- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 23, 2002

The Senate Governmental Affairs Committee voted along party lines yesterday to issue Congress' first subpoenas of the Bush White House for information on its contacts with Enron Corp. executives.
The White House and Republicans accused Chairman Joseph I. Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat and potential challenger of President Bush in 2004, of a fishing expedition. They say he has no evidence of White House involvement in any of the frauds perpetrated by the company.
"There has not been any indication that the executive office of the president had any involvement in the collapse of Enron in any way," said Sen. Fred Thompson, Tennessee Republican.
The committee originally set out to determine the causes of Enron's collapse, and whether regulators could have prevented it. But its request for information from the White House has turned into a power struggle between the parties and the branches.
Mr. Lieberman denied that the subpoena was politically motivated, although he admitted there has been no evidence of White House entanglement.
"I am making no accusations about the conduct of anybody in the White House," he said. "The committee had no choice but to subpoena the requested material" because it became clear after nearly two months of delays that the White House would not release information sought on top-level contacts, he added.
The two subpoenas, approved by the committee 9-8, compel President Bush's executive office and the office of Vice President Richard B. Cheney to produce records of Enron contacts by noon on June 3.
Hours after the vote yesterday, the White House turned over summaries of dozens of contacts between Bush administration officials and Enron executives. Many of the contacts described therein were disclosed by the administration early this year when the Enron scandal broke.
But Mr. Lieberman said White House Counsel Alberto R. Gonzales made clear to the committee that the top-level contacts would not be included.
"I have finally concluded that we were being slow-walked at the least and stonewalled at the worst," Mr. Lieberman said.
White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer told reporters traveling on Air Force One that information collected so far by Mr. Gonzales shows no instance of anyone from Enron seeking financial help from the White House.
"This was unnecessary," he said of the subpoenas. "The White House has cooperated with Senator Lieberman."
A White House official said the subpoenas are highly "unusual" because no information has been formally withheld from the committee, and there has been no charge of wrongdoing.
The White House disclosed months ago calls made by former Enron Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Kenneth L. Lay to top Bush officials at the Treasury and Commerce Departments, seeking their help to stave off his company's impending financial collapse.
Former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin also called a top Treasury official on Enron's behalf, but the pleas largely fell on deaf ears. The Treasury declined to intervene after determining that Enron's collapse would have no adverse effect on energy trading or the financial markets.
"All of that's already been disclosed," said a White House official. "Lieberman legitimately is looking into the financial collapse of Enron, and we agree with those goals. We want to find out why employees and shareholders were left holding the bag. But I don't see how anybody at the White House could have had an effect on Enron's financial situation."
Committee Republicans said the political motivation of Democrats who voted for the subpoenas was obvious.
"Are we doing this to attract the attention of the public?" asked Sen. Thad Cochran, Mississippi Republican, prompting an angry response from Mr. Lieberman.
"This committee has not singled out the White House. The White House has singled itself out," the Democrat said, noting that every other agency that received his March 27 request for information on Enron contacts has responded.
Mr. Lieberman's investigation already has exposed regulatory lapses at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the agency with the most direct authority over Enron's power transmission and trading activities.
The energy commission, headed by Bush appointee Pat Wood III, failed to pursue evidence uncovered last summer that Enron's trading operations would collapse if the company's credit rating was severely downgraded precisely the events that led to the Dec. 2 bankruptcy filing by the company.
The energy commission also ignored for two years charges by California officials that Enron was manipulating the state's power markets to drive up prices until evidence of the same surfaced earlier this month in damning memos written by Enron traders.
The Commodity Futures Trading Commission, another agency that apparently failed to detect the financial shenanigans at Enron, announced yesterday that it was setting up an online link soliciting information from the public about suspect trading activities by Enron or other companies on the West Coast.
Staff writer Amy Fagan contributed to this report.


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