The Washington Post and Los Angeles Timeslead with former Enron chief Ken Lay’s abrupt cancellation of his scheduled appearances before Congress. Lay was slated to speak to a Senate committee today and another committee on Tuesday. According to his lawyer, Lay saw the Sunday news shows, in which lawmakers made “inflammatory” statements, and decided that he wouldn’t get a fair hearing. (Rep. Billy Tauzin, R-La, speaking on NBC’s Meet the Press, did say some Enron officials will “end up in the pokey.”) Lay will probably swing by Congress at some point, because he’s likely to be subpoenaed. The New York Times leads with word that Enron’s former auditor Arthur Andersen named former Federal Reserve chief Paul Volcker to head a panel that will oversee reforms at the accounting firm. “We will be very tough on ourselves,” promised Andersen’s chief. The Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide newsbox with a story that it’s been tracking for a few weeks: The White House’s proposed budget, which is going to be presented to Congress today, penny-pinches in just about every category other than defense and homeland security. “Anything that’s not absolutely essential needs to take a pause,” said the administration’s budget director. USA Today, citing unnamed and unquoted “British intelligence sources,” leads with word that al-Qaida has moved into Lebanon. Specifically, the paper says, “a senior al-Qaida official, Salah Hajir, arrived in Beirut the week of Jan. 14 and was spotted by Western officials in meetings with leaders of the Hezbollah movement.” (Though USAT doesn’t mention it, last Friday the Times of London broke the following news, “A senior operative of Osama bin Laden’s network, a Yemeni national who has the alias of Salah Hajir, is believed to have arrived in Lebanon about two weeks ago and has held meetings in Beirut with leaders of the Hezbollah terrorist group.”)
According to the NYT, former Fed chief Volcker, who says he learned “how messed up accounting is” when he recently oversaw an accounting standards group, said he got involved with Andersen because the company was “looking for someone to sprinkle some holy water on them.” Volker won’t be paid for his work.
At least one independent analyst was impressed by Andersen’s moves. “What they’ve done now is almost hard to believe,” he told the NYT. “They’re going to give this committee carte blanche to make recommendations, and they’ll follow them without question.”
According to the Post,“Andersen also said it will no longer offer certain consulting services to its audit clients, bowing to criticism that such work can undercut an auditor’s independence.” Does that mean that Andersen may still do some consulting for companies that it audits? Nine paragraphs down, the paper tries to clear up the ambiguity: “[W]hen Andersen serves as outside auditor of a publicly traded company, it will no longer perform information technology or internal audit services for that client.”
The WP notes that Saturday’s hypercritical Enron report on itself also heaped blame on Andersen, so much so in fact, that “it seems to obligate Enron’s board of directors to sue Andersen.” Andersen, meanwhile, shot back that the report was misleading.
According to a news analysis in the NYT, whoever is to blame is going to be in big, big trouble. The report, according to the paper, “clearly raises the specter that at the foundation of the company’s downfall was a series of multimillion-dollar crimes.” Among the potential no-no’s were, “false valuation of assets, bogus deals between related parties, and millions of dollars pocketed by participants along the way.”
“This report is a road map for the Department of Justice to bring a criminal indictment,” a former federal prosecutor told the Times.
The NYT says that U.S. officials “now acknowledge that they have lost track” of Osama Bin Laden and are frustrated by the “virtual absence” of any intelligence about his whereabouts. But officials do believe that OBL is still alive—not because they have any information about it, but simply because if he was dead, they figure there’d be some al-Qaida radio traffic bemoaning his passing. Plus, nobody has turned in his body, which, remember, is worth $25 million.
In the 20th paragraph of the above article, the Times says, “American officials also acknowledged that they had lost track of Mullah Muhammad Omar.” And in the article’s final paragraph, the paper suggests that the U.S. hasn’t nabbed any al-Qaida leaders.
The WSJ notes that high-level meetings have restarted between the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli government. Last week, Israel’s prime minister met, semi-secretly, with some aides to Yasser Arafat. This week, Israel’s foreign minister will openly meet with a top Palestinian legislator. Nobody expects a peace agreement.
The NYT off-leads the administration’s plans to quadruple its bio-defense spending next year, from $1.4 to $5.9 billion, “a far larger amount than even bio defense experts had expected.”
The papers note that both Russia and China have suggested that the U.S. not launch attacks against any of the members of the newly inaugurated “axis of evil.” Russia said that if the U.S. does eventually nail Iraq, it better have proof of malfeasance—and an U.N. mandate.
The NYT says that a number of countries were perturbed by Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz’s comments that, “We are at war. Self-defense requires prevention and sometimes pre-emption.”
The LAT notes that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, speaking on a Sunday new show, turned up the heat on Iran when he confirmed a Time magazine report that Iran has sheltered a number of high-level al-Qaida and Taliban officials.
Everybody notes that in one of the biggest upsets in Super Bowl history, the New England Patriots beat the St. Louis Rams. The score was 20-17.
The WSJ, in an enjoyable editorial [registration required], blames Senator Trent Lott (R-Miss.) for pushing a bill a few years ago that gave “a company called American Classic Voyages a 30-year monopoly on cruise-ship operations in Hawaii.” The editorial, titled “Lotts of Pork,” notes that Classic Voyages then built two ships in Pascagoula, Miss., Lott’s hometown.
The LAT reports on the latest craze sweeping Cairo, Egypt: A 1-900 number, staffed by Islamic scholars, to help answer questions about the rules of Islam. The line gets about 1,000 calls per day. The LAT, which apparently got a peek at the call logs, reports that most of the queries seem to be about intercourse. “I want to know if God or the prophet said I have to wear the face cover or not,” asked one caller. “And the second thing is, what is the basis of marriage in Islam? Is it sex only?”