- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 23, 2002

BELLE, W. Va. President Bush yesterday said his mother-in-law lost more than $8,000 when Enron stock collapsed and expressed outrage that shareholders and employees "didn't know all the facts" about the failing firm.
In his most extensive and personal comments to date on the Enron bankruptcy, Mr. Bush told reporters the White House acted properly by refusing to bail out the energy-trading company when its chairman, Kenneth L. Lay, contacted Cabinet secretaries in October.
"Our administration has done the exact right thing," the president said during a tour of a heavy-machinery distributorship. "There have been a couple of contacts with people in my Cabinet and my Cabinet officers said: 'No help here.'"
Mr. Bush also revealed the Enron collapse hurt Jenna Welch, the 82-year-old mother of first lady Laura Bush.
"What I'm outraged about is the fact that shareholders and employees didn't know all the facts about Enron," the president said.
"My own mother-in-law bought stock," he said, "and it's not worth anything now."
Mrs. Welch purchased 200 shares of Enron on Sept. 1, 1999, when the stock was trading at $40.90. She sold it on Dec. 4, two days after the company filed for bankruptcy, at 42 cents a share a loss of $8,096, or nearly 99 percent of her original investment.
"If she had known all the facts, I don't know what her decision would have been," Mr. Bush said. "But she didn't know all the facts. And a lot of shareholders didn't know all the facts. And that's wrong."
The president brushed off suggestions the Enron collapse has hurt him politically. The company and its executives made significant campaign contributions to Mr. Bush, former President Bill Clinton, and a host of lawmakers from both parties.
"I'm absolutely confident the American people know that my administration has acted the right way," he said. "If somebody has got an accusation about some wrongdoing, just let me know."
The White House has been fielding pointed questions about its ties to Enron since Jan. 10, when Commerce Secretary Donald L. Evans and Treasury Secretary Paul H. O'Neill told the president that Mr. Lay had contacted them in mid-October.
Democrats have accused the administration of tailoring its energy policy to fit Enron's needs.
"When I talked with Don Evans and O'Neill, they told me they had spoke to Enron," Mr. Bush said. "I said: Tell the people what you did.
"And if there's any accusations, if you've got anything on your mind, the energy report should speak for itself," he added. "We laid out the energy plan. It's fully disclosed."
The president said his labor secretary initiated "an investigation before anybody started paying attention to Enron."
"Last December, Elaine Chao started an investigation of pensions," he said.
The Justice Department is conducting a criminal probe. And earlier this month, Mr. Bush directed Mrs. Chao, Mr. O'Neill and Mr. Evans to review disclosure laws governing pensions.
Many Enron employees lost their retirement funds after company executives barred them from selling shares of the plummeting stock. And the company's accountants are under fire for shredding documents and questionable bookkeeping.
"Our government must do something about it; must make sure that the accounting practices that have been going on for quite a while are addressed; make sure there's full disclosure and the corporate-governance issues are wide open for everybody to understand," the president said.
Congress has started about a dozen investigations of Enron. The president cautioned lawmakers not to become so obsessed with the bankruptcy that they neglect more-pressing issues.
"Congress also needs to stay focused on the American people," Mr. Bush said. "We're running a war. We've got to make sure our homeland is secure. And we've got to make sure people can find work."

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