- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 23, 2002

In responding to the evolving Enron political crisis during the past two weeks, the reaction of the Bush White House has been staggering. Was nothing learned from the Clinton years?

Let it first be said that the multitude of Enron-related revelations by the Bush administration over the past two weeks don't amount to a hill of beans. In fact, by all accounts, the reported actions of all administration officials have been absolutely ethical. Nevertheless, the drip-drip-drip pattern of daily revelations has been incessant. If White House press secretary Ari Fleischer wants to know why the media have engaged in what he has called "open-ended fishing expeditions," he can look in the mirror and inside the Oval Office itself.

It took more than five weeks following Enron's Dec. 2 bankruptcy before the political firestorm erupted. On Jan. 8, the White House released a letter written five days earlier by Vice President Dick Cheney's counsel, David Addington, to Democratic Rep. Henry Waxman. Mr. Waxman had been browbeating the administration for months, demanding the names of those whom Mr. Cheney's energy task force had consulted. Mr. Addington's letter revealed that representatives of Enron had met six times last year with members of the task force, including a half-hour meeting between Mr. Cheney and Enron Chairman Kenneth Lay. In none of those six meetings did any of the participants "discuss information concerning [Enrons] financial position," Mr. Addington wrote.

The release of the letter to Mr. Waxman would have been the ideal time for the White House to reveal all the other Enron-related activities and contacts involving senior administration officials. Instead, over the next two weeks, the White House inexplicably released its information in a piecemeal fashion.

This process began with the president's own disingenuous insistence on Jan. 9 that Mr. Lay, who contributed $47,500 to Mr. Bush's first gubernatorial campaign, had been backing the Democratic incumbent, Ann Richards, who received a fraction of the donations Mr. Bush got from Mr. Lay. Also on Jan. 9, the White House announced Mr. Lay had twice telephoned Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill (Oct. 28 and Nov. 8) and once called Commerce Secretary Don Evans (Oct. 29). The next day it was revealed that Enron President Lawrence Whalley had six to eight conversations with Peter Fisher, Treasury's undersecretary for domestic finance, in late October and early November. The White House also announced on Jan. 10 that it was the first day the president and vice president became aware of Mr. Lay's calls to Messrs. O'Neill and Evans. Yet, White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card acknowledged on Sunday, Jan. 13, that he knew of Mr. Lay's Oct. 29 call to Mr. Evans "several weeks" later.

On Jan. 11, the Associated Press reported that Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham had called Mr. Lay on Nov. 2. On Jan. 15, the Wall Street Journal reported that White House budget chief Mitch Daniels had received a call from Mr. Lay regarding the status of an ill-advised provision in the Republican-backed House stimulus bill that would have rebated more than $250 million in alternative minimum tax (AMT) payments to Enron dating back to the 1980s.

Late last week, the White House finally got around to revealing that Mr. Cheney had lobbied an Indian politician regarding the purchase of a multi-billion-dollar power plant that Enron built there. The contact was innocent enough: Unless India paid for the troubled plant, U.S. taxpayers would be responsible for hundreds of millions of dollars in guarantees made to Enron during the Clinton administration. It was also revealed late last week that Larry Lindsey, the director of the White House National Economic Council who had been a paid consultant to Enron in 2000, had been monitoring the impact of Enron's difficulties on energy markets in the days before Enron declared bankruptcy. And quite rightly so, one would think, given the repercussions.

Regrettably, the White House has been ham-handed in the Enron affair so much so that political considerations now suggest that the White House ought to identify those from the private sector who contributed to the energy task force. It had better release the information sooner rather than later, and the White House ought to include any other pertinent information it has incomprehensibly failed to provide to date.

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