White House, Federal Agencies Prepare to Comply With Justice Order

The White House and the Commerce, Energy and Treasury departments indicated Saturday that it should not be difficult to find and retain the material wanted by the Justice Department relating to Enron Corp.

The federal agencies were instructed Friday to save all documents relating to the defunct energy trading company's financial status. The order does not ask for the information to be turned over, just that the papers be preserved should investigators seek them later.

All documents, including e-mails, letters, computer records and notes dating to Jan. 1, 1999 are sought by the Justice Department — spanning back two years before President Bush was sworn into office.

The White House said it would comply with the instructions.

Enron became the biggest corporate bankruptcy case in U.S. history on Dec. 2, costing thousands of workers their jobs and their retirement savings, which were markedly invested in the Houston-based company's stock.

A criminal investigation of Enron and its longtime auditor, Arthur Anderson is being conducted by the Justice Department.

The Securities and Exchange Commission also is investigating, as are various congressional committees.

Bush is a longtime friend of former Enron Chairman Kenneth Lay, and has sought to distance himself from the growing financial scandal surrounding the company's stunning collapse.

Lay is to make his first public remarks about Enron's meltdown when he appears Monday before the Senate Commerce Committee.

Commerce and Treasury department spokesmen indicated the order would be handled the same as other requests for information.

"There are mechanisms to search through documents," said Treasury's Rob Nichols. "There's a process or protocol in place to do that."

He noted that Treasury and other public agencies are routinely asked to provide information in various ways, such as under the Freedom of Information Act and from members of Congress or their committees.

"I assume the attorneys will take the proper and appropriate steps in this case," Nichols said.

At Commerce, spokesman Jim Dyke said the department's attorney on Monday will "issue new instructions to comply specifically with" the Justice Department request.

Dyke said that some of the department's Enron documents had already been collected in response to various FOIA requests.

An Energy Department spokesman did not return a message left Saturday on his cellular telephone.

A new poll released Saturday found that 60 percent of Americans supported Congress' right to know what happened in the energy policy meetings between Enron executives and Vice President Dick Cheney's energy task force.

The Newsweek poll said 30 percent supported Bush's stated desire to maintain the privacy of such meetings.

The survey of 1,008 adults was conducted Thursday and Friday and had an error margin of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Bush has refused to name the business executives who met last year with him, Cheney and his aides as the administration was drafting a national energy policy. Bush says identifying them would hinder his ability to seek advice outside of the government.

The White House recently said Enron representatives met six times on energy issues last year with Cheney or his aides.

The General Accounting Office, the investigative branch of Congress, plans to sue in the next few weeks to get the information.

A slim majority in the magazine's poll, 52 percent, said it is important for Bush to say more than he has so far about Enron and its connection to his administration. Forty percent said that was not important.

In a related development Saturday, the GAO applauded a federal judge's order for Cheney's energy task force to explain why giving information about its meetings to a watchdog group would violate the Constitution.

In a statement, GAO said the order Thursday "serves to demonstrate that the White House's constitutional argument is not as clear-cut as they claim."

The watchdog group Judicial Watch filed suit against the task force in July, seeking records on who attended meetings and when.

U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan set a Tuesday deadline for the task force to file its response.

 The Associated Press contributed to this report.