not hard to imagine a scene like this, late last week in the office
of California Democratic Rep. Henry Waxman:
out Lay called O'Neill and Evans in late October when Enron was
going down," a staffer says. "Then Whalley called Fisher
a bunch of times, clearly wanting help. We've got a statement ready
to go hitting the White House for granting special favors to a big
campaign contributor. We'll quote the congressman saying it's 'deeply
but the problem is, it looks like nobody did anything," another
staffer says. "Treasury and Commerce didn't make the calls
Enron wanted them to."
do we do?" asks the first staffer. "You want to hold the
this," says Waxman. "We issue a statement denouncing them
for standing by and doing nothing. As a matter of fact, that's
deeply troubling, too, don't you think?"
say the staffers.
To many Republicans
and Democrats, Henry Waxman's strategy of blaming the Bush administration
if it intervened on Enron's behalf and blaming the administration
if it didn't intervene might seem audacious. But so far,
it's getting lots of press. A search of the Nexis database finds
232 news stories in the last week that mention Waxman and Enron
compared to 94 stories that mention Senate Governmental Affairs
committee chairman Joseph Lieberman, and 61 that mention Sen. Carl
Levin, chairman of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations.
thing about those numbers is that Lieberman and Levin, Democrats
in the Democratically controlled Senate, actually have the power
to investigate Enron and the Bush administration. Over the weekend,
in fact, Levin sent 51 subpoenas to Enron and the accounting firm
Arthur Andersen. On the other hand, Waxman, a Democrat in the Republican-controlled
House, has no power at all. As the ranking minority member, he can't
begin a committee investigation and can't issue a single subpoena.
Instead, Waxman has simply written a series of letters to major
players in the story, demanding information. At the same time, he
has given the letters to the press and posted them on his website
and, in no time at all, Waxman's words began showing up in
Why is he receiving
so much attention? First, says one GOP congressional source, "he's
willing to make the allegations that others aren't." Given
the lack of evidence suggesting any Bush White House special treatment
of Enron, other members of Congress, in more responsible positions,
have not been willing to climb out onto a limb and allege wrongdoing.
Secondly, say Republicans, Waxman has always enjoyed good relations
with a number of important media figures. "He has a lot of
friends, and I mean personal friends, in television, in Hollywood,
and on the editorial boards of some of the major papers," says
the GOP source. "He's able to reach out in a way that other
members of Congress, Democrat or Republican, are not."
of Waxman's influence is that he has been able to command attention
in the Enron story without attracting scrutiny of his actions in
the recent past, when he actively blocked investigations of the
Clinton campaign finance scandal. "He spent eight years saying
Republicans were on a partisan witch hunt when there were serious
allegations of wrongdoing on the part of government officials, when
you had the Justice Department conducting the largest investigation
in its history prior to September 11, when you had special counsels
being urged by the FBI director and by two of the prosecutors who
were appointed to head the campaign finance task force," says
the GOP source. "Yet to this day Henry Waxman will say it was
all a figment of [committee chairman] Dan Burton's imagination."
rankling to Republicans was Waxman's behavior in the matter of Johnny
Chung, the White House booster who was later found to have funneled
money from the Chinese government into Democratic campaign coffers.
According to Chung, when Burton was working to have Chung testify
before the committee, Waxman's staff actually sent Chung a package
of materials that included information on how to plead the Fifth
Amendment to avoid testifying. "My attorney's office received
the package," Chung told Fox News in August 1999. "It
say how you can plea how you can take a Fifth in the United
States Congress." When asked who sent him the package, Chung
answered, "Government Reform Committee, Democrat side."
(Waxman's aides denied the allegation.)
Now Henry Waxman
is taking a leading role in demanding information from administration
officials about Enron. His statements stand in marked contrast to
those of some of the Democrats who have the real authority to investigate
the matter. For example, on ABC Sunday, Carl Levin said repeatedly
that his investigation is targeting not the White House but Enron,
where there appears to be significant evidence of massive fraud.
"What we're focusing on...are the deceptive practices of Enron,
and the failure of the auditors, Arthur Andersen, to try to block
those deceptive practices," Levin said. When pressed to tie
it all to the Bush White House, Levin said, "But it's the actions
of Enron, the improprieties, the false statements....That is the
major concern of my subcommittee."
In public at
least, Levin was judicious, balanced, and determined to get to the
bottom of the Enron story. Perhaps soon the press will pay more
attention to him than to Henry Waxman.