It’s another big Enron day, as the Washington Postleads with a game of chicken between the General Accounting Office and the White House. The GAO, suspecting that Enron had a big say in the administration’s energy policy, is demanding the records from Dick Cheney’s energy task force—and may sue to get them. The New York Timesincludes the GAO in its lead but focuses on government agencies reviewing their contracts with Enron and Arthur Andersen, with an eye toward ditching them. The Los Angeles Timesgoes with President Bush’s “disappointment” with Yasser Arafat, whom he accuses of fostering terrorism.
David Walker, the U.S. comptroller general and the head of the GAO, Congress’ investigational arm, has been asking politely for nine months, according to the Post lead. Now he may have to go to court to gain access to Cheney’s energy task force get-togethers. “I’m not going to sit on this much longer,” he says. Enron gave mightily to the Bush campaign, and company execs got to meet six times with Dick’s task force. Walker wants to know if they had undue influence.
Karl Rove, a longtime Bush advisor and a relatively fresh face on the scandal sheet, makes both the WP and NYT leads. Yesterday’s NYT reported that Rove secured an Enron consulting contract for Ralph Reed, a Republican strategist, rather than paying him from campaign funds. Now the DNC says it will file a complaint with the Federal Election Commission over the matter.
The bulk of the NYT lead details George W.’s continued attempts to distance himself from that big multicolored E. He wants government agencies to reconsider their contracts with both Enron and Arthur Andersen, reported to be worth about $60 million. What does Enron do for the government? It has 42 contracts to “supply chemicals to the Pentagon, help the Treasury Department with electrical services and help the Justice Department with its gas and electric needs,” according to the NYT.
Everybody fronts the apparent suicide of J. Clifford Baxter, a former Enron exec who raised concerns about the company’s fuzzy accounting last spring. Baxter was found in his Mercedes less than a mile from his home near Houston with a single gunshot wound to the head, the NYT reports. He left a note. Sherron Watkins, in her now-infamous memo, named Baxter as a fellow malcontent and, on that basis, he had been subpoenaed to testify before Congress.
Bill Keller helps out those just tuning in to the scandal with “Enron for Dummies,” his op-ed column today in the NYT. On where Enron went wrong, he writes, “It figured if it could trade energy, it could trade anything, anywhere, in the new virtual marketplace. Newsprint. Television advertising time. Insurance risk. High-speed data transmission. All of these were converted into contracts—called derivatives—that were sold to investors. Enron poured billions into these trading ventures, and some failed. It turned out Enron was good at inventing businesses, but terrible at the tedious work of running them.”
Yasser Arafat appears to have no Enron connections, but he is guilty of fostering terrorism, or so Bush says in the LAT lead. George W. is “very, very disappointed” in the Palestinian chief, whom he semi-accuses of arms smuggling. “This is the closest the president has come to saying Arafat is directly implicated, and that’s important,” says a University of Maryland expert. Israeli commandos intercepted a ship allegedly owned by the Palestinian Authority in the Red Sea this month, with 50 tons of weapons onboard. No word yet on W.’s sanctions, if any, against the Palestinians. (The LAT story inexplicably arrives with a “Portland, ME” dateline.)
A Wall Street Journal reporter is missing in Karachi, Pakistan, the WP reports. Daniel Pearl was dropped off at a downtown restaurant on Wednesday night to interview a member of Harakat ul-Mujahidin, a U.S.-recognized terrorist organization. The Post says Karachi is “plagued by crime, violence and financially motivated kidnappings,” but notes that no (other) Western journalist has been abducted. Pearl’s wife is also a journalist working in Karachi. She has not heard from him.
The LAT stuffs the sale of steel from the World Trade Center. A company in China acknowledges buying the scrap but denies reports that it will be making souvenirs, specifically little Trade Center replicas. Victims’ families call the sale cold-hearted and have asked the city to put a stop to it. The steel is going back home to Asia—it was originally made in Japan.
Speaking of the sale of scrap, the LAT fronts the unloading of Susan Sontag’s letters, personal papers, manuscripts, and library to UCLA for a cool $1.1 million. “I have only my apartment in New York, and I’ve saved a lot of stuff, so I have a Manhattanite’s space problem,” she says in the LAT. “Money isn’t the main consideration, but I go through long periods when I don’t make any money. This is something that will support me for a couple of years.” The money-mad author and activist counted Jacques Derrida, Czeslaw Milosz, and Philip Roth among her pen pals.
Finally, hockey dad Thomas Junta will be on ice for six to 10 years, double the Massachusetts guideline for his crime (involuntary manslaughter), according to the NYT. The judge cited “aggravating factors”—namely, that the crime was witnessed by the boys on the team, including the victim’s two sons. Junta’s lawyer wanted a suspended sentence with community service for his client, who perhaps could have helped out down at the rink now and then.