BuzzFlash Interviews Congressman Henry Waxman
December 24, 2001
BUZZFLASH INTERVIEWS CONGRESSMAN HENRY "BULLDOG" WAXMAN ON ENRON AND THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION
There are many Democrats who aren't backing down. One of our favorites is Congressman Henry Waxman (29th District, CA). BuzzFlash calls the Los Angeles Congressman "Bull Dog" Waxman.
This year alone, Waxman has pressured Vice President Cheney to reveal who influenced the administration's "energy policy" (although Cheney isn't fessing up yet). He has taken on NBC News in an effort to disclose the facts surrounding allegations that former GE Chairman Jack Welch told the NBC election desk to call the November election for Bush. (GE owns NBC, in case you live on Jupiter and didn't know that.) The pugnacious Bear State legislator has tried to get Karl Rove to disclose more about whether he improperly met in the White House with representatives from companies in which he owned stock. In his spare time, the Congressman has also taken on the tobacco industry and the gun lobby, among other formidable foes.
Waxman is the ranking minority member of the House Government Reform Committee, where he regularly is a tenacious and articulate counter balance to Dan "Why Don't I Have Bill Clinton and Janet Reno to Kick Around Anymore" Burton. For that alone, the "Bull Dog" of the House of Representatives deserves our praise.
When BuzzFlash caught up with Congressman Waxman (in a telephone interview just before the holiday recess) he had just placed an Enron tip line on his website:
What is an Enron tip line? Well, we will let the Congressman explain.
And hey, send the Congressman a fax or letter and tell him how much you appreciate his strong spine and unwavering pursuit of justice -- or give his office a call. (E-mail is not an effective means of communication to most congressional offices, unless it is addressed to a specific staffer.) He's a true patriot -- and an innovative and creative one at that.
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BUZZFLASH: Congressman Waxman, we are a great admirer of your work on BuzzFlash. We call you "Bulldog Waxman."
REP. HENRY WAXMAN: [laughs] Thank you very much.
BUZZFLASH: And we have worked with your staff on covering your investigation of the NBC election-night coverage and a couple of other issues. Today, we're calling specifically to ask you why you have an Enron tipline on your website and what sort of information that you're looking for.
REP. HENRY WAXMAN: We have a tipline on Enron on our website because we're asking people to give us information that they may have as we take on our own investigation of Enron; especially as we investigate Enron, not only for its financial dealings, but also for the larger political connections that this corporation and its leaders have had with the Bush administration. What has happened with Enron is quite breathtaking. This was the seventh-largest corporation in the country. And it collapsed while its executives were able to walk away with hundreds of millions of dollars. Their employees and their investors were left in the rubble.
The fact of the matter is that Enron and Ken Lay, who was the Chief Executive Officer of Enron, had an extraordinary amount of influence and access to the Bush Administration. Lay was called a close friend by both the President and the Vice President. When the Vice President chaired an Energy Task Force, Ken Lay had an opportunity to meet privately with the Vice President and to have a great deal of influence in their recommendations. We know he met one-on-one with Karl Rove. We also know that many people in this administration came right out of Enron and went to the administration. So we are seeking more information as we look at all these times that the Enron corporation had contact with the Bush Administration, how they handled their own financial affairs, how they came to the situation they are in, which I think is an outrage. Their executives had inside information about the fragile condition of this corporation, were able to bail themselves out, but left everybody else in shambles.
BUZZFLASH: You sent a letter on December 4, which is also accessible on your website, to the Vice President of the United States, a four-page letter, asking for more information about Enron and particularly, among other things, their role in the deliberation process by which the Vice President came up with an energy policy for the administration. Have you received an answer from the Vice President?
REP. HENRY WAXMAN: We have not yet received an answer from the Vice President. I'm disappointed that he hasn't responded, yet. I'm even more disappointed that when he did respond to earlier requests to make the information public about how his Energy Task Force operated, he refused to do so. We had asked the General Accounting Office, which is a non-partisan watchdog for the Congress, to do a report about this Energy Task Force. They, by the way, did a similar report on the Clinton Health Task Force in the last administration. And when they sought information from the Clinton Administration, they received everything that there was to receive. The position that the Vice President took when he was requested to furnish information about his Energy Task Force by the General Accounting Office was that he just refused to give it to them. The General Accounting Offices issued what is called a demand letter. And it's quite an extraordinary move on their part. To send it to the Vice President is the first time in their history they've ever sent such a letter to any Vice President. They had stonewalling by the Administration, continued stonewalling by the Administration. And they're contemplating filing a lawsuit to force the Administration to give them this information.
