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Justice Dept. Officials Say They Gave Union No Special Treatment

July 25, 1996

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Top Justice Department officials insist there was no special treatment in their anti-corruption agreement with a union whose president has a social and fund-raising relationship with President Clinton.

Documents obtained Wednesday show that Clinton maintained the relationship with Arthur A. Coia, president of the Laborers’ International Union, after the FBI told the White House counsel’s office that Coia had ties to organized crime.

Under the 1995 agreement with the Justice Department, the union began to weed out alleged mob lieutenants from its ranks and hold direct elections of its officers in order to head off criminal prosecution.

Republicans began to raise questions about whether the agreement was too soft after Coia was seated at Clinton’s table at a Democratic fund-raising gala last May. Coia is on the executive council of the AFL-CIO, which plans to spend $35 million on politics this election year and opposes much of the Republican agenda.

Coia’s union contributed $1.1 million to Democratic candidates in the 1994 elections. Clinton gave Coia a golf club in a 1994 Oval Office meeting, and Hillary Rodham Clinton addressed a Laborers’ union conference the same year.

``It has been asked why (the union) was permitted an opportunity to reform itself″ rather than being taken over by court-appointed officials, John Keeney, acting head of the Justice Department’s criminal division, said in testimony prepared for a House hearing today. ``The answer is that no other union requested such an opportunity nor agreed to the conditions to which (the Laborers’ union) agreed as its price for the opportunity to reform itself.

``At no time has the government merely rested on (the union’s) promises of good faith that it would implement reforms,″ Keeney stated.

He was to appear at the second day of hearings on the Laborers’ union of the House Judiciary subcommittee on crime, along with other current and former Justice Department officials who were expected to express similar views. They were to include Jo Ann Harris, who was Keeney’s predecessor, and Paul Coffey, chief of the department’s organized crime and racketeering section.

At a politically charged session on Wednesday, subcommittee Chairman Bill McCollum, R-Fla., called the Justice Department agreement ``unprecedented and historic.″

A ``dramatic change in tactics″ allowed the Laborers’ union ``to rid itself of mob influence and left its president, Arthur Coia, to do it,″ McCollum said. He called Coia ``a major Democrat figure″ with ties to Clinton.

McCollum and other Republicans also questioned why the Justice Department had not removed Coia as union president when it had alleged that Coia was controlled by the mob and accused him of racketeering.

Former FBI official Jim Moody testified that the Laborers’ union got no special deal in its agreement with the department.

Administration officials note that the deal was hammered out by two career Justice Department prosecutors and that it has already led to the removal of, or charges against, 46 Laborers’ union officials and members.

``There is not a single shred of evidence″ that any White House officials tried to influence the federal prosecutors, said Rep. Charles Schumer of New York, the subcommittee’s senior Democrat. ``The Republican leadership is out to get organized labor,″ he said. ``This hearing is based on innuendo and guilt by association.″

In 1994, the White House counsel’s office requested a preliminary FBI review of Coia, who was being considered for an appointment by Clinton to the National Skills Standards Board, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press.

The FBI provided the information to the White House on Oct. 7, 1994, saying in a brief report that Coia ``is a criminal associate of the New England Patriarca organized crime family″ and that he was one of the subjects of an FBI criminal investigation from 1977 to 1984.

In addition, the FBI report said, Coia was a current subject in a civil investigation by the bureau.

Coia was not appointed to the presidential commission.

Later that month, on Oct. 20, Coia attended a Democratic National Committee dinner with the president, a list of correspondence released by the subcommittee shows. Coia dined at the White House a few days later.

White House spokeswoman Mary Ellen Glynn had no comment on the matter. Abner Mikva, who was the White House counsel at the time, couldn’t be reached for comment.

Mikva recently told subcommittee aides in an interview that he did not recall anyone in the White House bringing the FBI report to his attention, said a subcommittee source who spoke on condition of anonymity.

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