WASHINGTON – Army Secretary Thomas White said Wednesday he would resign if the investigation into the bankruptcy of his former employer, Enron Corp., distracts him too much from his military duties.
"I thought I could do something good for soldiers and their families," White said in an interview with reporters. "That is my focus. If I ever get to a point where that's no longer possible, it doesn't make any sense to stay when somebody else could do a better job."
White said he would resign if the Enron investigation took too much of his time, or if he felt his role in the matter had caused troops to lose confidence in his leadership.
A top Enron executive until he took over as the Army's top civilian official last May, White denied any wrongdoing in his dealings with the company. He said he was as surprised as the rest of the country by the energy trading company's collapse in December, and the subsequent allegations of massive fraud.
White said he has sold all of his interests in Enron, as required by his Army post.
He said he remains part of an annuity fund for Enron retirees. However, that fund has not paid any money since Enron's collapse, and he has joined other retirees in filing a claim in the company's bankruptcy.
"I'm a big boy. I was in it," White said. "I'm not a victim. I'm not a perpetrator either."
He said he is turning over "a bunch" of military and personal documents relating to Enron to the Defense Department, which will supply them to the Justice Department investigation.
It's unclear if those include documents related to White's role, as an Enron executive, in a 1999 deal in which the company won a lucrative contract to run the utilities on a New York state Army base.
White acknowledged frequent contacts with Enron officials during the company's collapse, but said none of those officials provided him any insider information that led to his stock sales.
White reiterated earlier statements that no one at Enron asked him to use his influence to help the company, and he did not do so.
He said virtually all his conversations with former Enron colleagues "would have involved some comment or discussion relating in at least a general way to Enron's financial condition."
White's critics have said they want to know whether his conversations with Enron officials prompted him to finish his stock sales quickly, before Enron's shares hit bottom. Enron's stock hit a low of 26 cents by the end of November, White's deadline to sell.
White made about $12 million from selling his Enron shares, the last of which he sold Oct. 30 at $12.86 a share.
"This is a textbook example of why we have ethics rules," the top Democrat on the House Government Reform panel, Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., said early in March. "Had Secretary White divested his holdings in a timely way, no questions would be raised about his conduct."
White also acknowledged traveling with his wife on an Army aircraft to Colorado at the beginning of March. While there he completed a house sale in Aspen, raising questions as to whether he used a military plane for personal business.
White said he was traveling outside Washington as part of the Bush administration's "continuity of government" plan, which requires some senior leaders to be outside the city in the event of a terrorist attack. He said he also went to Dallas and Seattle on official Army business during the trip, and described Colorado as a convenient weekend stopover in between.
In another Enron development Wednesday, Sen. Joe Lieberman, chairman of the Governmental Affairs Committee, called upon the White House to disclose further contacts with Enron.
In a letter dated March 27, the Connecticut Democrat asked the White House and the U.S. archivist for detailed information about all communications between Enron and eight government agencies involved in energy policy, dating back to 1992.
The agencies include the Departments of Labor, Energy and Commerce and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
"I will not hesitate to ask for anything that helps us to investigate as thoroughly as possible what the federal government might have done to prevent, or at least anticipate, Enron's demise," Lieberman said.