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.
By JOHN E. MULLIGAN
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
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
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.
Copyright © 1997 The Providence Journal
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