W.H. Stands Firm On Enron Meetings

Enron White House scandal
The White House continued Tuesday to resist congressional efforts to learn which business executives met with Vice President Cheney about energy policy and accused investigators of overstepping their legal authority in pursuit of the information.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Bush aides cannot accommodate even an amended request from the General Accounting Office, seeking dates of meetings, participants and meeting topics.

"The GAO continues to ask for information that oversteps their bounds," Fleischer said. "They continue to ask for subject matter of meetings, which gets into what is said, of course."

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  • Sources tell CBS News that the GAO is ready now to take the White House to court to obtain the records but out of respect for the president, it will wait until after Tuesday's State of the Union address to make the official announcement.

    CBS News Washington Correspondent John Roberts reports that the GAO wants to know who was at the meetings, and what topics were discussed.

    "We have tried to reach a reasonable accommodation with [the White House]," stated the congressional investigative team. "They don't even want to talk about it."

    Such a lawsuit would be the first in history in which an investigative arm of Congress has sued the White House.

    Fleischer says Tuesday that President Bush's stance is unchanged. Lawyers from both sides continue to discuss the matter, he said, but "they're not negotiating."

    After a breakfast meeting between Busand congressional leaders, House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., said the president reiterated that he will not give congressional investigators the names they seek.

    Mr. Bush said "that he thinks the president can have informational conversations in the White House, in the Oval Office, without disclosing that information," Hastert told reporters after the private meeting.

    The House Energy and Commerce Committee, meanwhile, continued to press its own investigation into Enron's collapse and the massive destruction of Enron-related documents by its auditor Arthur Andersen LLP. Committee leaders on Tuesday asked Andersen chief executive Joseph Berardino in a letter for additional detailed information on the accounting firm's work for Enron and its internal inquiry into the document shredding.

    In a Monday news conference, Mr. Bush said the order for documents is "an encroachment on the executive branch's ability to conduct business."

    "In order for me to be able to get good, sound opinions, those who offer me opinions, or offer the vice president opinions, must know that every word they say is not going to be put into the public record," the president said.

    "The president very strongly restated that this morning," Hastert said Tuesday.

    Standing beside the speaker, Democrats Tom Daschle, the Senate majority leader, and House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt did not comment.

    Asked how this GAO request differed from Republican demands for Hillary Clinton's health-care task force records when she was first lady, Hastert replied simply: "We didn't get that, did we?"

    The White House has said representatives of the now-collapsed Enron Corp., a Houston-based energy broker with deep ties to President Bush, met six times last year with Cheney or his aides to discuss energy issues.

    Congressional Democrats, however, accuse the White House of stonewalling.

    Philip Schiliro, chief of staff to Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., senior Democrat on the House Government Reform Committee, said the GAO is not seeking the records of internal deliberations within the administration, as the White House says; investigators want only the names of the company officials or lobbyists and the subjects they brought up.

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