SENATE LABOR Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch -- reacting to a similar call by 46 Senate Democrats--said yesterday that it was time for Labor Secretary Raymond Donovan to relinquish his job. Pressure for the secretary's resignation has increased since last Friday when Sen. Hatch received a copy of a 17-month-old FBI report.
The report had been hand-delivered to the Reagan transition team on Jan. 12, 1981, the day that Sen. Hatch's committee began hearings on Mr. Donovan's confirmation. The report stated in unequivocal terms that the FBI had information corroborated by independent sources that Mr. Donovan had "close personal and business ties with known La Cosa Nostra figures."
The FBI report specifically stated that there was no evidence of "criminal wrong-doing" on the part of Mr. Donovan. But people who regularly consort or do business with the underworld surely don't belong in the Cabinet--especially not in those Cabinet jobs with responsibilities for combating organized crime and union racketeering.
Why didn't incoming administration officials make this report--as well as other relevant information it then had from organized crime wiretaps-- available to the committee immediately? The evidence suggests that White House Counsel Fred Fielding--then in charge of checking out presidential nominees--was anxious to rush the confirmation through with as little fuss as possible.
Remember that when the hearings started, the labor committee was aware of only two major allegations of impropriety by Mr. Donovan and his firm. While Mr. Donovan's explanations of these incidents strained the credulity of some members, the majority seemed inclined to accept them, and the committee scheduled a confirmation vote after only one day of hearings. The matter would have rested there except for the fact that other allegations involving Mr. Donovan promptly cropped up through the FBI's Newark office.
The FBI then conducted a 10-day investigation -- characterized by the bureau as "thorough and exhaustive"--and on Jan. 23 sent the committee a report covering 18 specific allegations involving Mr. Donovan. The tone of the new report and the subsequent testimony of FBI officials were quite different from the message conveyed in the FBI's Jan. 12 report to Mr. Fielding. No information had been uncovered, now said the FBI, that would "reflect unfavorably on Mr. Donovan in any manner." On that basis--and Mr. Donovan's own heated denials of involvement--the committee voted to confirm the labor secretary.
The Donovan matter will not go away soon. The special prosecutor investigating charges of illegal operations involving Mr. Donovan will probably issue his report within a few weeks. Whatever the findings of that report, the Senate labor committee will probably want to take up hearings of its own to find out why it was so ill-served by the White House and the FBI on a matter of such grave importance.