Party Chairmen Square Off Over Enron 'Controversy'

By Jeff Johnson | July 7, 2008 | 8:28 PM EDT

( - Republican Party Chairman Marc Racicot and the chairman of the Democratic Party, Terry McAuliffe, squared-off for the first time over the political fallout from the widening Enron scandal.

McAuliffe was quick to position Democrats as having had little involvement with the energy giant prior to its collapse.

"I did have several Enron lobbyists come visit me earlier in the year to complain that I was being too harsh on Ken Lay and Enron after our first hundred-day book we put together on the Bush administration," McAuliffe claimed on NBC's "Meet the Press" Sunday.

"I basically threw them out of my office and said, 'I don't care what contributions they give. We're here to fight for good policies.'"

But when challenged by host Tim Russert about the million dollars in campaign contributions Enron made to Democrats since 1999, McAuliffe said, "I can't speak to that. I wasn't there. I don't know it."

"We didn't take any money since I've been chairman of this party," he responded when asked if the contributions would be returned.

Russert put the same questions to Racicot, who is also new to his post.

"Well, my understanding is that the [Republican National] committee did receive a contribution during the month of October when, quite obviously, the circumstances that were confronting the employees there became evident," Racicot admitted. "And that contribution was, in fact, sent back because it seemed to be entirely inappropriate."

McAuliffe says "the Enron controversy" is only becoming a political issue because the White House is "stonewalling."

"They just need to come out with the information, let sunshine on all of it and let's see what it is," McAuliffe charged. "We learned now that Vice President Cheney had had meetings about Enron."

McAuliffe balked, however, when confronted with Democrats' extensive involvement with Enron, including:

- Former Clinton Secretary of Treasury Robert Rubin called the Treasury Department on behalf of Enron;
- Democratic Senators Charles Schumer (N.Y.), Robert Torricelli (N.J.), and Evan Bayh (Ind.) worked to changes rules about SEC auditing and consulting; and
- The Clinton administration heavily lobbied the Indian government for a $3 billion dollar Enron power plant project there. Just days before India granted final approval for the plant, Enron gave $100,000 to the Democratic Party.

"I'm not saying there's anything wrong with it," McAuliffe said. "I haven't said there's anything wrong with what the Bush White House has done."

Racicot called McAuliffe's comments an attempt to "manufacture an issue."

"The president has very plainly stated that he wants all of the facts to be investigated, all of them to be presented so that the kinds of lessons that ought to be learned from this particular episode can be learned once and for all and properly applied," Racicot said. "So I think the president is doing precisely what it is that he ought to be doing."

Several lawsuits have been triggered in Texas by the collapse of Enron. The first attorney to file a class-action suit against the giant energy trader told the "Los Angeles Times" that the case could be called the "Full Employment Act for Texas Lawyers."

As many as 50 lawsuits are expected to target Enron's former chief financial officer, former chief executive and chairman. More suits name the company itself as a defendant, and others have been filed by creditors and bondholders.

Two federal judges have stepped aside from any cases involving Enron. The lawsuits are expected to take years to resolve.

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