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White House Served Enron Subpoenas

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AP / CBS
A Senate committee Wednesday authorized the first congressional subpoenas to the Bush White House, part of an effort to obtain information on government contacts with now-bankrupt energy giant Enron Corp. The subpoenas arrived at the White House early on Wednesday afternoon.

The vote was 9-8 to subpoena staff members in Bush's executive office and in the office of Vice President Dick Cheney. The vote followed a two-hour debate that at times turned bitterly partisan. An aide to Sen. Joseph Lieberman said one subpoena each was sent to the offices of President Bush and Cheney.

The vote grew out of the committee's investigation of Enron, which filed the biggest corporate bankruptcy in U.S. history last year. The Houston-based company has been among Bush's biggest campaign contributors.

The White House was "perplexed" by the committee's "confrontational" approach, spokeswoman Anne Womack said. Officials would review the subpoena before deciding how to respond, she said, but the White House still intended to hand over an initial batch of information later Wednesday.

The General Accounting Office, Congress' investigative arm, already has sued Cheney to force release of the names of Enron and other industry figures who met last year with his energy task force.

The Bush administration disclosed in January that former Enron chairman Kenneth Lay made a series of telephone calls to top officials in the Bush administration, including Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill and Commerce Secretary Don Evans, as the company spiraled toward collapse last fall.

Some Republican senators accused Lieberman, D-Conn., of being politically motivated.

"Are we doing this to attract the intention of the public?" asked Sen. Thad Cochran, a Mississippi Republican. "It makes me very suspicious about the motivation of asking for a subpoena."

But Lieberman said the White House has made clear it will not provide such information without a subpoena. He noted he has been seeking the information since March.

The White House counsel wrote Lieberman a letter Tuesday asking him to withdraw the subpoena threat until he could review the information the White House said it intended to provide soon to the committee.

The Governmental Affairs Committee has been looking into why federal regulators did not raise warning flags about Enron's questionable business practices.