IT’S EASY TO SEE why Rep. Henry Waxman (D., CA.) would find the Enron story so "deeply troubling."
After all, the Bush campaign had received extensive contributions from Enron and its officialsall in strict compliance with federal campaign-finance laws. Then, as if to compound the outrage, when Enron executives called up Bush Administration officials and asked for special treatment, they didn’t get any.
No doubt, if this were a Democratic Administration, things would have been handled much differently.
Poor Waxman, pitiful little partisan that he is. Having spent eight years in a state of perpetual denial over all scandals Clinton and Gore, he has suddenly acquired a zeal for White House ethics.
Welcome aboard the integrity bandwagon, Congressman.
The bandwagon is filling up rather quickly, as many a Democrat, leftist, and establishment media outlet (pardon the redundancies) have bought into Waxman’s theories that a vast, right-wing conspiracy is ultimately at fault for Enron, its excesses, its abuses, and its collapse.
It’s a convoluted theory, but here’s how it goes: While Enron’s executives were apparently cooking the books and its accountants at Arthur Andersen were shredding them, Bush Administration officials were covertly steering White House energy policy to ensure that Enron would make big, big bucks. It was a simple quid-pro-quo, with the Bushies returning access and regulatory favors in exchange for some $74,200 that Enron and its executives poured into their campaign coffers.
The strategy was such a whopping success that in a year, the company’s stock price plummeted from $83 to 68 cents a share. During that time, Enron went from the country’s seventh-largest corporation, with a total value of $40 billion, to its single largest bankruptcy filing ever.
When Enron’s ship began sinking, its mucky-mucks tapped into their extensive Bush contacts yet again. Company officials, including Chairman Ken Lay, called up Bush Treasury and Commerce secretaries Paul O’Neill and Donald Evans, ostensibly seeking help with their credit rating, and perhaps hoping for some sort of government bailout. The response? A polite, "Thank you for the call," followed up with no action whatsoever.
That, according to Waxman, is the smoking gun. The Administration "apparently did nothing to mitigate the harm … to thousands of (Enron) employees and shareholders," he complains.
Of course, had the Administration "done something," which is to say, had it pulled strings on Enron’s behalf, either on Wall Street or in Congress, that would have been a bona-fide campaign-finance scandal, precisely the sort of mischief Waxman was no doubt hoping to find when he started poring over Enron records and memos.
While Waxman might be a scandal-mongering partisan, his character defects only implicate himself. They don’t acquit the Administration. That’s the job of the evidence, none of which so far suggests any wrongdoing on the White House’s part, no matter what Waxman says or how many television networks repeat it.
But it’s understandable why Democrats would be so desperate to tarnish Republicans with tenuous allegations of scandal. For starters, there’s Democratic aspirations for regaining full control of Congress in 2002, which are frustrated by Bush’s historic popularity. Then there’s their need to justify the persistent but unsubstantiated refrain from the Clinton years: Everybody does it.
The problem is, not everybody does it. As matters currently stand, the worst that anyone can say about the Bush Administration’s ethics is that it allowed a campaign contributor to weigh in on the creation of its policy. Even that is not necessarily criminal or unethical. It’s hardly on par with, say, collecting illegal, laundered donations from a hostile foreign power, then turning a blind eye as said hostile foreign power proceeded to steal national-security secrets.
In other words, what some Democrats have dubbed "Enrongate" doesn’t, to use a familiar old phrase, "rise to the level" of a scandal.
In fact, so far, the only hints of unethical political (as opposed to corporate) behavior point to Democrats.
It was Clinton Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, now in the employ of Citicorp (which holds some $800 million in worthless Enron loans), who called his old department asking that it do whatever it could to help stabilize Enron’s credit rating.
And while Attorney General John Ashcroft, a beneficiary of Enron’s largess during his failed Senate re-election campaign, has recused himself of all Enron-related investigations, the same can’t be said for Congressional Democrats. Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-CT), who chairs the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, and Rep. John Dingell, senior Democrat on the House Commerce Committee, have both benefited from Enron contributions in the past. While neither is likely to start doing the company’s bidding, both might, in the interest of proving their autonomy, be overly vigorous, and that, too, could compromise the fairness of their investigation.
Yet if Waxman is any indication, Democrats aren’t much interested in a fair investigation anyway. All the integrity-talk is little more than a means to an end. They’ll be off the wagon again in no time.