BuzzFlash Interviews Congressman Henry Waxman
January 31, 2002
BUZZFLASH INTERVIEW WITH CONGRESSMAN HENRY WAXMAN
There are many Democrats who aren't backing down over the Enron scandal. One of our favorites is Congressman Henry Waxman (29th District, CA). Waxman is the ranking minority member of the House Government Reform Committee and he is fighting for the American public's right to know what happened in Enron's secret meetings with Vice President Cheney, and why the Bush administration is afraid of the public knowing what was discussed.
BUZZFLASH: Congressman Waxman, we have just a few questions. The General Accounting Office is apparently filing suit to obtain information in the Vice President's energy panel. What is your reaction? Do you think the suit will be successful?
CONGRESSMAN WAXMAN: I regret the fact that the Vice President feels that the energy task force should operate in secrecy. The General Accounting Office has made a routine request for information. I think they're entitled to it. They've received some information from other administrations that are quite similar. And I regret that now the GAO has to file a lawsuit to find out what special interest groups, what heavy contributors were saying to the energy task force. Who met with the Vice President and what they wanted ought to be public information, as far as I'm concerned.
BUZZFLASH: I believe the President said the other day it was his business and the Vice President's, and they had a right through executive privilege to keep the information private. What is your reaction to the claim of executive privilege in regard to this information?
CONGRESSMAN WAXMAN: I don't think they have a claim for executive privilege. I'm not even sure that, in the lawsuit, they're going to assert executive privilege. If they were talking about discussions they might have had with people in the administration or on their own staff, I think they have a case to make. What the General Accounting Office, which is the nonpartisan watchdog on behalf of Congress, requested was the names of the lobbies, outside parties, special interest groups, campaign contributors, sent to the task force. It seems to be that this is not a matter of executive privilege, but an attempt by the White House to prevent transparency in government and to change the balance of power between the executive and the legislative branches of government. If they can keep information like this secret about a task force that doesn't even involve national security, they will have set a precedent that will allow them to claim they have a task force on any subject in the future, and operate in secrecy from here on out. That means that the Congress can't exercise its oversight responsibilities. The public wouldn't have a right to know according to the Bush administration. And it would mean a greater concentration of power in the hands of the President and the executive branch, which I think is in violation of what the founders of this country expected when they adopted the Constitution. It was supposed to have checks and balances.
BUZZFLASH: A Boston Globe article on January 29th, mentioned that White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer even compared the energy panel's deliberations to the writing of the U.S. Constitution. Do you have any response to comparing the administration's panel on energy with the framers of the American Constitution?
CONGRESSMAN WAXMAN: I think that's a serious overreach to try to make that claim for this energy panel. The task force was set up to get information to help the administration decide on energy policies that they would advance for the country. Their proposals, of course, have already been made, and we can examine those proposals. But we ought to be able to know who came in and argued to try to get input into the policy deliberations. We know, for example, that no other corporation in this country had the kind of access and special treatment by the Bush administration than Enron. They were very well-connected. They were the leading campaign contributors to the Bush campaign not only for president, but his past campaigns for governor. In fact, when you look at the second and third contributors to the Bush administration, you find Arthur Andersen and the law firm that represented Enron. I think the public has a right to evaluate what Enron and other special interest groups and other corporate contributors asked from this administration.
BUZZFLASH: On a more personal note, there was an article in the Washington Post last week that the administration and some Republicans in Congress had specifically labeled you as being partisan. I believe you responded with the counter-charge that, quite contrary to what happened in the Clinton administration when accusations proceeded investigation, you are merely trying to investigate and haven't made accusations. Do you have any comment on the White House charges?
CONGRESSMAN WAXMAN: All we've asked for is information. I've been very careful not to make any accusations because I felt it was inappropriate that the Republicans did make accusations against the Clinton administration before they even had the facts. And then when they got the facts, their allegations were almost never substantiated. The only thing that I've asked for is the General Accounting Office to get the information from the energy task force about the lobbying, special interest groups, big contributors and their meetings in the energy task force. And if simply asking for information is partisanship, then I think that's quite a distortion of the reality. And of course, the lawsuit is about to be filed. It's not by me. It's by the General Accounting Office, which is a nonpartisan organization. And in fact, the head of the General Accounting Office served in the first Bush administration and, I believe, is a member of the Republican Party, for whatever that's worth. But he's acting in his capacity as the head of the General Accounting Office, which is trying to get the facts on behalf of the Congress of the United States and the American people.
BUZZFLASH: As a congressman, what do you think are the most important goals of the various Congressional investigations into Enron and the energy panel?
CONGRESSMAN WAXMAN: Our focus on the Enron issue has to be to evaluate how a small group of insiders, many of whom were well-connected politically, were able to loot the Enron Corporation and walk away with over a billion dollars, while at the same time, leaving employees and investors robbed of their financial security. I think Congress needs to know how it happened and why it happened, and who helped allow it to happen. And I don't think an investigation of the Enron debacle should only be on some narrow aspects of the Enron issue. I think it ought to be on the accounting practices at Enron, and their political ties. And nothing ought to be taken off the table. We ought to have a thorough and systematic examination of every aspect of this Enron scandal. I do believe it is a scandal because I believe that those who were the insiders in the Enron Corporation schemed to loot the company of over a billion dollars. And they hurt a lot of people in the process. I think that if you look at what happened at Enron, you have those who already had a lot, wanting a lot more. And they just took it at the expense of people who really didn't have much going for them. It's no different than somebody robbing thousands of houses and stealing people's life savings, when you look at what some of these people did in Enron, where they looted the corporation and stole the financial security out from under employees and investors.
BUZZFLASH: One final question. The shredding of documents seemed to have gone on up until maybe a week or two ago. A lot of people who aren't involved in Justice Department issues, the FBI or Congressional investigations, are a bit astonished that no one came in from law enforcement to stop the shredding. I mean, how could that have continued without any court order, or was it that the process moves too slowly?
CONGRESSMAN WAXMAN: I'm amazed and shocked that the shredding took place even so late while the Congress started its investigation, let alone the Justice Department, which began their investigation in December. The assumption might have been that no one would break the law of trying to prevent justice from taking place, because certainly shredding evidence is against the law. But I think those who engaged in shredding were so afraid of the information that was about to come out that they were willing to break the law and hope that they could get away with it.
BUZZFLASH: Is there any new information about the Enron investigation that you want to tell us before we let you go?
CONGRESSMAN WAXMAN: There was a report in the San Francisco Chronicle about a memo that the Enron people had sent to the Vice President urging him not to support California's plea for some assistance in mitigating the runaway wholesale prices for energy that resulting in gouging of consumers, and eventually taxpayers in my own state of California. We were aware that Ken Lay had a meeting with the Vice President, based on the letter the Vice President sent us acknowledging this meeting just a short time before the Vice President made a public statement that he opposed any caps or limits on wholesale prices. It may well have been that the Vice President had the same point of view as the Enron executives. But it's apparent that Ken Lay was urging the Vice President to step in and make clear that the administration would not help California out while Enron and other energy suppliers were gouging our people. This is exactly the kind of thing that we need to know about, and ought to be made available to the General Accounting Office and to the American people. We have a right to know about the input that the White House was getting, because it showed that they were getting a request from Ken Lay and Enron not to help California. And the Vice President, whether it was out of sincerity or otherwise, chose Enron over California.
BUZZFLASH: Thank you so much for your time, and we look forward to talking to you again in the future.
CONGRESSMAN WAXMAN: Thank you for your interest. Thank you so much.
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