Enron papers released to Senate

 

The long, and until now fruitless, process of prising information from the White House about its many contacts with Enron took a leap forward on Monday when, in response to subpoenas from Congress, the Administration gave a Senate panel access to some 2,100 pages of information.

The White House said the release was partial and officials were involved in a dialogue with congressional officials over protecting commercially and personally sensitive information in other papers. Congressional officials of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee accused them of stalling.

But the President's Counsel, Mr Albert Gonzales, insisted that a review of the material showed no sign of the company's representatives asking anyone in the White House for help ahead of its bankruptcy last December.

The documents reviewed so far also show that White House officials' actions were "responsible and consistent with the appropriate performance of their official duties", he said in a letter to Senator Joseph Lieberman (Dem., Connecticut), the committee's chairman.

So far, no documents are being withheld on grounds of executive privilege, Mr Gonzales wrote.

The offices of President George W Bush and Vice-President Dick Cheney said they were still receiving documents from employees.

The released documents, 1,745 pages from Mr Bush's office and 432 documents from Mr Cheney's, are being made available in the White House to committee staffers to protect the sensitive material.

The decision to issue subpoenas was taken by a partisan vote at the committee on Monday but follows the decision of the General Accounting Office, Congress's investigative arm, to sue the Vice-President in February to force him to reveal who he met during the drafting of the Administration's Energy Plan.

The White House defended itself by claiming executive privilege and insisting the policy process would be threatened if it was forced to reveal all the individuals it met.

Critics say the White House is really concerned with protecting the extraordinary access which they say energy interests have to the corridors of power.

The Bush administration disclosed in January that then-Enron chairman Mr Kenneth Lay made a series of telephone calls to members of the Bush Cabinet, including Treasury Secretary Mr Paul O'Neill and Commerce Secretary Mr Don Evans, as the company sank towards collapse last fall.

In other developments on Monday, Texas utility regulators recommended fining Enron $7.1 million (€7.5 million) because they said the company manipulated the state's wholesale power market last August.

Texas officials said actions by Enron threatened the integrity of the electricity market, while unjustly enriching the company. An Enron spokeswoman declined to comment.

Prosecutors are trying to convict the firm of obstruction of justice.