showed the same "callous
disregard for propriety" that emerged in Democratic Party
fund-raising controversies last fall, the chairman of a House
investigative panel charged yesterday.
Rep. Bill McCollum, R-Fla., chairman of the
Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Crime, also said that Mr.
Clinton's political and social friendship with Coia could have
had a "chilling effect" on federal prosecutors who were
preparing a racketeering case against the mob-tainted union.
But the panel's investigation and its two-day
public hearing in July turned up no evidence that the Justice
Department had, in fact, been chilled in its pursuit of corruption
in Coia's union, according to McCollum.
The subcommittee's Democratic minority stresses
that point in its "dissenting views" criticizing what
it portrays as a politically motivated, election-year investigation
of a Clinton friend in organized labor.
McCollum released the subcommittee's 77-page
report on the investigation into the administration's efforts
against organized crime's influence in the 750,000-member union.
Robert D. Luskin, the lawyer who is acting
as prosecutor on the union's internal anti-corruption team, applauded
what he described as the House panel's finding "that there
was no evidence of a fix here . . . no evidence for the charges
out there that our effort was a sham or being conducted in bad
Luskin negotiated a 1995 agreement between
the union and the Justice Department that staved off a federal
takeover of the Laborers and let Coia remain in charge. Instead,
an in-house team of former federal law enforcement agents was
created to fight Mafia influence in the union. The government
has no direct role, but retains the right to seize the union,
until February 1998, if it decides that the agreement isn't working.
Providence native Coia, who was reelected
general president of the union last month, remains under investigation
by federal prosecutors and by his union's in-house anti-corruption
unit, Luskin confirmed.
Luskin would not discuss the investigation,
except to say that it is pursuing - among other leads - allegations
against Coia that appeared in a draft racketeering suit that the
Justice Department issued late in 1994.
The subsequent negotiations with Justice
occurred at a time when Coia had established himself as a top
Democratic fund-raiser, whose access to the White House included
an Oval Office meeting with the President and a speech by the
first lady at a union function in Florida.
McCollum focused on what he called the "most
disturbing" finding of his panel - "that the White House
ignored repeated notifications from career law enforcement officials
that Mr. Coia was the target of an organized crime investigation."
In that light, the President's and first
lady's "continued close relationship with Mr. Coia . . .
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 said in a news
The Democrats, led by Rep. Charles E. Schumer
of New York, suggested that the investigation was a political
response to the AFL-CIO's decision to launch a $35-million advertising
campaign against House Republicans - a charge that McCollum angrily
"Such views may be politically convenient
but they ignore a central truth: the impartial administration
of justice is ill-served when targets of investigations by the
executive branch regularly and publicly associate with the most
senior officials within the same branch of government."
Nevertheless, top Justice Department officials
in charge of the Laborers case, including former Asst. Atty. Gen.
Jo Ann Harris, told the panel under oath last summer that they
had felt no political pressure - direct or otherwise - in the
Finding no direct evidence of wrongdoing
by the administration, the GOP "turned to the specter of
'appearances' to justify its 'investigation,' " said the
"The evidence is clear: nothing the
President did and nothing that anyone in the official family did,
could in any way be construed by anybody in Justice as pressure
to do, or not do something," said the Democrats.
The White House did not answer a request
But the Democrats' report paraphrased former
White House Counsel Abner Mikva's hearing testimony to the effect
that, by the GOP's overbroad standard, "the President shouldn't
even have meetings with the speaker of the house while he is under
McCollum answered in an interview, that "the
speaker has not been charged with any crime, so far as I know,"
and that, unlike the President, he is "not the boss of the
law enforcement officials" who investigate and prosecute
federal crimes. ."
McCollum's report also points to some progress
that the union's in-house cleanup team has made, including the
ouster of more than 30 union members and the takeover of a notoriously
corrupt local in Buffalo, N.Y.
McCollum said in the interview that he saw
partial parallels between the Coia case and the more recent disclosures
about how major Democratic fund- raisers - many with close ties
to Asian governments - enjoyed access to the President and to
White House functions and facilities.
"There's a failure to understand where
the lines are drawn - or a willingness to cross the lines of what
I consider ethical conduct for the President of the United States,"
Alluding to Coia's control of extensive union
contributions to the Democratic Party and to Democratic House
and Senate candidates, McCollum asked, "How can it be appropriate
for Mr. Coia and the President, the ultimate boss of the DOJ (Department
of Justice) prosecutors, to be such high-profile political allies?"
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