Enron: Chaney, Ashcroft, O'Neill, Evans-Nothing Wrong with This Picture. (01/11/2002)
What I most want to do is list the facts as we know them at the moment and reserve comment and judgment until the whole picture has emerged. That would be the best thing to do. The problem is that the accounting firm that cooked the books for Enron, by hiding half a billion dollars in debt and claiming another half-billion in profits it did not make, announced yesterday that it has inadvertently destroyed most, maybe all, of the documents related to the financial transactions that were cooked. My source of information for everything that follows is the NY Times (Elizabeth Bumiller, January 11, 2002). The largest bankruptcy in US history, then, has occurred in a context that cannot be fully investigated because the documents that might explain why and how it happened, costing 22,000 employees their jobs and retirement accounts, while the top executives cashed out hundreds of millions of dollars of worthless stock before anyone realized it was worthless, have all evaporated into strips of shredded paper securely buried in Houston landfills. The Justice Department is heading the criminal investigation-sort of. Ashcroft and his top deputy have been forced to withdraw from the investigation because the Attorney General received $57,000 of campaign contributions from Enron's CEO for his last Senate race, which he lost. The entire US Attorney's office in Houston-some 100 lawyers and investigators-has done the same thing because of its close ties to Enron. My question: exactly who in the Justice Department is left standing to pursue the criminal implications of these financial events? Janet Reno maybe? The appearance of impropriety, if Ashcroft were to remain in place, is so obvious and inescapable that no one even had to say that he should step aside. Apparently the same is true in the Houston office of the JD. That raises another kind of question: how is it that the Justice Department in Washington and Houston are so closely tied to Enron that everyone has to bail when the largest corporate rip-off in history surfaces, leaving virtually no one empowered to investigate its criminality only days after the fact? The point here is that Enron has been doing this for a number of years, during which time Ashcroft ($57,000) and George W. Bush ($650,000 to $2.4 million) were taking huge amounts of money from the people who orchestrated the burn-down of Enron's corporate worth at the expense of its employees. It appears too that numerous offshore bank accounts (500), even dummy corporations, were used to conceal the money laundering that enabled Enron to shaft its workers. J. P. Morgan, Inc. has $2.7 billion of outstanding loans caught in Enron's collapse, $615 million unsecured. Most of that money, as I understand it, was funneled through offshore accounts.
How could this happen? Well, Paul O'Neill (Secretary of Treasury) and Donald Evans (Secretary of Commerce) have been in close communication with Enron officials during the time when the company was beginning to fail and since the collapse became public knowledge. We have been assured, of course, by the Bush White House that none of these issues were discussed by anyone during these meetings and conversations. Dick Chaney is also up to his in this affair, since his energy plan was largely written by Enron's CEO. We have yet to hear when Chaney was last, or most recently, in contact with officials at Enron.
Bush has explained all this away, so far at least, by insisting that Ann Richards, the former governor of Texas and the person he defeated when he assumed that office, is to blame for everything. How so? Kenneth Lay, the CEO in question at Enron, supported her against Bush in 1994. She then appointed him to the Governor's Business Council. Bush said he left Lay in place, to preserve continuity, after he became governor. This was prior to Enron's rise to become the largest energy trading corporation in the world and before Lay became its CEO, if I understand the time-line correctly. Hence, according to Bush's argument, he never would have met Kenneth Lay, become his close friend, and gotten $650,000 of contributions from him, if Ann Richards had not appointed him to the Governor's Business Council. In George W. Bush's mind, apparently, this makes Ann Richards responsible for the collapse of Enron. At the same time, in some kind of retrospective incrimination, she is also guilty of any impropriety that has occurred since 1994 (Bush as governor of Texas), since 2000 (Bush as President of the US), in the Bush administration's dealings with officials at Enron, whatever those dealings might have been.
Going back a few years in order to create a context for any of this: Bill Clinton was impeached by the US House of Representatives because Paula Jones claimed he had made unwanted sexual advances to her in a hotel in Little Rock, Arkansas, during his campaign to become President. There were also allegations that Hilary Clinton's law firm (Rose) was guilty of over-billing its clients while she worked there, even if there was no evidence to suggest that she had done so herself. The Clintons were demonized by Republicans for eight years for things like lying to Congress about unsubstantiated charges that they might have done terrible things to Paula Jones and clients of an Arkansas law firm, respectively. Even if George W. Bush is completely innocent of anything that went on at Enron, if his administration is found to be completely blameless, the Clintons never benefited by $650,000 from the actions of their closest friends and advisors as those people were destroying the lives and futures of 22,000 innocent victims of the worst corporate act of terrorism in US history. To believe that Enron employees and their families have not been terrorized by the collapse of their economic security, which Bush has vowed to address, probably by offering them a few extra months of unemployment benefits, which policy he opposes for victims of September 11th, is to ignore the fact that al Qaeda took down far fewer Americans than Kenneth Lay and his fellow co-conspirators managed to get at Enron. Bush needs to bring his war against terrorism home. He needs to "smoke out" the people in Houston and Washington who are responsible for the collapse of Enron. The problem with that strategy, however, is that he, Dick Chaney, and John Ashcroft are all too likely to be the first ones who cough.