House Cancels Teamsters Testimony
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Bowing to federal prosecutors, a House panel canceled testimony from two AFL-CIO staff members at a hearing today on the labor federation’s alleged involvement in the 1996 Teamsters election scandal.
But the Republcans on the Education and the Workforce subcommittee prepared to quiz AFL-CIO President John Sweeney about $150,000 for the Teamsters President Ron Carey’s re-election that passed through the federation treasury.
Sweeney was appearing in lieu of AFL-CIO Secretary Treasurer Richard Trumka, who has invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and refused to cooperate with investigators or the House inquiry.
Trumka has been identified in several court documents as the federation official who allegedly agreed to pass $150,000 in Teamsters funds through the AFL-CIO treasury as part of a scheme to generate donations to Carey.
Carey’s re-election was overturned and his campaign manager and two consultants pleaded guilty in the scheme, which funneled $885,000 from the union treasury to grass-roots groups that generated donations to Carey.
The union’s former political director, William Hamilton, was indicted Monday on six counts of fraud, conspiracy and perjury.
Rep. Pete Hoekstra, R-Mich., chairman of the subcommittee, planned to hear testimony today about the transaction from Trumka’s executive assistant, Brad Burton, and Susan Mackie, of the AFL-CIO comptroller’s office.
But Hoekstra and fellow Republicans on the panel reversed course late Wednesday night after receiving a letter from Mary Jo White, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, which said testimony from Burton and Mackie at this time ``could seriously undermine″ a criminal investigation.
``I respectfully urge you and your fellow members to balance the harm that the proposed testimony on this particular subject may cause to this important criminal investigation and prospective trials against any benefits that could come from the proposed examinations on this topic,″ White wrote.
Phil Smith, spokesman for the committee, said members saw Hamilton’s indictment as evidence that the probe was continuing and decided to honor White’s wishes ``reserving the right to call them in the future.″
White’s letter indicated that Trunka was still in the prosecutors’ crosshairs, but it was seen as good news for Sweeney. The federation president has never been directly implicated in the alleged scheme, and White raised no objection to his testifying.
Nevertheless, Republicans were looking forward to questioning under oath one of their chief political rivals.
Under Sweeney’s leadership, the AFL-CIO spent more than $35 million in an effort to loosen the grip of the GOP _ which the federation views as inimical to the interests of its members _ on Capitol Hill.
On Wednesday, the Teamsters election monitor said he was expanding his investigation of wrongdoing in the now-overturned 1996 re-election of union president Ron Carey to examine the role several union officials played in his campaign.
Appearing before a House subcommittee, the court-appointed election officer, Michael Cherkasky, also indicated a rerun election would be held by September as he defended government oversight of the union.
Cherkasky, who cleared Carey’s challenger, James P. Hoffa, to run in the new election on Monday, said he would propose a new election schedule by this weekend and indicated the vote would be held by September.
Under questioning, Cherkasky said he was disturbed by a memo written to Carey by his campaign manager to detail the work Teamsters staff members performed on behalf of the campaign.