Army Secretary Thomas White, a former high-ranking Enron, told reporters a few days ago that “if I ever get to the point….where the Enron business represents a major and material distraction…then I wouldn’t stay” at the Pentagon. In Washington, such a statement is often seen as the first step in a graceful exit strategy. Few people, after all, leave office admitting involvement in wrongdoing. They skedaddle because they have become “a distraction.” Perhaps White, who was a key man at one of Enron’s most shenanigan-ridden divisions, is preparing to jump before being pushed–which would assist the Bush gang’s ongoing effort to maintain its distance from the Enron scandal.
Speculation about White’s fate aside, what was most interesting about his hourlong session with reporters at the Pentagon–his first extensive comments on the Enron scandal–was that the most damning information about White and Enron went unaddressed. White’s remarks focused on his failure to disclose he had held on to Enron stock options after he was required to sell them off and on his trip to Aspen, a stop taken while traveling on military business so he could sign papers related to the sale of his $6.5 million house there. White has drawn the wrath of Democratic Senator Carl Levin and Republican Senator John Warner for not revealing the full extent of his Enron holdings. He has also been criticized for not forthrightly acknowledging all the contacts he and his wife had with his former Enron colleagues after he took office in May, which included discussions at the time Enron was collapsing and White was selling off Enron stock.
These matters are fair game. But they don’t hit White where he is most vulnerable: his past at Enron, which White refused to discuss at the press conference. From 1998 to 2001, White was vice-chairman of Enron Energy Services, which sold energy to large enterprises and also traded energy. (In 2001, he made $31 million from Enron.) This division has been accused of overstating its profits by hundreds of millions of dollars through the use of funny-numbers accounting that sometimes involved Enron’s now-infamous secret partnerships. EES was Enron at its most Enronish.
But White’s line has been that he saw nobody fooling around at the orgy. For instance, regarding the secret partnerships, White said, “When I read about it in the newspaper, I was appalled as anyone else.”