By Frank Swoboda
Washington Post Staff Writer
October 7, 1998
Former U.S. trade representative Mickey Kantor
told Congress yesterday that former White House aide Harold M.
Ickes asked him to call a company president facing a lengthy Teamsters
strike after the union began pressuring the Clinton administration
to help settle the dispute.
But Kantor, who also later served as commerce
secretary, told a House panel investigating the Teamsters that
the administration did not provide any help for the union in its
battle with Diamond Walnut Growers in California. "No one
ever tried to persuade me to do anything negative to Diamond Walnut
and we didn't," Kantor told the hearing.
Following Kantor's testimony, former Diamond
Walnut president William Cuff agreed with much of Kantor's description
of the call. He testified that it was "a very pleasant conversation"
and said there was "absolutely no threat."
The timing and the nature of the call --
and Ickes's involvement -- is of interest to congressional investigators
because Attorney General Janet Reno last month ordered a preliminary
investigation into allegations that Ickes lied to a Senate committee
about political favors he performed to help win the support of
the Teamsters in the 1996 elections. Reno has until the end of
November to decide whether to appoint an independent counsel to
investigate Ickes, a former White House deputy chief of staff
who was the chief liaison to the Clinton campaign and the Democratic
Asked during a Sept. 22, 1997, Senate deposition
what the administration did regarding the Diamond Walnut strike,
Ickes responded, "Nothing that I know of."
Amy Sabrin, Ickes's lawyer, said yesterday
she did not want to comment on the hearing. But last month, when
the inquiry began, Ickes's lawyers said that he testified truthfully
Congressional Republicans have been trying
for more than a year to prove that the White House set out in
early 1995 to court the Teamsters to assure the union's financial
support in the '96 presidential election.
"What we are here to do is determine
whether the White House pressured a company to settle a labor
dispute in an attempt to lure the Teamsters back into the Democratic
fold," said Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-Mich.), chairman of the
House education and work force subcommittee. "We're trying
to see if the Teamsters used members' dues money from the union's
political action committee to effectively purchase negotiating
power from the White House."
In an effort to build its case against Ickes,
the subcommittee yesterday produced a number of memos to show
how Ickes tried to get Kantor to call Cuff about the possibility
of settling a strike by more than 500 cannery workers that began
in 1990 and continues today. The workers, mostly Hispanic women,
have been replaced by the company.
In the first memo, written March 6, 1995,
Ickes asked to set up an appointment with Kantor to discuss the
Diamond Walnut strike, noting that he had met with several Teamsters
officials about it. A log of Kantor's appointments shows he scheduled
a meeting with Ickes 18 days later.
Kantor told the committee yesterday that
in the meeting Ickes asked him to check on the status of the strike
and the prospects for a settlement. He said he agreed to make
the call to Cuff. Kantor added that campaign contributions were
Three days later, on March 27, Ickes sent
a follow-up memo to Kantor thanking him for the meeting and said,
"I trust you will follow up."
Kantor telephoned Walnut Growers in early
April, a call he described yesterday as "benign." He
said he talked to Cuff for three to five minutes and that it was
his only contact with the company executive until the two met
yesterday at the hearing.
Cuff testified the conversation may have
lasted a few minutes longer than Kantor recalled but he basically
agreed with Kantor's description of the conversation. "He
said he was calling relating to the strike," Cuff said, "and
was there anything he could do to help settle it."
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