WASHINGTON – The Governmental Affairs Committee Wednesday agreed to issue subpoenas to the White House, after eight weeks of unsuccessfully seeking assurances that the White House would search for and turn over information requested as part of the Committee?s Enron investigation.
The vote was 9-8, along party lines, in favor of the subpoenas.
?This Committee has not singled out the White House,? Chairman Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., said. ?The White House has singled itself out by making clear to us its refusal to comply with an investigation about a scandalous collapse of a company that hurt thousands of innocent people.?
The Committee also sent to the floor legislation authored by Lieberman and Senator Specter, R-Pa., and Graham, D-Fla., to reorganize the government?s homeland defense operations. The National Homeland Security and Combating Terrorism Act of 2002 was approved by a 9-7 vote. The bill would establish a Department of Homeland Security, composed of the Customs Service, the Border Patrol, the Coast Guard, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The Secretary would be a cabinet member, confirmed by the Senate, and possessed of full budget authority. The legislation also would establish a White House office of Combating Terrorism to coordinate a national anti-terrorism strategy government-wide.
Companion legislation has been introduced in the House by Reps. Mac Thornberrry, R-Texas., Jane Harman, D-Calif., and others.
The Committee also approved a measure to give Inspectors General law enforcement powers, several nominations, and several post-office naming bills.
The subpoenas came after eight weeks of discussions with the White House that included meetings and exchanges of correspondence, dating back to March 27. The White House waited until April 29 – over a month after the Committee made its request – to take any concrete steps to find responsive information.
In a letter as late as May 21, the White House declined to commit either to search for, or to turn over information critical to the Committee?s investigation, for example, communications between the President and Vice President and Enron officials; communications between former White House employees and Enron officials. The White House also declined to abandon its objections to providing the Committee with information pertaining to Presidential appointments and the National Energy Policy.
?I did not plan this day,? Lieberman said. ?We?re simply asking for conversations the President and Vice President and others inside the White House had with Enron officials and their representatives, or conversations they had with other federal agencies about Enron. There is nothing particularly intrusive here. It is not difficult stuff. We?ve told them over and over that they have the right to assert claims of executive privilege. I just think they don?t want to cooperate. This White House doesn?t like to share information. It is trying to set a precedent of broad secrecy with information the public has a right to know.?
Attached is a time line of the Committee?s Enron investigation
Governmental Affairs Committee Enron Investigation Timeline
January 2 Investigation announced into whether the various federal agencies charged with overseeing or regulating Enron?s business could have done something to detect or prevent the problems associated with the company or its downfall.
January 24 First hearing: ?The Fall of Enron: How Could It have Happened??
February 5 Second hearing: ?Retirement Insecurity: The 401(k) Crisis at Enron.?
February 15 Committee sends letters to four agencies responsible for regulating or overseeing aspects of Enron?s business seeking contacts, communications, investigations, complaints, etc. regarding Enron and/or Andersen (SEC, CFTC, FERC, Department of Labor). Committee also subpoenas Enron for its communications with CFTC, FERC, SEC and Department of Labor and Andersen for its communications regarding Enron with any federal agency. The letters and subpoenas seek information back to 1992.
February 27 Third hearing: ?The Watchdogs Didn?t Bark: Enron and the Wall Street Analysts.?
March 20 Fourth hearing: ?Rating the Raters: Enron and the Credit Rating Agencies.?
March 25 Committee subpoenas Enron directors
March 27 Committee sends letters to the White House and the U.S. Archivist (on behalf of the first Bush Administration and the Clinton Administration). The Committee requests of the White House information about:
1. Communications between Executive Office of the President (EOP) and Enron regarding eight agencies charged with regulating or overseeing parts of Enron?s business (SEC, FERC, CFTC, Labor, Energy, Commerce, OPIC, Exc-Im), and any appointments to those agencies.
2. Communications between EOP and any federal agency regarding those eight agencies and their oversight of Enron, and any appointments to those agencies.
3. Communications between Enron and the EOP or any member of the National Energy Task Force regarding National Energy Policy.
Committee requests of the Archivist documents (not just information) regarding these topics from the previous two adminsitrations.
April 11 Meeting between Committee staff and White House Counsel staff to discuss request. Committee anticipates next communication from White House would be proposed time frame for providing Committee with information.
April 19 White House Counsel Gonzales writes Chairman Lieberman, reiterating objections expressed by staff at April 11 meeting: argues that request is overbroad, seeks information removed from the Committee?s inquiry, and intruded on Executive Branch prerogatives. Judge Gonzales offered information already provided to the House and indicated he would take unspecified ?appropriate steps? to gather unspecified information to provide to the Committee at an unspecified time.
April 24 Chairman Lieberman writes White House Counsel expressing disappointment that the process has not moved farther along. He says his request is not overbroad and is relevant to Committee?s inquiry.
April 29 White House Counsel writes to Chairman Lieberman and announces first concrete step to collect information in response to Committee request: three-question, yes/no survey to be distributed among senior EOP personnel. White House Counsel continues to object to providing information relating to the National Energy policy and the appointments process. Survey does not ask about National Energy Policy contacts, among other things.
