If any name conjures up scandal within the Clinton inner circle, it is Harold Ickes (although there are so many, some may disagree). In 2004, Harold Wolfson described him as the most important person in the Democratic Party. Others described him as oozing with sleaze. His political activism dates back to his days at Stanford when he went to the South to register black voters (he lost a kidney in a brutal assault). Then he went to the Dominican Republic and got involved in some socialist politics before finding himself traveling through Latin America for a couple of years. Upon his return to New York, he became involved in anti-war activism and the McCarthy campaign in 1968 and later McGovern’s 1972 debacle.
His connection to Clinton began in 1970 when he met Bill during Operation Purestrings- an effort to pass the Hatfield-McGovern amendment to cut off funding for the war in Vietnam. Ickes later joined a New York City law firm and here his ethical problems took on new meaning that would have an effect later in his career.
Ickes made a career out of defending New York unions heavily infiltrated by organized crime. He defended his actions on the grounds that everyone is entitled to a defense lest businesses run roughshod over unions. The associations he made during this era would later pay off. Ickes also began an association with Jesse Jackson, but when Jackson considered a primary run against Clinton in 1996, Ickes turned on his former boss with a vengeance. In the meantime, he continued to ingratiate himself to both Bill and Hillary Clinton and in 1994 joined the Clinton White House as deputy chief of staff for political affairs.
It was at this time that he grew fond of Hillary and gravitated towards her. He was called upon to help with the floundering Hillarycare effort that eventually failed. It was during this time that a plot was hatched which seriously would later implicate Ickes. In what could best be described as a large money laundering scheme, the Teamsters donated $880,000 to the Clinton reelection campaign and some of that money was kicked back to Ron Carey’s effort to win the Teamster’s President position. Carey did go on to win, but later had the election negated amid charges of corruption and Jimmy Hoffa took over as president of the Teamsters. This scandal implicated not only Ickes, but also the SEIU’s Andrew Stern, AFSCME’s Gerald McEntee and 1996 Clinton campaign manager Terry McAuliffe, the current Governor of Virginia.
While in the White House, Ickes earned the nickname “Director of Sanitation” for his efforts in dealing with the many scandals and ethical lapses of the Clinton administration. He is suspected of establishing a special unit of the White Counsel’s office to deal with these issues. It was later discovered that this unit had, through an office with nothing to do with White House security, obtained the FBI files on former Bush administration officials critical of Bill and Hillary Clinton. FBI director Louis Freeh later testified that the files contained sensitive information on these former officials. Although eventually cleared of any wrongdoing by special prosecutor Kenneth Starr, the fact remains that these files were seen by White House operatives.
For the 1996 reelection campaign of Bill Clinton, Ickes became an important fundraiser reaching out to organized labor, US corporations with business overseas pending before the administration, and another important donor- Lippo Bank of California and Arkansas. The man at the center of the controversy was John Huang, then working in the Commerce Department’s office of international economic affairs. Huang later pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations in that he directed over $156,000 in donations from Lippo Bank employees to the DNC.
Subsequent investigations intimate that Ickes was the man behind Huang’s efforts. In exchange, lucrative deals were worked out with Chinese companies under the Clinton administration. It was later inferred that Huang had been an operative for Chinese intelligence services. When asked about that in a deposition, Huang invoked the 5th Amendment over 2,000 times. But this was not new. There are reports that the Clinton administration had assisted many Chinese companies in the United States and that many of the Chinese were actually intelligence operatives. Most disturbingly for Hillary Clinton, it was her insistence that Commerce Secretary Ronald Brown hire Huang in the first place,most likely as pay back for his financial help in the 1992 campaign. Recall that Huang was a bank official with Lippo, which had an office in Little Rock at the time. Therefore, it is not surprising that the Clinton administration basically handed over control of the Panama Canal to the Chinese by controlling the ports at either end of the canal. Only a public outcry kept Chinese interests from leasing the Long Beach Naval Yard in California.
Further, there are accusations that the declassification of over 11 million pages of documents and relaxed security at nuclear weapon labs allowed the Chinese to vastly improve their nuclear capability. This was at the direction of Clinton’s Energy Secretary, Hazel O’Leary, an avid anti-nuclear activist. This entire Chinese connection was set into motion by Harold Ickes.
After the 1996 election as more information was oozing out regarding these nefarious financial transactions, Bill Clinton cut his losses and let Ickes go. There were investigations and there were prosecutions and convictions. Left unsaid is the condemnations against Harold Ickes and Hillary Clinton for being aware of these contributions and deals and doing nothing to stop them. Nothing was going to stop the reelection of Bill Clinton.
This trend is also seen in the strange case of Arthur Coia, a huge supporter of the Clinton administration and President of the International Laborer’s Union. Rising to the top ranks of that union, they rated 6th in campaign contributions to Democrats in the 1994 midterm elections. He was an early supporter of Hillarycare. Coia simply ingratiated himself to the Clinton White House and fundraising efforts. Recall that at this time, Clinton’s popularity was very low and that he was looking at devastating midterm losses. His efforts on behalf of Democratic candidates- he raised over $3.5 million- gained him an Oval Office visit with the President. Coia complained that his union was being bypassed in federal contracts and Clinton advised him to handle this through Harold Ickes. There was a cozy, friendly relationship between Coia and Clinton with shared golf outings, dinners, and an exchange of golf clubs.
But alas, as with all things Clinton, the walls of corruption eventually closed in on Coia. In 1994, he was indicted on racketeering charges claiming he tried to raid a union pension fund in upstate New York. In what he claims was an effort to streamline the union bureaucracy in Rochester, he tried to replace the leadership there with mob associates. Similar investigations in Cleveland, Chicago and Buffalo revealed that those locals were already under mob control.
On the very day Clinton exchanged golf clubs with Coia, a 212-page indictment came down against him and the union. Coia hired a powerhouse law firm for which Ickes once worked and Ickes was, in fact, a former lawyer for the Laborer’s Union. Word of the indictment set off worry in the White House and Ickes advised his bosses not to be seen with Coia. In 1995, Hillary was to give a speech to the union in Florida. Ickes intervened and advised Clinton not to attend, but Coia reminded Clinton of his past help in fundraising and Hillary changed her mind and addressed the conference.
One week later, a deal was reached between Coia and the Justice Department whereby Coia would keep his job in exchange for promises to clean the union of mob influence. Attorney General Janet Reno later had the audacity to say this consent decree would be used as a model for dealing with union corruption in the future. Coia instituted his “reform campaign” although it created a serious rift between investigators and their DC overseers at the Justice Department. Some openly complained that his political influence with the Clinton administration prompted the consent decree.
Most importantly, the consent decree allowed Coia to avoid a public trial. Had that happened, it is likely that many White House operatives would have been called by his defense team. By agreeing to the consent decree, Coia kept his job and salary and Ickes avoided embarrassing testimony about possible illegal activity. Score one for the Director of Sanitation.
To be continued next week…