By STEVEN GREENHOUSE
May 1, 1998
WASHINGTON -- John Sweeney, president
of the AFL-CIO, Thursday offered his strongest defense of the
federation's No. 2 official, Richard Trumka, who is under investigation
over his possible role in siphoning Teamster money into the campaign
of Ron Carey, the Teamster president.
Sweeney, whose defense came in testimony
before a House subcommittee, also rebuffed Republicans' criticisms
that the AFL-CIO should have forced Trumka to step aside as its
secretary-treasurer because he invoked his Fifth Amendment right
against compelled self-incrimination in refusing to testify before
a grand jury.
"Rich Trumka is someone I have known
and trusted for years," Sweeney told the subcommittee on
oversight and investigations. "I do not believe that Rich
Trumka would knowingly participate in a scheme to launder union
treasury money into the campaign coffers of acandidate for union
Federal prosecutors in New York are investigating
whether Trumka took part in a scheme in which three Carey campaign
aides have pleaded guilty to funneling $885,000 in Teamster money
to Carey's 1996 campaign.
Rep. Peter Hoekstra, R-Mich., who heads the
subcommittee, presented documents showing that the Teamsters donated
$150,000 to the AFL-CIO after Trumka sent a letter requesting
such a contribution. Three days later, the AFL-CIO donated $150,000
to Citizen Action, a liberal grass-roots group, and soon after,
Citizen Action paid $100,000 to a business that did mass mailings
for Carey's 1996 re-election drive.
"Richard Trumka's role in the events
of two years ago is extremely unfortunate," Hoekstra said.
"It leaves a dark cloud over the AFL-CIO. It is especially
troubling that Trumka remains a key official of the AFL-CIO."
Hoekstra has often said the purpose of the
hearings is to examine whether the government adequately in supervised
the 1996 election, in which Carey's victory over James P. Hoffa
was overturned when a court-appointed monitor uncovered the embezzlement
Democrats and union leaders insist that the
hearings are a partisan effort to humiliate the labor movement
after unions spent millions of dollars battling the Republicans
in the 1996 congressional campaign.
Trumka, 48, a former president of the United
Mine Workers, has repeatedly asserted his innocence and, before
the Teamster scandal erupted, was widely seen as a possible successor
Several Republicans faulted the AFL-CIO for
not ousting Trumka, citing a policy it adopted in January 1957:
"If a trade union official decides to invoke the Fifth Amendment
for his personal protection and to avoid scrutiny" by investigators,
then "he has no right to continue to hold office in his union."
But Sweeney pointed to an AFL-CIO resolution
adopted in December 1957 that said expulsion should not be automatic
when an official takes the Fifth Amendment. That resolution said
an official should not hold office if the refusal to testify is
used "as a shield to avoid discovery of corruption on his
Voicing confidence that Trumka was innocent,
Sweeney said he was convinced that Trumka did not invoke the Fifth
to avoid discovery of corruption.
"There is no basis to find any wrongdoing
by any employee or officer of the AFL-CIO," Sweeney said.
But he did acknowledge that there was a connection
between Trumka's solicitation of the $150,000 Teamsters contribution
to the AFL-CIO and the federation's donation of the same amount
to Citizen Action.
Sweeney said neither Trumka nor any other
federation official knew that Citizen Action would give $100,000
of that money to help Carey's campaign.
Copyright 1998 The New York Times Company