May 3 Chairman Lieberman writes White House Counsel expressing inadequacy of White House response: Survey appears designed to slow the process down, survey distribution list is too small, survey does not cover WAVE records, email, etc., survey does not cover former staff. Lieberman remarks on absence of White House attempt to search for National Energy Policy information, as well as contacts with other federal agencies.
May 6 White House Counsel seeks meeting with Chairman Lieberman.
May 7 White House Counsel writes to Chairman Lieberman and agrees to search WAVES and e-mail but says the President and Vice President have already described their relevant communications. White House Counsel says former employees will not be surveyed and says he wants to discuss Committee?s interest in National Energy Policy.
May 8 Chairman Lieberman and Gonzales meet. They discuss the issues, but reach no resolution. Chairman Lieberman expects to hear back from White House Counsel early the next week with further decisions about how to respond to Committee request.
May 14 White House Counsel?s office informs Committee staff it will add two additional questions to its survey. The first concerns communications regarding National Energy Policy and other policy issues. The second concerns communications between EOP and other federal agencies.
May 16 White House Counsel writes Chairman Lieberman reiterating steps his office has taken, attaches a transcript of a presidential press conference during which the President discusses whether he communicated with Ken Lay or other Enron officials in the six weeks preceding Dec. 28, 2001. The Counsel did not address whether the White House would reconsider its position and provide the information requested on all the issues, including National Energy Policy information, communications of the President, Vice President, former employees or the universe of EOP employees.
Chairman Lieberman responds to White House Counsel the same day. He
notes that more than seven weeks had passed since his request and the White House has provided no information, nor has it assured the Committee responsive information would be forthcoming. Lieberman expressed dismay that several outstanding issues were still not addressed such as the communications of the President, the Vice President, former employees, National Energy Policy. Chairman Lieberman informed Judge Gonzales that he would ask for the Committee to approve a subpoena unless the White House provided assurances that 1. EOP would search for all the information the Committee asked for and 2. EOP would provide the Committee with all responsive information unless it claimed it was privileged.
May 17 White House Counsel?s office contacted Committee staff and agrees to survey all EOP employees if the subpoena threat is withdrawn. The Counsel?s office made no assurances about other outstanding items, e.g. determining whether President, Vice President, or former employees had responsive communications with Enron.
Chairman Lieberman concluded he would not get all the information he requested and decided to proceed with the subpoena request.
May 21 White House Counsel writes to Chairman Lieberman saying the subpoena request is ?precipitous.? Chairman Lieberman calls White House Counsel to inform him of his decision to proceed with subpoena requests.
May 22 Governmental Affairs Committee voted 9-8 to subpoena the White House.
Statement of Senator Joe Lieberman
EOP Subpoena – Opening Statement
The Committee will now consider whether to authorize issuing subpoenas to the Executive Office of the President and the Office of the Vice President in connection with the Committee?s Enron investigation. As the Members of the Committee know, the Committee has, since January, been engaged in a multi-faceted investigation into the collapse of Enron. There are legal questions but it?s important to remember that this is the largest business failure in American history. Thousands lost their jobs and retirement security, the economy lost billions, and we now have reason to believe that electricity customers in western states paid billions of dollars in rates that they should not have.
Enron?s collapse has raised many questions, but the most pertinent to this Committee is whether the various federal agencies charged with overseeing or regulating Enron?s business could have done something to detect or prevent the problems associated with the company or resulting from its downfall.
Our committee has been looking into what the federal government did ? or did not do ? in overseeing and regulating Enron?s activities. We?ve issued subpoenas to Enron, its Members of its Board of Directors and its auditor Arthur Andersen, seeking documents related to each of those entities? interactions with the relevant federal agencies. We also have sent interrogatories ? letters asking the relevant federal agencies for information about their interactions with Enron.
We also sent interrogatories to the current White House and, on behalf of the past two Administrations, document requests to the Archivist of the United States, seeking information about White House interactions with Enron and with other federal agencies about Enron. As the lead formulator and coordinator of federal policy, the White House is, naturally, often involved in many aspects of federal agencies? activities. Any effort to fully understand how the government interacted with Enron, what the federal government did or did not do to detect or prevent problems and how Enron sought to influence the government and the regulatory world necessarily must include an examination of White House involvement in the issues governed by the relevant agencies that are the subject of the Committee?s investigation.
The bulk of our subpoenas and information requests sought information dating back to 1992. This point should not be ignored by those who may be tempted to suggest that the Committee?s investigation is in any way a partisan one. While our subpoenas and information requests cover approximately one year of the current Bush Administration, they seek information relating to all eight years of the Clinton Administration and the final year of the first Bush Administration.
The committee?s first letters ? to what we consider to be the core Enron regulatory agencies of the SEC, FERC, CFTC and Department of Labor ? went out in February. Each of those agencies were asked to canvass their files for information dating back to 1992, each of those agencies produced comprehensive responses to the Committee?s information requests within three to four weeks. Each agency also has cooperated with follow-up requests for information and documents.
