Wall Street Journal

Blast From The Past - No Questions Here?

July 26, 1996 Editorial

The Wall Street Journal Interactive Edition
July 26, 1996 Review & Outlook Editorial

No Questions Here?

Documents coming out of Rep. Bill McCollum's hearings on the Clinton Administration's relations with union president Arthur Coia establish that in 1994 the FBI wrote the White House Counsel's Office that Mr. Coia "is a criminal associate of the New England Patriarca organized crime family" and that he had been the subject of an FBI criminal probe.

Abner Mikva, whose turn it was to be White House Counsel at the time, testified yesterday he never saw the letter. During a break in the hearings, he told reporters that the report was read by "probably a clerk in the office, maybe an intern." He also said such information shouldn't be loosely bandied around the White House because of privacy considerations. We wonder if Security Chief Craig Livingstone got the word?

In another memo released yesterday, Paul Coffey, chief of the organized crime and racketeering section at Justice, wrote another prosecutor that Justice planned to file a civil suit against Mr. Coia's union, the Laborers International Union of North America, and noted that Hillary Clinton was scheduled to address the union's conference in Florida. "It is our understanding that Mrs. Clinton's staff has already been alerted by the Labor Department," he continued, that the suit would allege that the union has been dominated by organized crime "for at least two decades." In dealing with Mr. Coia the First Lady should understand, Mr. Coffey continued, "we plan to portray him as a mob puppet."

Mrs. Clinton did speak to the conference a year later, and Rep. McCollum counts 127 different contacts between Mr. Coia and President Clinton. We have already described on Wednesday ("Who Is Arthur Coia?"), the settlement Justice finally reached with LIUNA. Mr. Coia stayed, on the promise that he'd clean up the union himself. He had previously described White House Deputy Chief of Staff Harold Ickes as his intermediary at the White House. And the appeal officer in the Justice Department's supervision of the cleanup just happens to be Neil Eggleston, the former associate counsel who did the big memo on the Clinton couple's criminal exposures in the Whitewater deal.

Was this a "sweetheart" deal, Rep. Charles Schumer asked. "No," replied Jim Moody, a former Justice Department official, though it was "different." John Keeney, acting head of the criminal division, said the agreement was unusual because no other allegedly corrupt union had ever asked for "such an opportunity" or agreed to cleanup conditions.

Meanwhile, LIUNA itself took out ads in the Washington Post denouncing Rep. McCollum's inquiries as "tabloid theatrics" (the most prominent mention of the hearings in the Post through Thursday, by the way). The AFL-CIO's Secretary-Treasurer Richard Trumka wrapped himself around LIUNA: "They're trying to silence us and they will not succeed." Back at the Department of Justice itself, assistant press spokesman Jim Sweeney ruled the inquiry "clearly a political charade."

What, the House of Representatives has the temerity to ask questions about the Justice Department? The very same Clinton Justice Department where a U.S. attorney resigned over the Webster Hubbell's intervention in a corruption trial (our first "Who Is Webster Hubbell?" March 2, 1993). The same Justice Department that was overruled by the judicial panel when it opposed an expansion of the inquiry by Independent Counsel Donald Smaltz. The same Justice Department that lost its prosecution of Billy Dale after Travelgate. Why, how could anyone suspect political interference in a department like that?

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