WASHINGTON – White House Counsel Al Gonzales has asked dozens of staff members to complete a questionnaire on communications between the administration and Enron Corp. in the months leading up to the company's collapse.
The White House undertook the survey Monday at the request of Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., chairman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee. But his spokeswoman said the survey was "unacceptable."
Lieberman wrote to White House chief of staff Andrew Card on March 27, "The rapid collapse of what was once ranked as the nation's seventh largest company demands public scrutiny." His committee plans to probe how regulators acted in the days leading up to the implosion of Enron Corp., the largest U.S. bankruptcy ever, and what might have been done to avert it.
He sought information on White House and certain Cabinet agency action regarding Enron dating from just before the end of the first Bush administration in 1992. Lieberman sent similar letters to two Cabinet secretaries and chiefs of agencies dealing with energy and shares trading.
Gonzales' questionnaire fell far short of what Lieberman sought.
Lieberman wanted identities of people who initiated meetings with Enron officials, who was present, the subject matter, dates and a host of other details.
"This is an obvious delaying tactic," Lieberman spokeswoman Leslie Phillips said of the White House action, and "unacceptable" to omit two subjects from the questionnaire: national energy policy and presidential appointments.
"They should at least be searching for the information," she said.
Gonzales' three-page questionnaire instructs staff members — assistants, deputy assistants and special assistants to both the president and vice president — for simple yes or no answers.
A third possible answer is "I'd like to discuss."
"We are not asking for further explanation at this time," Gonzales wrote in the cover page. "Instead, depending on your answers, the Counsel's office may contact you to obtain additional information."
Phillips said using yes-or-no answers is "totally insufficient" and an inefficient way of doing it and the administration is continuing a pattern "of refusing to provide any information to the American public."
Gonzales set a May 10 deadline for returning the completed forms. Lieberman had sought a response from Card by April 12.
Certain individuals from the president's Council of Economic Advisers, Council on Environmental Quality, Office of Management and Budget and U.S. Trade Representative also were sent the survey.
It asks the executive-branch personnel to identify "to the best of your knowledge and recollection" whether they had any official Enron-related communications between Jan. 20, 2001 — the date of Bush's inauguration — and Dec. 2, 2001, when Enron filed for bankruptcy.
The agencies specified in the White House inquiry are the Securities and Exchange Commission, Commodities Futures Trading Commission, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Overseas Private Investment Corp., U.S. Export-Import Bank and the Labor, Commerce and Energy departments.
The White House released the questionnaire Monday night during Bush's trip to Los Angeles.