We then sent out letters to several other agencies, including to Members of the so-called inter-agency Energy Task Force. Although in some cases, we had to push to get responses, those letters also yielded responses, and the agencies that have not yet fully responded have indicated an intent to do so. In short, the Committee has received either responses to its requests ? or a commitment of a direct and comprehensive response ? from all of the federal agencies from which it has sought information.
All, that is, except for the White House. On March 27 ? almost two months ago ? we asked this White House for less information than we sought from these other agencies and we asked about events dating back only to January 2001, not to 1992. Nevertheless the White House has given us just about nothing in response to our request. In fact, all they have sent us was a few pages of largely irrelevant material they prepared in response to earlier congressional inquiries along with a transcript of a Presidential press conference ? material that was completely inadequate to answer the reasonable and relevant questions we asked.
I want to emphasize how reasonable our request to the White House was. We asked only that they identify all Enron-White House contacts regarding eight relevant agencies or the National Energy Policy and all contacts related to Enron on those topics between the White House and other federal agencies. With respect to each contact, we asked only that they tell us who was involved in the contact, when it occurred and what it was about. That?s it. Again, this was but a fraction of what we asked other agencies for, and many ? like the CFTC, the Labor Department, FERC and the SEC ? were able to comply within a matter of weeks. The committee?s investigative staff planned to review that information and then request whatever documents were relevant and responsive to our investigation
But with the White House, we?ve worked unsuccessfully for two months to get them to cooperate voluntarily. At least four rounds of letters back and forth between the Committee and the White House occurred. The White House Counsel wrote me arguing that our request was overbroad, ill-defined and out of keeping with Congressional tradition. He told me that the White House would provide the Committee with some information, but would say neither when we?d get it, nor whether that information would be what the Committee had asked for.
After I wrote the White House Counsel, telling him that his response was not acceptable and seeking specific assurances of the White House?s willingness to comply voluntarily, Judge Gonzales wrote me on April 29, reporting that on that date ? more than a month after the Committee?s initial request ? they were taking their first concrete steps to gather responsive information and that they would try to get us some results from those efforts by mid-June. All the White House proposed to do was issue a 3-question survey to selected EOP personnel that neither asked for all the information we sought nor sought information from everyone who might have it. That response was both inadequate and untimely.
Once again, we went back and explained why these fraction-measures ? to call them half-measures would be too generous ? were unresponsive to our reasonable requests. Again, they came back and offered to do just a little tiny bit more. This back-and-forth has continued, frustrating the committee and exhausting our patience. I needn?t go into each exchange this morning. Suffice it to say that each time we returned to the White House detailing a number of things missing from their efforts, they returned offering to make one or two additions to their search, but still refused either to search fully for all responsive information or commit to the Committee that they would provide us with whatever they found, although we repeatedly told them we understood and respected their right to claim that some information they uncovered was privileged.
To this day, for example, the White House is declining to determine for the Committee the scope or extent of the President?s and Vice President?s contacts with Enron either about the regulatory and appointment issues covered in our request or about the National Energy Policy. To this day, the White House is declining to determine whether former employees, which is not a large number at this point, had contacts with Enron ? something they easily could determine by checking with those employees? assistants, or reviewing their calendars, or schedules or files. This refusal is not without consequence to the Committee as ? and the White House knows this ? since the executive director of the Energy Task Force, someone likely to have had communications the Committee asked about, no longer works for the White House. And to this day, the White House refuses to tell us whether it will give us information related to the National Energy Policy Taskforce, or to the appointments it has made to the regulatory agencies that have responsibility for overseeing Enron?s activities ? and protecting the public from the kind of harm that Enron?s activities and collapse have caused.
In sum, after more than seven weeks of trying to obtain information from the White House voluntarily, I finally concluded that, as Senator Thompson once said, we were being slow-walked at least, and stonewalled at worst. I therefore informed the White House Counsel last Thursday that I would ask the Committee to issue a subpoena unless I received assurances, first, that the White House will conduct a real search for all the information we asked for ? not just information they decide is relevant to the Committee?s inquiry ? and second, that the White House would give us that information unless it wished to discuss a particularized claim of privilege over specific pieces of information. I have received neither assurance.
In light of that, I believe the Committee has no choice but to subpoena the requested material. No White House can be immune from Congressional oversight. We are the people?s representatives here and their watchdogs. The system failed to protect them from the grievous harm caused by Enron?s scandalous collapse and we need to know why. And we cannot know what could have been done without the answers to the questions we have asked the White House ? questions that are investigatory not accusatory. We have sought very modest information that is highly relevant to our inquiry. We have done so in a way that is far less intrusive than the efforts made with respect to previous Administrations by this and other Committees. And we have tried patiently for two months to work cooperatively with the White House. We can wait no longer. I therefore the Members of the Committee to authorize the subpoenas.
Let me just make clear that the Committee will be voting on two subpoenas, one to the Executive Office of the President and one to the Office of the Vice President. Each asks for the same material ? and together they track the Committee?s March 27 information request — but we must issue both because the White House has informed us that different custodians of records have control over the EOP versus the OVP documents.