BuzzFlash Interviews Congressman John Conyers, Jr.
February 1, 2002
CONYERS DISCUSSES ENRON, LARRY THOMPSON, AND THE GAO'S REQUEST FOR INFORMATION
John Conyers Jr. of Michigan (14th Congressional District), is the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee. He is a true hero, fighting the Bush administration for the truth about Enron. John Conyers also continues to fight for all Americans by urging the Bush administration to enact comprehensive election reform, something President Bush has opposed, after the Florida recount.
BUZZFLASH: Congressman Conyers, you wrote a letter last week to U.S. Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson asking him to appoint an outside special counsel to oversee the Justice Department Enron investigation. Why do you think this is necessary?
CONGRESSMAN CONYERS: I think it's necessary because there are definite conflicts of interest going on at several levels within the government. First and foremost, within the Department of Justice, both Attorney General Ashcroft and Larry Thompson, the number two man. Ashcroft has correctly recused himself, as well as the entire U.S. Attorney's office in Houston, Texas. Larry Thompson, whose law firm represented Enron, hasn't. So I don't know how Mr. Thompson thinks he's going to stonewall this for much longer before it becomes a pretty large issue.
BUZZFLASH: Has Mr. Thompson responded to your letter?
CONYERS: No he has not, at least not that I know of. I'm going to
call him next week but, unless the mail is being delayed, Mr. Thompson
has not responded to my letter asking him to recuse himself of the Enron
investigation. Their hope is that this will all go away. We have a lot
of letters that don't get responded to on the theory that maybe nobody
will notice. A special counsel is appropriate when the investigation presents
a conflict of interest, such as Mr. Thompson in heading the investigation
BUZZFLASH: I believe his statement was that he did not directly handle any case relating to Enron, but that his firm did. Does it seem to you that he is intent on continuing the investigation?
CONGRESSMAN CONYERS: Well, if I knew the answer to that, I would know whether to take some time off and only work seventy hours a week. Nobody knows what they're gonna do. The only thing that I know of is that in the business of governing and creating national policy, the more exposure an issue like this gets, the more likely that it will be corrected.
We are doing a number of things that I think are very important, one of which is to get Mr. Thompson to realize that even the impression of conflict is enough. It doesn't have to mean that he is, in fact, conflicted. But the fact that a firm that has paid him money, may be paying him benefits, may be holding his retirement funds in escrow, is an issue. I don't know what Mr. Thompson's relationship is with his former law firm. But the impression that we need Larry Thompson with these connections to conduct the investigation of Enron, staggers the imagination. You've got 13,000 other Department of Justice employees that do not have any Enron connections, or any impression of having a conflict of interest, to investigate Enron.
Now we've got some more problems here, because it's very clear that Vice President Cheney met with Enron, and has determined that these meetings were not public, but were indeed private. The Vice President believes that his meetings with his energy task force are of no business to the American people, the Congress, or the General Accounting Office. The GAO is now preparing to go into court to make Mr. Cheney understand what the law is with regard to him having meetings and keeping notes, and meeting with these oil and energy tycoons in his capacity as Vice President.
BUZZFLASH: Do you think the White House spin doctors, claiming executive privilege in regard to secret meetings with Enron, will win over the American public?
CONGRESSMAN CONYERS: You would think that instead of trying to hide what happened in the meetings that they would just come forward. I can't imagine why an adviser doesn't say to the Vice President, everybody knows you met with Enron people. Everybody knows that you have historically, in your career, been connected to oil and energy enterprises. Now let's make the best of it by coming forward and saying, yes, there were meetings. No, nothing improper took place, and here is what happened. They're giving the impression that something awful happened because they're claiming that they aren't going to tell anybody what was discussed.
I don't think the American people know or care what privilege is in terms of court and legalisms and all of that. All they want to know is: What did Cheney meet with Enron about? The Bush administration says, well, we did meet with Enron and we aren't going to tell you. What could you say is privileged about meetings discussing public affairs with huge multi-national interests?
I think the Bush administration ought to fire their consultants if they themselves don't realize that this is creating a very, very bad impression.
BUZZFLASH: It seems that the Bush administration is lashing out at those who are even asking questions.
CONGRESSMAN CONYERS: This is not partisan. This is not because they are Republicans, and I am a Democrat. It is discouraging for me to hear the media, when something important like this happens, to say this is bickering between the two party leaders and their members. That is not the case at all. But you know, much of the media is part of the big business operation itself. It's very difficult for the American people to grasp the full significance of it because the media, even though pages are being devoted every day across the country, they're really talking about uncovering, and talking with people that have been ripped off. But it's not like the media feels that something awful has happened. I don't get that impression yet.
They're just covering this news about Enron like it's a natural calamity. It's something that just happened. We need to find out how and why Enron collapsed. And we're doing our job. It's the greatest corporate fraud in American history, the seventh largest company in the USA. We're interviewing people who've lost their jobs and their retirement, their savings.
BUZZFLASH: News reports have claimed that the shredding of documents happened even as late as two weeks ago. Do you think the Justice Department dropped the ball by not securing any remaining documents from being destroyed by either Arthur Andersen or Enron?
CONGRESSMAN CONYERS: They should have done whatever is timely and appropriate to prevent any disappearance of materials that may be useful. We don't know what got shredded, or whether it was useful or not.
BUZZFLASH: We understand that you are introducing a bill that would tighten SEC regulations. And to our knowledge, this bill was defeated by a Republican Congress back in the early nineties, I think even overriding the Clinton veto. Could you tell us about that legislation and what happened?
CONGRESSMAN CONYERS: Well, it's just a provision in the Racket Influenced Corrupt Organizations Act - RICO - in which the Republicans thought it would be a great idea to exclude securities fraud from RICO prosecution. And President Clinton tried to stop it, and the Republicans were able to override it. I'm introducing an amendment that restores that provision so that the RICO-type lawsuits would be able to be prosecuted when securities fraud, as is the case in Enron, occur.
BUZZFLASH: It seems that there is a lot of hypocrisy by the Republicans over Enron. Any thoughts?
CONGRESSMAN CONYERS: Just listen to Senators Arlen Specter (PA), and Orrin Hatch (UT), talk about how the deliberative process would be interrupted if the GAO got these notes, when they were confiscating, literally, pounds of material from Bill Clinton, during his investigation. Of course, that was personal indiscretion on the part of the President. But they were delighted to get their mitts on them, to read them in committee ad nauseum. But now, where you have the biggest white-collar fraud in American history, they say that the GAO getting these notes would - quote - interrupt the deliberative process - unquote.
BUZZFLASH: Congressman Conyers, thank you for your time.
CONGRESSMAN CONYERS: I thank you for the opportunity to discuss this Buzz.
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