Morning Political Note: Jan. 24

The Wall Street Journal says Army Secretary Thomas E. White, a former Enron executive, disclosed that he had spoken with former Enron colleagues on 30 occasions in the past seven months. He said he met with Enron President Lawrence "Greg" Whalley on Oct. 4, weeks before the company began seeking government help to ward off bankruptcy. All of the contacts were "personal in nature" and involved conversations about "the general financial condition of Enron," he said, but no one asked him to intercede on the corporation's behalf.

Rick Berke makes a must-read of the second-day analysis of the president's invocation of his mother-in-law's Enron stock loss. The central question in the story is why the president seemed to change tone and emphasis — from concern to anger — over Enron in West Virginia on Tuesday. White House aides deny any change on the record, and say the president has been talking for weeks about his mother-in-law and others who have been affected. But Berke plucks out this notion, that partisan Democrats will claim to be shocked, shocked! by: "More pragmatically, [Bush advisers] said polling for the Republican Party has shown that Mr. Bush's relationship to energy companies is one of his biggest vulnerabilities." ( )

You need to read this one all the way to the end, if only to learn more about the cementing of babies.

As long as Enron is hot, it will infect pretty much any legislative effort it arguably touches. For example, the bankruptcy bill that has been in House-Senate conference since last year is now officially Enroned, says the New York Times , as members and special pleaders look to make changes in light of lessons supposedly learned. ( )

The New York Times lead business story says that those who think Congress is headed toward stricter standards on accounting firms aren't paying attention to where the votes are. Although a few Democrats have made such moves, "no Republicans have said they are willing to be cosponsors of the measures, and administration officials, who continue to embrace a broad deregulatory agenda, have been critical of enlarging the role of government in overseeing the accounting industry. The chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission said in a speech (Wednesday) that his agency should not extend its regulatory reach in overseeing the accounting profession, and should rely instead on officials from the corporate world to monitor the auditors." ( )

And the Wall Street Journal has a nice companion story, looking at the history of efforts by some members of Congress (now transformed into swashbuckling investigators) who in the past have fought off changes in accounting rules. Among those whose past roles are dissected (but not as much as they will be in the political future): Sen. Lieberman.

The Wall Street Journal says the Bush administration is in the midst of stacking the SEC with commissioners with close ties to the accounting industry, raising Groucho eyebrows in some quarters, what with the whole Andersen/Enron thing and all. The White House, which routinely avoids controversy on a range of things because of the war/Enron/budget maelstroms, even did some recess appointments here.

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