Bill Clinton wasn't Arthur Coia's only buddy in the White House. Nearly as important as the president was another old friend of union bosses, Harold Ickes, who was the president's deputy chief of staff from the beginning of 1994 until late 1996.
Ickes, a New York lawyer and political activist, has represented many labor unions over the years. Some of those unions -- the Laborers, Local 100 of the Hotel and Restaurant Employees Union in New York, Teamsters Local 239 in New York, and the District Council of Carpenters in New York -- have extensive ties to organized crime, according to federal prosecutors. In fact, Ickes's ties to corrupt unions were so extensive that the White House deemed it impossible to nominate him for a job that required Senate confirmation and placed him instead in the position of deputy chief of staff.
In the financial disclosure statement that Ickes was required to file upon entering the White House, he says he left his law firm in December 1993. Ickes listed two Laborers union organizations among the 199 clients he handled between 1989 and 1993. Those organizations were the Laborers and Employers Cooperation and Education Trust and the Laborers New York State Political Action Committee. Both were groups that engaged in lobbying and political activity for the union.
David Caivano remembers how Harold Ickes came to work for the Laborers in 1993. Caivano, who was assistant regional manager of the New York/New Jersey union office as well as administrator of the New York state PAC, says that a few years earlier, the union had hired a man named Thomas Hartnett as a lobbyist. Hartnett was a former New York state labor commissioner and was well connected in Albany. One day in late 1993, according to David Caivano, Hartnett paid him a visit.
"He comes down to the office one day and he approaches us about a guy named Harold Ickes," Caivano says. "I didn't know Harold Ickes." Caivano says Hartnett explained that Ickes was close to President Clinton. "He says, 'Look, we got to put this guy on the payroll,'" Caivano continues. "'He's our guy. We'll be the only political action committee anywhere to have a guy in the White House.'" Caivano says the prospect was irresistible. "We jump at it....We got a guy in the White House on our payroll!"
As proof of the arrangement, Caivano produces a copy of a letter dated December 1, 1993, from Ickes to Caivano's father Samuel, who at that time was the union's top official in the New York/New Jersey region. "This confirms that the Laborers and Employers Cooperation and Education Trust has retained our firm for a one year period, effective 1 January 1994 to and including 31 December 1994, as Advisor," the letter began. The agreement stipulated that the union would pay the firm $10,000 every three months. It was signed by Harold Ickes.
Caivano says it was understood by all that the agreement meant that Ickes himself, and not some other lawyer, was working for the union. And he says that the Laborers never intended for Ickes to do any legal work for the PAC; the union had its own lawyers for that. Instead, Ickes, according to Caivano, "would be our man if we needed him...he was purely an adviser and a lobbyist" for the union. Caivano says he never had any personal contact with Ickes. "Everything would go through Hartnett," he says. Thomas Hartnett did not return repeated phone calls from TAS.
According to Caivano, the naming of Ickes to a top White House job in December 1993 did nothing to change the agreement. Caivano says the union continued to send checks to Ickes's firm, Meyer, Suozzi, English & Klein, at least through early 1995, when Caivano left his job.
Ickes did not return several phone calls from TAS. But he did speak about the matter briefly when interviewed last July 19 by congressional investigators preparing for the Crime Subcommittee hearings. The interview was not under oath, nor was a transcript made. But according to a source who attended the meeting and took notes, Ickes seemed to forget much of his work for the union.
"He said he never represented [the Laborers] directly," the source says. "He said because he was a senior partner in charge of all labor, his name was on a lot of things, but he never really represented anybody." According to this source -- whose recollections were confirmed by another person present at the meeting -- Ickes said he "had knowledge" that the Laborers union was involved in organized crime. He recalled very few contacts with Arthur Coia. "He never recalled any meetings," the source says, "even at the White House." But, according to the sources, Ickes said he might have had a "passing discussion" with Coia regarding the Justice Department case sometime in early 1995 -- which was precisely the time in which the government was negotiating its deal with Arthur Coia and the Laborers. Still, Ickes insisted that no help or intervention came from the White House. And Ickes offered little insight into the relationship of Coia and the president. Bill Clinton, Ickes said, has "tens of thousands" of friends all around the world.
Today Ickes -- who despite his abrasive personality became an object of some sympathy when he was abruptly dumped by Clinton late last year -- has a new White House job. In January the president made him director of the annual summit of the world's major industrialized nations to be held in June in Denver. "Harold is a superb organizer," the president said in a statement. "I appreciate [his] willingness to take on this important task for our country."--Byron York