Senate Democrats Give Bush Nominees 'Enron Test'

Senate Democrats reviewing President Bush's nominations for federal prosecutors are asking some nominees to disclose whether they have any connections to bankrupt Enron Corp. or its former accounting firm, Arthur Andersen.

The decision to pose the questions was made by Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Republicans on the committee did not say anything about the policy when Leahy announced it at a hearing in late March.

Enron and Andersen have been the focus of federal scrutiny and prosecution since the Houston-based energy company declared bankruptcy last year, costing thousands of workers their jobs and their retirement savings, which were heavily invested in Enron stock.

Andersen has been accused of destroying "tons of paper" at offices across the globe and deleting enormous numbers of computer files on its audits of Enron.

So far, only three U.S. attorney nominees from Texas have faced written questions about Enron from Leahy.

Nominees Matthew Orwig and Jane Boyle both wrote the Leahy's committee this week saying they have no connection to Enron or Andersen.

"I foresee nothing that would cause me to recuse myself as United States attorney from involvement in the investigations arising from the collapse of Enron," said Boyle, who would represent Texas' northern district. Added Orwig, picked for the eastern district: "I am not aware of any information regarding this matter that would preclude my participation in the Enron-related investigation or enforcement activities."

A third nominee, interim U.S. Attorney Michael Shelby, has a brother-in-law who has been an attorney for Enron North America for the past seven years. Shelby, who works in the Houston area, said he reluctantly disqualified himself from the Enron investigation this year because of conflict appearance problem. His brother-in-law both worked for Enron and lost more than $400,000 in the collapse.

"I believe Enron may be the most significant white collar investigation undertaken by the federal government in my professional lifetime," he wrote Leahy, adding his decision was "professionally disappointing."

Other future federal nominees from Texas, such as federal judges, might also face similar questioning since they probably would have the closest connection to the companies being investigated, officials said.

At least one other Bush nominee is certain to be questioned about her Enron connections. Political contributions from Enron will result in question for Texas Supreme Court Justice Priscilla Owen, who has been nominated for the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans.

Owen, a Republican, was the author of an unanimous Texas Supreme Court opinion in 1996 that settled a tax issue in Enron's favor. That decision spared Enron $225,000 in taxes. It came two years after Owen accepted $8,600 in Enron contributions, according to Texans for Public Justice.

Leahy has said that the donation will come up in Owen's confirmation hearing.

Messages left Thursday with committee Republicans were not immediately returned.