WASHINGTON – Attorney General Alberto Gonzales (search) has recused himself from the Enron criminal trials, FOX News confirmed Friday.
Justice Department officials would not explain why Gonzales made that decision. The move means he will not have any role in shaping the prosecutions related to the Enron collapse. Former Attorney General John Ashcroft (search) had also recused himself from the Enron investigation (search).
In Ashcroft's situation, the Justice Department in January 2002 said he was advised to step away from the investigation because of contributions he received from the company's executives during his campaign for the Senate.
According to the Center for Public Integrity, Ashcroft received nearly $61,000 from Enron executives and the company's political action committee, including $25,000 from former Enron Chairman Ken Lay (search).
In a statement, the department said Ashcroft and his chief of staff, David Ayres, recused themselves "in all matters arising out of allegations of misconduct by Enron Corporation due to the totality of the circumstances of the relationship between Enron and the attorney general."
Gonzales did legal work for Enron in the 1990s when he was working at the law firm Vinson & Elkins. According to some news reports, when he was a Texas judge, Gonzales accepted a campaign contribution from an Enron political committee.
The New York Daily News reported that when Gonzales was an elected member of the Texas Supreme Court, Enron and its law firm gave him $35,450 in 2000. Overall, Gonzales raked in $100,000 from the energy industry.
Lay and former Enron CEO Jeffrey Skilling (search) go on trial next year for their alleged roles in the huge financial scandal that decimated the energy trading giant. The trial is set to start Jan. 17, 2006 — more than four years after Enron collapsed into bankruptcy on Dec. 2, 2001.
Skilling and former Chief Accounting Officer Richard Causey (search) each face dozens of counts of insider trading, fraud and lying on Enron financial statements. Lay, a friend of President Bush, is charged with a handful of fraud counts relating to the company's final months, when he stepped back into the CEO spot after Skilling's sudden resignation.
Lay faces a separate trial on charges he lied to banks regarding the misuse of personal loans. Lay, Skilling and Causey have pleaded not guilty to the charges pending against them.
FOX News' Anna Persky and The Associated Press contributed to this report.