Congress to Subpoena Feds on Enron

Congress' first subpoena to the Bush White House, for information on staff contacts with Enron Corp. officials, is being prepared by Democrats on a Senate panel.

Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., chairman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, has been seeking the material from President Bush's executive office since late March.

The White House asked Lieberman on Tuesday to withdraw his threat of a subpoena for the information, saying the administration is cooperating and is gathering documents.

The committee was voting Wednesday on whether to authorize a subpoena as part of its investigation of Enron, which filed the biggest corporate bankruptcy in U.S. history last year. The Houston-based company has been among Bush's biggest campaign contributors.

Lieberman, who was Al Gore's running mate in 2000 and is considering a run for president in 2004, had said Friday he would seek a subpoena unless the White House promised to provide all the material requested by the end of the month.

``I respectfully suggest that you reconsider and withdraw the threat of a subpoena until, at a minimum, you can review the information we intend to provide soon to the committee,'' White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales told Lieberman in a letter Tuesday.

Lieberman spokeswoman Leslie Phillips said Gonzales' letter contained no new proposal to resolve the impasse.

``Senator Lieberman will be responding with action Wednesday morning,'' she said.

Sen. Fred Thompson of Tennessee, the senior Republican on the committee, opposes issuing a subpoena, but Democrats have the majority on the panel and are able to prevail in party-line votes.

``I hope that a confrontation is not being provoked where there doesn't need to be one,'' Thompson said in a statement. ``I know that the White House has been attempting to work with the committee, and I hope that the committee is not tempted to pursue a fishing expedition into the personal communications of the president based on nothing more than the hope that it might turn up something.''

The General Accounting Office, Congress' investigative arm, already has sued Vice President Dick Cheney to force release of the names of Enron and other industry figures who met last year with his energy task force.

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

The energy-trading company filed for bankruptcy court protection on Dec. 2. Investors nationwide were burned and thousands of Enron employees were stripped of nearly all their retirement assets as the company's stock plummeted.

The Governmental Affairs Committee has been looking into why federal regulators did not raise warning flags about Enron's questionable business practices and intervene.

Gonzales said Tuesday the panel would be acting ``precipitously,'' and in a manner contrary to how Congress and the executive branch traditionally interact, if it issued a subpoena now.

In response to Lieberman's request, Gonzales on April 29 asked 204 White House staffers to fill out a questionnaire.

On Friday, Gonzales offered to give the questionnaire to all 2,000 or so executive office employees if Lieberman would withdraw his subpoena threat.

``We have yet to hear your response,'' Gonzales wrote.

``We already have taken numerous steps to gather information requested by the committee,'' he said. Gonzales said his staff was gathering and reviewing documents, e-mails and entry records of visitors to the White House, and was interviewing people with relevant information.

``We are preparing to respond soon to assist the committee's inquiry,'' he told Lieberman.