Coia on list of Clinton solicitations

Evidence at a Senate hearing suggests that the president called the labor union leader for a contribution one day, the pair met two days later, and the next day Coia gave $50,000 to the Democratic Party.

Journal-Bulletin Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- The Senate committee probing campaign finances has turned up circumstantial evidence that President Clinton telephoned Laborers Union General President Arthur A. Coia to solicit a contribution on Oct. 18, 1994 -- two days before Coia got an audience with Mr. Clinton in the Oval Office.

But Coia's lawyer reportedly indicated to Senate investigators that Coia recollects no such call on that date. Rather, Coia reportedly said he believes Mr. Clinton called him earlier in 1994 to ask for money to help promote his health-care legislation.

Federal Election Commission records show that Coia gave $50,000 to the Democratic National Committee on Oct. 21, three days after his name appeared on a list of suggested donors for Mr. Clinton to call.

The 1994 campaign-donor list emerged during the investigative committee's questioning yesterday of Richard H. Jenrette, a New York financial executive who did get a fundraising call from Mr. Clinton on Oct. 18, 1994.

On Oct. 7, 1994, an FBI background check on Coia warned the White House counsel's office that Coia was under investigation as an alleged "criminal associate of the New England Patriarca organized crime family."

Coia's lawyer, Howard Gutman, disputed that characterization when it first came to light during House investigative hearings in July 1996. Coia has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing and said in a strongly worded letter to colleagues Monday that he will fight internal union charges -- expected this week -- that he has tolerated mob influence in the union and accepted improper gratuities.

The White House said in July 1996 that "no one on our staff recalls being informed" at the time of the FBI warning. The White House said then that since Coia represented a major labor organization, it would have been "appropriate in any event" for Mr. Clinton to be "exchanging views with him." The White House has not responded since then to requests by the Journal-Bulletin to pin down whether Mr. Clinton was ever warned to keep Mr. Coia at arm's length, and if so, when.

Mr. Clinton's fundraising solicitations are the topic of a preliminary inquiry by Atty. Gen. Janet Reno into whether an independent counsel should be named to investigate them.

Committee staffers said yesterday that Coia has been questioned by the Justice Department's campaign finance task force.

White House counsel Lanny Davis told reporters after the hearing that there was nothing illegal about that telephone solicitation call by Mr. Clinton from the White House residence.

Coia's name appears on an Oct. 18 fundraising memo from two high-ranking Democratic National Committee officials, Terence R. McAuliffe and Laura Hartigan, to then-Deputy White House Chief of Staff Harold M. Ickes.

The memo lists 23 "top supporters" of Mr. Clinton and the DNC, and was the basis, committee investigators said, of a "call list" that was given to the president for his use in soliciting contributions to the DNC.

Nine of the 23 names on the list -- including Coia's -- are circled in Ickes's crabbed hand, some with scribbled margin notes. The sum "$50,000" is written beside Coia's memo entry, which reads in part:

"Coia is General President of the 700,000 member Laborers' International Union of North America . . . He was co-chair of the Boston and Washington (Democratic fundraising) Galas. He has contributed 200K to the DNC this year."

A committee source said that FBI agent Jerome O. Campane, who is assigned to the Senate investigation, asked Coia's lawyer, Gutman, several days ago about the Oct. 18, 1994, memo. The source said Gutman reported that Coia recollects only one phone call from Mr. Clinton, "during the February to June time frame" to solicit a contribution to the DNC's campaign to promote health-care legislation.

But Campane's investigation turned up inconclusive, circumstantial evidence that Mr. Clinton had made Oct. 18 solicitation calls to Coia and others on the list who -- unlike witness Jenrette -- did not remember the calls or did not remember that their calls from the president involved requests for money.

For example, six of those whose names were circled (Coia's included) made substantial contributions within a month of the Oct. 18 date.

The timing of the memo is also significant because Ickes has told the committee he recalls being with Mr. Clinton when he made some of the calls in question on or about that date.

Sen. Robert Torricelli, D-N.J., scoffed at the fact that Committee Chairman Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., devoted a morning of the panel's dwindling investigative time to a single witness's description of a presidential campaign solicitation that was not illegal.

Thompson responded that the hearing was part of the panel's effort to "piece together" a complete picture of fundraising.

Committee staffers said it was not clear whether the Senate investigation -- due to conclude Dec. 31 -- will take a closer look at Coia's dealings with Mr. Clinton.

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