- The Washington Times - Monday, April 8, 2002

Army Secretary Thomas E. White is in survival mode these days, fighting to save prized weapons from Pentagon budget cutters while watching his flank for those who want him ousted over the Enron debacle.
Mr. White, the son of a Detroit bus driver who rose to the rank of Army general and then earned millions during 11 years at Enron Corp., has become a key target in the Democrats' probe of the Houston energy firm.
Asked in an interview if he will remain Army secretary despite scrutiny of his Enron ties, Mr. White said: "I intend to."
"I came back here with a very simple objective, that was to try to do something good for soldiers and their families," he said. "And we have done a lot of good things for soldiers and their families in addition to fighting this war that has come upon us. And I'm excited about staying."
Sitting in his Pentagon office, the decorated Vietnam veteran said the Army has made great progress in recruiting young soldiers and in transforming the force into a lighter, faster one.
"When I walked in the door, we were still arguing about berets. We're no longer arguing about berets," he said, referring to the political brouhaha over changing Army headgear. "We have focused on what's important, and transformation is important. And I made it clear to everybody since day one, 'It ain't optional. We got to get on with it.'"
The Enron questions come on two fronts: Was he late in selling Enron stock options, as demanded by the Senate Armed Services Committee as a requirement for his confirmation last summer? And, in his 70 to 80 contacts with former Enron colleagues, did he get any inside information on the corporation's financial collapse?
Mr. White, who ran Enron's Energy Services division, said the calls he made were prompted by compassion for the many friends he had made in Houston. He said he has completed stock sales, except for two private funds in which he is a limited partner and so cannot control the liquidation timing.
"They know what remains to be done and we're very clear on that," he said, referring to Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin, Michigan Democrat, and Sen. John W. Warner of Virginia, the panel's senior Republican.
Mr. White faced his first criticism from a Republican lawmaker when Mr. Warner co-signed a letter with Mr. Levin scolding the Army secretary for not selling all his Enron stock. "We do not believe that your actions satisfied the requirements of this committee," the two wrote on March 1.
Meanwhile, Pentagon Inspector General Joseph Schmitz is examining trips Mr. White took to Florida and Colorado since he became Army secretary last year. In both cases, he mixed personal business with official work but says he strictly followed legal requirements.
On a stopover in Aspen, Co., to sell a home, he was on rotation in the classified "continuation of government" program and was required to be out of Washington. In Florida, he took personal leave and rented a car to visit a home he owns.
"In my opinion, we followed the rules," Mr. White said. "Now, the issue is going to be a matter of perception because the rules come down to whether there is a perception of misuse of government resources. People inside the department, the department ethics officers are very comfortable with where we're at. In our view, we have acted consistent with the regulation."
The bad press alarms Mr. White's allies on Capitol Hill. Conservatives view the West Point graduate as a needed "old school" ex-officer who can reorient the Army back to basics after years of "political correctness."
Mr. White, 59, served two tours in Vietnam. As a platoon leader in 1969, he was awarded a Silver Star for rescuing a wounded soldier amid intense enemy fire.
"It would be a shame to lose a guy like this while the Army is engaged in the war on terrorism," said a senior congressional defense aide.
Mr. White has the backing of the man who counts most Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. They talked privately two weeks ago. Mr. Rumsfeld is said to have counseled Mr. White and inquired on how he was holding up. Mr. White said he was weathering the attacks but would quit if the investigations distracted him from running the Army.
"Secretary Rumsfeld is a great boss and he's been in this town a long, long time, so I pay very close attention to his counsel," Mr. White said.
The Army secretary also has communicated with longtime friend Secretary of State Colin L. Powell. As a brigadier general, Mr. White served as Mr. Powell's executive assistant when the latter was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Mr. White retired from that post in 1990.
"He's a great friend and provides very sound advice and the advice is, 'Hang in there,'" Mr. White said.
As Rep. Henry A. Waxman, California Democrat, stepped up his inquiry into Mr. White's Enron contacts, the Army's top civilian largely remained silent. But in recent weeks, as some friends came to believe his job was hanging in the balance, Mr. White began telling his side.
"I tried to stay focused on running the Army and hoped the other stuff would subside," he said. "But it hasn't subsided."

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