Now I think that the Vice President ought to make public or certainly give to the General Accounting Office everything that went on with the Energy Task Force. With Enron's collapse, it's even more important that we know at least what went on with Enron. Because it may well be that the Enron executives misrepresented their corporation's situation in asking for policy recommendations from the Administration. And that could also be that they told the Administration that they needed certain legislative or executive actions because they were on the brink of bankruptcy. Either way, this is not the kind of thing that ought to be kept secret, kept secret by the Bush Administration. The President has often talked about how he believes in transparency in government. I certainly believe that there is a fundamental principle of accountability. And that they are trying to keep their actions secret and not to be accountable for either the simple routine information about how a task force on energy policy was organized when they met and how they came to their recommendations.
BUZZFLASH: In your letter of December 4, you include references to an article from the Los Angeles Times and other sources about alleged direct influences of Enron upon the resulting energy recommendations. It's my understanding that beyond confirmation of that, the Vice President has not even released to you a list of people he met with as part of this process. Isn't that right?
REP. HENRY WAXMAN: That's my understanding. The Los Angeles Times did an outstanding job of investigative journalism. And they were able to point out how there were all sorts of different ties between people either who are in the Administration or contacting the Administration to advance energy policy on behalf of some of the energy corporations, particularly Enron.
So when the LA Times did its scathing report about what they were able to find out about the Energy Task Force, it certainly came as no surprise and it's hard to imagine there is much more left to hide. But the Bush Administration is trying to hide everything they've done and the information about everyone they met with as they formulated their own thinking on energy policy.
BUZZFLASH: It was in your letter that you include information that Bush Senior Adviser Karl Rove owned over $60,000 worth of Enron stock and reportedly spoke frequently about energy policy with Mr. Lay, and that Mr. Lay and his company, since 1993, donated nearly $2 million to the Bush campaign. Are there any conclusions to be drawn from that or do we still just need to hear from the Vice President about the details of what went on during the deliberation over the energy policy?
REP. HENRY WAXMAN: I think those facts you cite raise very serious concerns, not just about the Energy Task Force, but further, about people in the Administration like Karl Rove who gave Ken Lay, the CEO of Enron, the opportunity to talk to him one-on-one to talk about policy -- and at the same time, that Karl Rove had a large sum of money in Enron stock, which would appear to be a conflict of interest. We asked Karl Rove -- and we asked the White House counsel -- whether Karl Rove had any waiver from the traditional conflict of interest laws that would prevent him from having such a meeting. The White House said he didn't need it, which is in our view contrary to the law.
We asked other information of the White House counsel's office about Karl Rove's apparent conflict of interest -- to determine if he did in fact have a conflict of interest -- and they stonewalled us on that information as well. It's worth noting in some of the particulars that you get from our letter that there are a significant number of ties between Enron and the Bush Administration. Not only did Karl Rove hold a substantial amount of stock in Enron, but Lawrence Lindsay, the President's chief economic advisor, was an advisor to Enron itself (reportedly receiving $50,000 last year from Enron) -- and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick served on Enron's Advisory Council. Others had stock. The Enron executives had given substantial amounts of contributions to Mr. Bush over the years. There are a lot of ties that raise a lot of concerns about -- with such intimate contacts between Enron and people in the Administration -- how much did they knew about what was going to happen with this corporation, which took us all by surprise when it suddenly collapsed.
[BuzzFlash Note: According to Congressman's Waxman letter to Cheney, "Secretary of the Army Thomas White, a former Enron executive, valued his company stock between $25 million and $50 million earlier this year.]
BUZZFLASH: On the political side, you're the ranking Minority member of the House Committee on Government Reform, led by President Clinton's nemesis, Dan Burton. Is the Republican side cooperating in this effort to let the American people transparently see whatever relationship might exist between Enron and the executive branch?
