Democrats Irked by Lewinsky Comments From Consultants Probing Teamsters
By Frank Swoboda
At least that's what House Democrats claimed in a hearing yesterday as they attacked Washington power couple Joseph diGenova and Victoria Toensing for appearing all over television to talk about Lewinsky when the House Committee on Education and the Workforce was paying them $25,000 a month to investigate the Teamsters.
"I know these consultants have been in town because they've been in the news more than 200 times commenting on the Monica Lewinsky story," said Rep. William "Bill" Clay (D-Mo.), the ranking Democrat on the committee. His aides were quick to supply a printout showing one or the other had been quoted 218 times in everything from The Washington Post and ABC's "Nightline" to Modern Health Care and CNBC News' "Rivera Live."
Clay said the couple's "relentless self-promotion and nonstop mugging for the likes of Geraldo Rivera" were unseemly, undignified and "unworthy of this committee."
Clay used the contract with diGenova and Toensing to lead the committee into a highly partisan debate over the ongoing investigation of the Teamsters. Minority Democrats spent much of the time during the hour-long hearing asking the Republicans to let them see the time sheets submitted by the two investigators since they were hired in December.
In the end, diGenova and Toensing left the hearing unbowed. "So the Democrats are going to put in a rule that nobody that works in the House can appear on TV?" Toensing asked. "When are they going to bring that up for a vote?"
Toensing said the only thing she found embarrassing was her fee -- because it was too low. She said their law firm gets $25,000 a month with each lawyer contracted to perform at least 80 hours of work a month for the committee, or a rate of $155 an hour.
DiGenova said they both have put in more than the minimum 80 hours a month, but the time sheets the Democrats are demanding to see also contain confidential information about potential witnesses who do not want their names released. "We have provided detailed billing sheets to the committee," he said.
Jim Jordon, spokesman for the Democratic minority on the committee, said that Rep. William F. Goodling (R-Pa.), chairman of the full committee, has promised to turn over the time records for inspection by the Democrats. "The minority expects Mr. diGenova and Ms. Toensing to immediately provide the committee with their full time sheets," Jordon said.
After the fracas over the performance of the two consultants, the committee ended up voting to add two more consultants to the investigation payroll: Frederick Smolen, a forensic accountant, and Philip A. Smith, a former Washington Post editor and reporter who currently operates his own public relations firm. Each was signed to a six-month contract, with Smolen earning $10,000 a month and Smith $5,000 a month.
So far, the committee's oversight subcommittee headed by Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-Mich.) has been authorized to hire more than 20 people and spend more than $2 million to investigate the 1996 Teamsters election, in which President Ron Carey narrowly defeated rival James P. Hoffa. The results later were overturned and a new election ordered because of illegal financial activities in the Carey campaign. Carey has since been disqualified from seeking reelection, a decision he is appealing.
But the Teamsters were all but overlooked at yesterday's political slugfest.
Congress has banned any further public spending on the union's rerun election, and the union is nearly broke and appears unable to cover the estimated $7.4 million cost of the new balloting.
Teamsters officials insist there are no current plans to lay off any of the 500 employees of the union's national staff and that they will be able to work through their current financial troubles without any layoffs or cuts in member services.
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