WASHINGTON -- Because of Enron Corp.'s sudden bankruptcy, congressional Democrats have won their first victory in a nine-month effort to squeeze information from the Bush White House on its ties to the energy industry.
For the first time, the White House is acknowledging that Enron representatives met six times with Vice President Dick Cheney or his aides on energy issues last year, most recently in mid-October just before the investing public realized the company was heading for disaster.
Since last April, Cheney had fended off congressional requests for the identities of business executives and lobbyists who met with the White House as the administration formulated its pro-industry energy plan.
The picture changed when Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., began pressing the White House about last month's crash of Enron, whose CEO, Ken Lay, is among President Bush's biggest political supporters.
"It is appropriate to ask whether Enron communicated to you or others affiliated with your task force information about its precarious financial position," Waxman wrote the vice president. "This is especially important since this information was apparently hidden from investors and the public until quite recently."
The vice president's office said the last Enron meeting with a Cheney aide was Oct. 10, just six days before the first in a series of public admissions by the company about its true financial condition that sent it careening into bankruptcy court.
Enron's financial position wasn't discussed in any of the meetings, vice presidential counsel David Addington insisted in a letter.
On Tuesday, Waxman demanded more information, saying the administration response "is a recognition that Congress and the public have a legitimate interest in learning about contacts between Enron executives and the White House."
Cheney met with Lay for a half-hour on April 17 to discuss "energy policy matters, including the energy crisis in California," said the letter, citing the only previously publicized meeting between Enron and the vice president or his staff.
The day after meeting with Lay, Cheney said the Bush administration would not support price caps on wholesale energy sales in California, Waxman noted.
A month after Cheney and Lay met, the vice president's energy task force recommended expanded oil and gas drilling on public land and a rejuvenated nuclear power system.
In a separate encounter, which the White House did not count as a meeting, Cheney and Lay were on a panel June 24 at the American Enterprise Institute World Forum in Beaver Creek, Colo., where the topic was energy. Addington said there was no discussion of Enron's financial position.
"These meetings began on Feb. 22, just over a month after the start of the Bush administration," Waxman said. "They ended on Oct. 10, just six days before Enron announced the $1.2 billion in reduction in shareholder equity."
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