REP. HENRY WAXMAN: By and large, it's the Republicans who control the House of Representatives who are trying to treat the Enron issue in a very isolated way. There have been hearings about some of the financial aspects of Enron, or how the accountants handled the information. I think they're making hearings on the fact that the Enron employees couldn't dispose of their stock. But I think the Republicans can't avoid the issue. This is a dramatic collapse of such an important corporation. But the Republicans don't want to take on the broader perspective of how Enron has been able to manipulate a lot of the policies this Administration is pursuing because they are the recipients themselves of substantial campaign contributions from Enron.
I think their strategy is to try to take disparate aspects of the Enron story and try to bore people to death with the sliver that they're looking at, and have people think, well, that this is a complicated financial picture and maybe we'll never know what all went on. And it was interesting how the Republican majority leader Dick Armey responded when he was asked about the Enron corporation. Armey, who is also from Texas, responded that Enron is a private corporation, so therefore what happened to Enron is their private business. I don't look at it that way. When people are thrown out of work right before Christmas, when investors find that their investments become worthless and the executives of the company are able to loot hundreds of millions of dollars for themselves, it seems to me that something criminal has probably taken place, and we ought to get to the bottom of it.
BUZZFLASH: Meanwhile, Enron's pension plan went under.
REP. HENRY WAXMAN: That's right. The people who were in the know sold their stock, while the employees who didn't know anything were forced to buy the stock for their pension plans and were prohibited from even selling that stock. So they ended up seeing their investments evaporate right before their eyes.
BUZZFLASH: During the Clinton Administration, the chairman of the Committee on Government Reform, was relentlessly tenacious in calling an investigation any time there was even the merest allegation of alleged impropriety in the Clinton Administration. To us, it seems a little hypocritical at this point that they are sort of sitting back on Enron and any other number of issues that have emerged in the Bush Administration. Do you have any comment on that?
REP. HENRY WAXMAN: Well, there is no question about the hypocrisy of the Republicans. You only have to look at this from the perspective of what would the response be of the Republicans if this were the Clinton Administration? If the Clinton Administration had such close and intimate ties with a corporation, or put it another way, a labor union, in which executives walked away with hundreds of millions of dollars while the union's pensions were dissipated. They would be not only calling for an investigation before they got the facts; they would be calling for impeachment. I have made no accusations because I need to get more facts to find out if there has been wrongdoing by the Bush Administration. And all we are asking for is an honest investigation of the facts. I don't think that we're going to get it from the Republicans. That's why we're doing it on our own.
It's interesting also to note how this administration has handled policy information. They are not only withholding the information about their ties to Enron and Enron's role in the Energy Task Force and how the Energy Task Force operated, but they've lied to the American people about a Social Security surplus. They have been very careful to try to keep the public from getting information that I think, that should rightfully belong in the public domain, that they single-handedly changed the presidential records that should be made available to public and academics. And to try to withhold those records, they've used executive privilege most recently in one of the hearings in the Government Reform Committee, which even prompted Chairman Dan Burton to speak with outrage that we had information being withheld on the pretense -- and I think it was a real reach for them -- of claiming executive privilege.
But those are the policy issues. If you evaluate the constant ways that the Bush Administration has treated certain facts in the time that they have been in office, it's disconcerting. Because if you look back, there was a time when it looked like Vice President Cheney had a heart attack. And they said, "No, he didn't." But it turned out he had. They came into office and immediately claimed there had been vandalism by the Gore people. And that it turned out that there were no facts behind that allegation. It was just a fiction.
In August, the President was faced with a difficult decision on stem-cell research, so he came up with the idea that there were 63 lines. It turned out later that it was all made up. There was no such thing as 63 lines that were available for research. And even on September 11, when the issue was raised where the President might be and he received some criticism for not returning to Washington, Karl Rove issued a statement that there was specific and credible evidence that Air Force One was going to be a target of terrorists. And then it turned out later that the Vice President I think said that just wasn't anything they could verify, that they had no real information about it. So if they're in a tight squeeze, they're willing to make up information that's not real. And when it comes to policy matters, they want to withhold information that is real and ought to be available to Congress, which has the legal responsibility to conduct oversight of the administration on behalf of the public that ought to know how their government is operating.
BUZZFLASH: So instead of the transparent administration that they promise, they're giving us an opaque administration.
REP. HENRY WAXMAN: That's right.
BUZZFLASH: OK, Congressman, thank you so much.
Contact information for Congressman Henry Waxman is available at:
Also visit the House Committee on Government Reform/Minority Office at:
You can read Congressman Waxman's letter to Vice President Cheney at:
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