Army Secretary Thomas White says he will give up his post should the federal investigation into his previous employer, Enron Corp., pull him too much from his military duties during the war on terror.
"I thought I could do something good for soldiers and their families," White said Wednesday in an interview with reporters. "That is my focus. If I ever get to a point where that's no longer possible, it doesn't make any sense to stay when somebody else could do a better job."
The former Enron executive said he is complying with requests for documents from the Justice Department, which is investigating the company's activities.
"I'm a big boy. I was in it," White said. "I'm not a victim. I'm not a perpetrator, either."
He said he is turning over to the Defense Department "a bunch" of military and personal documents relating to Enron. The Pentagon will supply the papers to Justice Department investigators.
It's unclear if the papers include documents related to White's role, as head of the Enron subsidiary Enron Energy Services, in a 1999 deal in which the company won a $25 million, 10-year contract to provide utility services to Fort Hamilton, an Army base in Brooklyn, New York City.
White said he would resign if the Enron investigation should take too much of his time or if he should feel his role in the matter caused troops to lose confidence in his leadership. He denied wrongdoing in his dealings at Enron.
He said he was as surprised as the rest of the country by the energy trading company's collapse in December and the subsequent allegations of massive fraud.
White said he has sold all of his interests in Enron, as required by his Army post.
He said he retains membership in an annuity fund for Enron retirees. The fund has paid nothing since Enron's collapse, however, and White has joined other retirees in filing a claim in the company's bankruptcy.
White acknowledged frequent contacts with Enron officials during the company's collapse but said none provided him insider information that affected his stock sales. He reiterated earlier statements that no one at Enron asked him to use his influence to help the company, and he had not done so.
He said virtually all his conversations with former Enron colleagues "would have involved some comment or discussion relating in at least a general way to Enron's financial condition."
White's critics have said they want to know whether his conversations with Enron officials prompted him to finish his stock sales quickly, before Enron's shares hit bottom. Enron's stock hit a low of 26 cents by the end of November, White's deadline to sell.
White made about $12 million from selling his Enron shares, the last of which he sold Oct. 30 at $12.86 a share.
"This is a textbook example of why we have ethics rules," the top Democrat on the House Government Reform panel, Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., said in early March. "Had Secretary White divested his holdings in a timely way, no questions would be raised about his conduct."
White also acknowledged traveling with his wife on an Army aircraft to Colorado at the beginning of March. While there he completed a house sale in Aspen, raising questions as to whether he used a military plane for personal business.
White said he was traveling outside Washington as part of the Bush administration's "continuity of government" plan, which requires some senior leaders to be outside the capital to ensure government survivability should a major terror attack occur.
He said he also went to Dallas and Seattle on official Army business during the trip and described Colorado as a convenient weekend stopover in between.
In another Enron development Wednesday, Sen. Joe Lieberman, chairman of the Governmental Affairs Committee, asked the White House to disclose further contacts with Enron.
In a letter dated Wednesday, the Connecticut Democrat requested detailed information from the White House and the U.S. archivist about communications between Enron and eight government agencies involved in energy policy, dating from 1992.
The agencies include the departments of Labor, Energy and Commerce and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
Lieberman said he "will not hesitate to ask for anything that helps us to investigate as thoroughly as possible what the federal government might have done to prevent, or at least anticipate, Enron's demise."
By John J. Lumpkin
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