[FOR AN UPDATE ON THIS STORY SCROLL TO THE BOTTOM]
Is the Enron scandal over?
It doesn’t dominate the Sunday talk shows. It doesn’t overwhelm White House press briefings. There is news about indictments of the accountants and continuing coverage of which Enron exec knew what when. But the political dimension of the scandal has slipped from view–though that could be changing.
Capitol Hill investigations so far have focused on the business shenanigans of Enron, not the firm’s wide-ranging attempts to obtain political influence in the Bush II and Clinton administrations. Republicans who have repeatedly proclaimed Enron is not a “political scandal” have been winning the battle of late. But a new skirmish on this front is about to break out. As The Hill newspaper has reported, Senator Joseph Lieberman, who chairs the Senate governmental affairs committee, has been preparing to subpoena Enron officials for information regarding their dealings with Bush and Clinton administrations. The subpoenas would cover communications between the firm and government officials dating back to 1992.
Republicans are resisting, and Senator Fred Thompson, the ranking GOPer on the committee, reportedly wants to keep current Bush officials out of the scope of the subpoenas. Thompson, according to The Hill, also is reluctant to back subpoenaing Wendy Gramm, the wife of Republican Senator Phil Gramm. In 1993, Wendy Gramm was chief of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission and she helped set a policy that exempted financial instruments traded by Enron from federal regulation; six weeks afterward, she quit the CFTC and became an Enron director.
The fight over the subpoenas to date has been a quiet affair, but it could spill over to talk-show and finger-pointing circles–and could juice up the Enron scandal. Imagine Bush being asked if he has any objection to Congress issuing subpoenas to examine the contacts between Enron and his administration. A tussle over subpoenas would certainly be welcomed by Democratic activists desperately yearning for ways to make Enron stick to Bush.
It’s no secret many Democrats are worried they have little ammunition to hurl at the high-in-the-polls president–especially as the 2002 congressional elections approach and the commander-in-chief takes to the road to help out GOP candidates. When the Enron scandal broke, some Dems regarded it as a magic-bullet that could be aimed at W (metaphorically, of course). In January, Clinton-bud James Carville and consultants Bob Shrum and Stanley Greenberg disseminated a memo that proclaimed, “Enron has the potential to shape the entire political environment for 2002, impact other issues and reduce confidence in the Bush administration and the Republicans.” The “entire political environment”? What were they thinking? Did they forget about the war? Moreover, considering that many Democrats, including Lieberman, have sopped up their own share of Enron money (less so than GOPers, but still in significant amounts) and that Democrats have too often happily allied themselves with screw-the-consumer-or-investor-or-worker corporations on various issues (telecom reform, accounting rules, securities law, bankruptcy reform), the party does not have the moral standing to take a clean shot at the Enron-GOP connection, whatever it may be.