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White House: Subpoenas Unnecessary

enron. investigation.
AP / CBS
The White House turned over summaries of contacts between Bush administration officials and Enron Corp. executives after a Senate panel voted to issue subpoenas, but the committee's Democratic chairman was not satisfied.

No instance has turned up so far of Enron officials asking anyone in the White House for help as Enron sank toward bankruptcy last December, the White House said Wednesday.

The summaries were provided to the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee hours after it voted to issue the first subpoenas to the Bush White House from Congress.

The panel decided to subpoena President Bush's executive office and Vice President Dick Cheney's office to compel officials to produce relevant documents by noon June 3. The material being sought dates from January 1992, also covering the Clinton administration.

Many of the contacts described in the material provided Wednesday were disclosed by the administration this year in response to questions from lawmakers and reporters when the Enron scandal broke.

They include a half-hour private meeting on April 17, 2001, in which then-Enron Chairman Kenneth Lay discussed with Cheney energy policy and the power crisis in California. Cheney, who headed an energy-policy task force, disclosed the meeting in a PBS television documentary this year.

Cheney also has disclosed similar meetings with Enron officials in February, March, April, August and October of last year.

"Our inquiries thus far have disclosed no instance in which Enron approached any person within ... (Bush or Cheney's office) seeking help in connection with its financial difficulties prior to bankruptcy," White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales said in a letter accompanying the material.

There were numerous telephone calls from top Enron officials to Bush Cabinet officials — including Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill and Commerce Secretary Don Evans — last fall before Houston-based Enron entered the biggest corporate bankruptcy in U.S. history on Dec. 2. The company has been among Bush's biggest campaign contributors.

With the collapse of the huge energy-trading company, investors nationwide were burned. Thousands of Enron employees were stripped of nearly all their retirement assets as the company's stock plummeted.

Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., the committee chairman, was not satisfied with the material provided Wednesday because it appeared incomplete, Lieberman spokeswoman Leslie Phillips said.

"It appears the White House is still providing only what it thinks is relevant rather than what the committee asked for," Phillips said. She said the White House still hasn't given Lieberman the assurance he was seeking that it would provide all the material requested by the end of the month.

Presidential spokesman Ari Fleischer, traveling with Bush to Germany on Air Force One, said the subpoenas were unnecessary because the White House was providing material.

The Senate panel's vote followed a two-hour debate that at times turned bitterly partisan. Some Republican senators accused Lieberman of political grandstanding.

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

Lieberman, Al Gore's running mate in 2000 and a potential presidential candidate in 2004, has been seeking the material from the White House since late March. He bristled at Cochran's suggestion of political motivation, although he acknowledged a lack of evidence of wrongdoing.

Lieberman said the information from the White House, as the lead "formulator and coordinator" of federal policy, is needed in the committee's inquiry into why federal regulators did not discover Enron's questionable business practices and intervene.

"The clear message I've gotten from the White House is that they're not going to give us what we want," Lieberman said. "I have finally concluded that we were being slow-walked ... at the least and stonewalled at worst."

"No White House can be immune from congressional oversight," he declared. "We are, after all, the people's representatives here."

In a related development, federal energy regulators widened a probe of California's power crisis to include sham natural gas trades, as six large energy firms announced they did not use Enron Corp's now-infamous schemes to boost profits.

The U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) is now examining bankrupt Enron's role in the soaring electricity prices that led to California blackouts, as well as a variety of questionable trading schemes for power and natural gas that may have been used by more than a 100 other firms.