Michael Ledeen and Mike Moroney
Bill Clinton has repeatedly tried to commit
political suicide, but the Republicans keep sending rescue squads
up the ladders to talk him off his balcony and administer first
aid. Nowhere is this clearer than in the spectacular pattern of
corrupt activities that Clinton and his henchmen have carried
out in cahoots with a new generation of labor leaders and their
political associates. The evidence of wrongdoing is so overwhelming
that even the most unreconstructed publications of the Left, even
the Nation itself, acknowledge and condemn it. Most of the facts
have been reported in many of the "mainstream" publications
(albeit watered down in the usual fashion by National Public Radio).
Federal prosecutors have obtained several indictments and guilty
pleas. The trail of malefaction leads right into the White House
Counsel's office, and the adjoining rooms of the Deputy Chief
of Staff. But the milquetoasts and pantywaists that compose the
Republican ranks in Congress have been unable to expose the pattern
of corruption, and more often than not those who have undertaken
the task--such as Senator Fred Thompson--have ended up looking
like fools. More's the pity, because not only is it a great story,
but it's a harbinger of things to come. If the Clintons survive
the current crisis, we will likely see the same methods applied
on an even broader scale.
THE BIRTH OF A CONSPIRACY
The heart of the matter is the symbiotic
relationship between major financial donors and elected officials,
which is much like that between candidates and voters. Politicians
and parties can generally count on a traditional support base,
but the outcome of the election is often decided by a "swing"
block that can go either way. In the case in point, the Democratic
Party has long been the recipient of votes and dollars from the
trade union movement, but in the 1950's the International Brotherhood
of Teamsters--the largest union in the country and an enormously
powerful political force--left the fold to support Eisenhower.
This alliance lasted through the Reagan and early Bush years, to
the great resentment of Democratic political leaders and organizers,
and leftist intellectuals, who regarded the Teamsters' support
of Republican causes and candidates as a form of treason.
The Teamsters returned to the Democratic
fold in time for the 1992 elections, a rapprochement made possible
by the election of Ron Carey as president in December of 1991.
Carey was the darling of the media elite ("60 Minutes"
ran a puff piece just before the election, and the Washington
Post was reportedly dissuaded by liberal icon Joe Rauh from running
a positive article on one of Carey's opponents) and some talented
people from the New Left. Carey seemed singularly unsuited to
play this role. An ex-marine with a ducks-ass hairdo and the instinctive
conservatism of blue-collar workers, he was even a registered
Republican. But, as one of the more philosophical of the union
leftists acidly remarked at the time, "You can't always choose
your Third World dictator." He was theirs, and they created
an image for him that was far removed from the real picture: Carey
was portrayed as a white knight who would make the Teamsters mor
democratic, drive out the Mafia families, and eventually free
the organization from the oversight of the Independent Review
Board that had been imposed on the Teamsters by the government
after the exposure of massive corruption in the late eighties.
Carey's image as labor's Galahad--a classic
bit of disinformation apparently first launched in Steven Brill's
book on the Teamsters--lasted a surprisingly long time, especially
since the FBI had very reliable information--from Alphonse "Little
Al" D'Arco, a former boss of the Lucchese family in New York
who turned government informant and helped convict an impressive
number of Mafiosi--that Carey had worked closely with the mob.
Carey's relationship with Mafia gangsters was underlined when,
less than six months after his election, he appointed William
Genoese as a trustee of a New York City Teamsters local. Genoese's
Mafia ties were so well known that the appointment was rejected
by the Independent Review Board's trustee Judge Frederick Lacey,
who, in a statement that set the pattern for his future actions,
absolved Carey of any fault at the same time he noted it would
have been easy to uncover Genoese's unsavory connections.
If Carey had been serious about making life
difficult for La Cosa Nostra inside the Teamsters, he would never
have nominated the likes of Genoese to positions of power in the
locals, which, in keeping with long tradition, maintained considerable
autonomy from the national executive. And if Carey had had a sensitive
political ear, he would have demonstrated a willingness to work
with Lacey, who could easily have criticized Carey for the Genoese
fiasco. Instead, Carey launched a campaign to abolish the Review
Board. He declared Lacey's fees excessive, and attacked the government's
reform program itself, even though that program was the key element
in Carey's election victory. Finally, he appointed his campaign
manager, Eddie Burke, to the Review Board and authorized Burke
to resist the appointment of a third member. Carey lost on both
fronts: a federal court rejected the appeal to end government
supervision, and Judge William Webster, former FBI and CIA chief,
was appointed to the Board.
Thus chastised by Republican appointees,
Carey looked to the Democrats for salvation. The Democratic Party
convention was scheduled for New York that summer, and Carey established
contact with Clinton's New York campaign chairman, the well-known
labor lawyer Harold Ickes, Jr. The contact was arranged by Carey's
friend and advisor Barry Feinstein, the head of Local 237, whose
corrupt practices (such as compiling a substantial private art
collection, courtesy of the union) led to his lifetime expulsion
from the Teamsters a few years later. Feinstein had asked for
the Genoese appointment in exchange for political assistance to
Carey, and the match he made between Carey and Ickes was a beauty.
Ickes had developed a successful practice
representing New York unions, including some, like the New York
Hotel and Restaurant Workers local, with notorious Mafia influence.
This would delay Ickes's appointment as deputy chief of staff
to Clinton for a full year, pending a governmental investigation
of his role in union activities. During that year, Ickes was retained
by several unions which were specific targets of the Organized
Crime Commission, including, as luck would have it, Feinstein's
Local 237. Ickes also represented another Teamsters local that
Bobby Kennedy had exposed as an exclusive domain of Lucchese family
boss Tony "Ducks" Corallo.
The Ickes-Carey meeting lay the groundwork
for years of intimate cooperation between the Teamsters and the
Clinton administration. Once installed in the White House, Ickes
wrote a memo spelling out Carey's great importance to the political
ambitions of the Clintons, and urged the president to establish
a personal relationship with the Teamsters leader. The alliance
promised enormous benefits for both sides. For the Democrats,
support from the Teamsters provided the two pillars of political
power: money and votes from the largest union in America. For
the Teamsters, support from the White House could provide, at
a minimum, more tolerant treatment from the hated investigators
and overseers. At best, Carey could hope for support for labor
causes and even the eventual abolition of the Review Board and
a free hand for the union. The Teamsters delivered millions of
dollars to Clinton's 1992 campaign, and quickly gained easy access
to the White House. The Clinton administration intervened in a
long-running strike in California, instructing Mickey Kantor to
urge management to settle the matter.
Things improved with the overseers as well.
One never knows people's real motivation, but for the next several
years the Review Board treated Ron Carey quite generously, and
Judge Lacey made it emphatically clear that he considered Carey
the best available Teamsters president. When two trustees of a
New York City Teamsters local threatened to make public the damaging
information about Carey, Judge Lacey wrote one of them that
[I]f you brought Carey down...there were
"old guard" Teamsters throughout the country that were
hoping that Carey would be eliminated as a candidate in 1996 so
that the clock could be turned back to what it was when I first
came on the scene as Independent Administrator....
As for Judge Webster, William Hamilton, the
head of the Teamsters' governmental affairs office, felt comfortable
enough by the spring of 1995 to send the former chief spook some
"To Do" lists, including calls to key senators and representatives
to lobby them to vote for the appropriation of federal money for
the Teamsters elections scheduled for the following year.
Michael Ledeen holds the Freedom Chair at
the American Enterprise Institute. Mike Moroney is a former labor