Panel To Focus On Coia, Clinton

A House committee will examine the administration's handling of an investigation into union corruption.

Journal-Bulletin Staff Report

RELATED STORIES: The worlds of Arthur Coia

WASHINGTON -- A congressional committee has set hearings for July 24 and 25 into corruption in the Laborers' Union of North America.

The House Judiciary Committee's Crime subcommittee, led by Republican Bill McCollum of Florida, will focus on the Clinton administration's handling of the Laborers' union and of its president, Arthur A. Coia of Rhode Island.

Last year, after a three-year racketeering investigation by the Justice Department, the union reached an agreement with the department that averted a government takeover of the 750,000-member union.

This month's hearings will explore why the Justice Department agreed to allow Coia, a prominent Democratic supporter of President Clinton, to oversee internal reforms of the union, after the department had initially sought a government takeover to purge the Laborers' of alleged Mafia control.

The congressional hearings, first announced last month by House Speaker Newt Gingrich, have been billed both as a partisan witch hunt to embarrass Mr. Clinton in an election year and as a legitimate inquiry into the extent of organized-crime influence in one of North America's biggest unions.

Paul J. McNulty, the subcommittee's Republican counsel, said yesterday that the Justice Department's agreement with the Laborers' raises valid questions to be explored.

"As an approach to ridding unions of organized crime, [the agreement] represents a significant departure," said McNulty, "and we want to take a look at how it developed." He added that Coia's political relationship with the White House at the time of the Justice Department's investigation "is something we want to set out before the public and examine."

But the subcommittee's Democratic counsel, John Flannery, takes a more skeptical view of Republican motives: "I hope I'm going to be surprised, because this is an area worth looking into. But I think this is going to be a big P.R. hit."

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