The New York Times

A.F.L-C.I.O. Chief Tells Panel of Faith in Deputy


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 office."

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 scheme.

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 to Sweeney.

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 part."

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

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