- The Washington Times - Monday, January 21, 2002

Enron is not a political scandal, but some Republicans warn the White House it could become one if administration officials are not more forthcoming about their dealings with officials of the bankrupt Houston-based energy firm that is the subject of a criminal investigation and other probes.
"I don't believe this is a political scandal. I believe it is an accounting scandal, a legal scandal and a corporate corruption scandal. But if the information doesn't come out from government officials, it will become an artificial political scandal," Joseph diGenova, formerly a federal prosecutor in the Reagan administration, said yesterday on CNN's "Late Edition."
Sen. Fred Thompson, Tennessee Republican, echoed those views on CBS' "Face the Nation."
"From a political standpoint it's better to get everything out and get it over with," said Mr. Thompson, the top Republican on the Senate Government Affairs Committee.
Democrats have been pressing the White House to disclose any and all contacts that President Bush, Vice President Richard B. Cheney or other administration officials had with executives of Enron.
Sen. Carl Levin, Michigan Democrat, renewed that call yesterday on CBS' "Face the Nation."
"I just think it's better for everybody to kind of lay out whatever connections contacts people had or have. If it's in the past, just simply say it just say it, get it over with, get it behind you," Mr. Levin said.
Before its collapse last year, Enron was the nation's seventh-largest corporation and contributed heavily to both Republicans and Democrats in political campaigns. Enron overstated profits, covered up debts and now stands accused of illegally blocking employees from selling shares of Enron stock from their 401(k) retirement accounts while the value of that stock plummeted.
A Justice Department criminal probe of Enron also focuses on accusations that top executives of the firm cashed out their stock while hiding massive losses. Enron is the subject of investigations by Congress, the Securities & Exchange Commission and the Labor Department as well.
Critics of the White House have focused on Enron officials' involvement in Mr. Cheney's energy task force. They also want information about Mr. Cheney's intervention with Indian officials in a bid to salvage Enron's troubled Dabhol power plant, partly financed by the U.S. government.
Mr. diGenova said it was "perfectly legitimate" for Mr. Cheney to help an American business deal with a foreign country, a view echoed by Secretary of State Colin L. Powell on "Fox News Sunday" and ABC's "This Week."
On NBC's "Meet the Press," Joseph Berardino, CEO of Arthur Andersen the accounting firm that acted as both auditor and consultant for Enron said his firm found no evidence that unlawful practices were behind Enron's collapse.
"To my knowledge, there was nothing we found that was illegal," said Mr. Berardino, adding: "This is a company whose business model failed at its base, this is an economic failure."
Andersen has come under fire since evidence surfaced that the firm was aware of Enron's debt-ridden partnerships as early as February and yet proceeded to give its client a clean bill of health in an annual report in April. Andersen signed off on accounting practices that hid billions of dollars in debt and led to a $600 million reduction of four years' worth of earnings.
"Those books were not cooked," said Mr. Berardino.
Anderson has tapped former Sen. John Danforth, Missouri Republican, to conduct an internal investigation of its handling of Enron.
Pointing out that Mr. Danforth is also an Episcopal priest, Mr. diGenova commented, "He may have been hired to give them last rites."

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