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NEWS FLASH: Thumbnail Sketch of the Bush/Enron Subpoena Hearing and Vote

By Cheryl Seal

I just listened to the hearing and vote on the matter of issuing subpoenas to the Bush administration to recover information on Enron. The Governmental Affairs Committee, chaired by Joseph Lieberman, has been attempting for about 10 weeks to obtain even the most rudimentary of information on Enron from the Bush administration. They have consistently been met with a stonewall with a "Be back later" sign tacked to it.

If ever the Democrats looked like the people's party, this was it. It was one of their finer hours in recent history!! Joe Lieberman, who has infuriated me in the past year with his wishywashiness and leanings toward the right rose to the occasion. Enough is enough, Lieberman said clearly and loudly. He had pursued every alternative to issuing a subpoena for information on Enron right up to the eleventh hour before this hearing. On Tuesday night, in fact, he called Judge Gonzalez to follow up on a previous letter requesting information from the White House and gave Gonzalez and thus Bush one more chance. "Will you cooperate?" It was obvious to me, said Lieberman, that the answer was no, that the committee would not get the information it sought.

The difference in behavior of the Democrats and Republicans during the hearing was incredibly clear - and that difference will not be lost on the public. While the Democrats stayed focused on the ISSUE AT HAND, which is Enron, and upon their reponsibility to the American taxpayers/voters, who lost BILLIONS at the hand of Enron, the Republicans focused on irrelevancies, fanning their smokescreen, as they served up a tedious litany of shopworn GOP spin lines. Not one Republican made a real statement on the impact that ENRON had on the people of their home states or expressed concern for the thousands of elderly people now without retirement money. Their sole focus was, in true drone ant style, to protect "queen bee Bush," the American public be damned.

Max Cleland, a Dem from GA spoke for everyday Americans everywhere when he said that getting to the truth of the ENRON case, not Bush's political career, was his first concern. The bare fact of the matter, said Cleland, is that Enron's collapse was a financial tragedy of national proportions, affecting hundreds of thousands of Americans. In his state alone, $127 million in retirement savings were lost, leaving thousands of elderly citizens withough the means they had counted on in their last years. "I owe it to the people of my state to pursue this."

The worst GOP counteroffensive of all was delivered by ranking committee member Fred Thompson. He pontificated and droned on for twice as long, all told, as any other person present, including the committee chairman Lieberman! What an old windbag - he reminded me of a cornered Boss Hogg, desperately trying to hold the old boy network together - "Thompson's Last Stand!" The funniest line Thompson had was near the end. After it became plain that the Democrats' valid points were trumping the GOP spin cards, he started getting blustery, his voice rising and losing the studied "I'm just a folksie ole guy" cadence. Bush hasn't been able to get it together to answer a few questions in 10 weeks, says Thompson, because he's too busy. When Lieberman wouldn't buy this excuse (afterall, even in the midst of "war" Bush has found plenty of time to lounge around at Crawford and Camp David, attend endless fundraising events and go on tours of elementary schools!) Thompson blustered, Well the president can't be expected to just turn things right over because....because..because...well...."We're doing a lot of stuff!" (actual quote).

I'll bet the GOP wished that the nasally whining Illinois Sen. Peter Fitzgerald had kept quiet! He managed to launch into a disastrous (for the GOP anyway) statement in which he actually appeared to be APOLOGIZING for Enron! He even seemed to imply that if Bush HAD bailed out the company, the company wouldn't have had any of its current problems. He then went on to invoke the latest GOP ploy, which I call the "Strength in Numbers Game." This ploy implies that the guilt of even Enron isn't that big a deal cause afterall, LOTS of companies now are doing stuff like that! According to Fitzgerald (and the rest of the GOPers adopting the new tactic), it's not that Enron's really full of crooks - it's that the MORAL ATMOSPHERE of the country has gone down hill. Let's see how far you or I would get invoking that ploy if we were tried for tax evasion or embezzling from our companies coffers. "But judge, why are you people focusing on me - there's lots of tax evaders out there! " or "Ladies and gentleman of the jury...you must go easy on Mr. Smith for setting fire to those warehouses to collect the insurance money...afterall, there is such a poor moral climate in the country right now." In any case, this new ploy is outrageously contradictory, anyway. I mean, wasn't the Bush administration supposed to IMPROVE the moral atmosphere? And weren't all the execs in Enron "born again rightwing Christians?"

Fitzgerald went on to try to play "Gotcha" with the Dems - remarking that former Clinton official Robert Rubin had had dealings with Enron. That lame ruse was blown out of the water when Senator Dayton pointed out that at the time Rubin was dealing with Enron, he was a private citizen, not a federal official. Fitzgerald appeared to be reading from a script, because at one point, he got flustered and flubbed his lines re: Rubin and instead of saying debtor spluttered "Debtator."

Other tired, wornout lines used by the Republican members included "The president shouldn't be held responsible for anything cause there's a war going on!" "This is all just a fishing expedition," "We just need more time," and "This is all just a liberal media circus." PULEEZE! It seems with all the money these people throw around, they could hire someone to think up a few new lines for them!

Richard Durbin, an Illinois Dem, spoke for us all, I think when he said he came right out and declared that the "but we're at war" line had been played as as political card shielding Bush from reponsibility for answering to anything from requests for info on the Cheney secret task force to information about appointees with obvious conflict of interest oner too many times and that he just didn't buy it.

Susan Collins (R-Maine) gave me a particular pain in the fanny - I lived in Maine for years and find her an embarrassment. Sounding and looking like Ernestine the Telephone operator from the Lily Tomlin skit (but without the humor), Collins is nothing but a red-power-suited cheerleader - a poor rep for a state of independent-minded folks who voted resoundingly for Gore in 2000. Collins kept saying, "I'm a little perplexed (picture Ernestine spitting out "perplexed" and you get the picture) as to why we need this subpoena today." Collins wanted to wait two weeks...which is of course, exactly what Bush wants. After that, it would be another two weeks. And another. And Another. I bet Collins bombs in the next election. Mainers are leading the way right now in election reform and universal health care and are not likely to have much use for an old-boy-in-a-skirt political dinosaur like Collins much longer.

Repub. Sen Bob Bennett from Utah made me wanna gag with his preamble about how "I don't have a law degree so I just don't know 'bout all this here legal stuff but I 've been around a while and know about thing or two about stonewallin'..." He tried to make the casual viewer think he was a seasoned ole hand around the Senate who'd seen it all. "Folksie oletimer" Bennett, was in fact, CEO of a time-management company (the people who help bosses squeeze ever more work out of assembly line workers) was elected in 1993 (he's just in his second term). In the final moments before the vote, Bennett sounded truly pitiful (I bet the GOP wished HE'D kept quiet, too!), begging Lieberman to please tell the media afterward that you really don't think Bush did anything wrong.

Jim Bunning of Kentucky played the classic rightwing card: He invoked the Lord! "I hope to GOD you won't do it!" (issue subpoena).

In the end, the Democrats who voted Yea to the subpoenas came across as champions of the American citizen, while the 8 Republicans who voted to protect the president in preference to protecting their consituents, came across clearly as champions of corporate interests.

NAY: (Votes for Corporate America)

Fred Thompson: R-TN
Ted Stevens R-AK
Susan M. Collins R-ME
George V. Voinovich R-OH
Thad Cochran R-MS
Robert F. Bennett R-UT
Jim Bunning R-KY
Peter Fitzgerald R-IL

Yea (Votes for American Citizens)

Joe Lieberman D-Ct
Carl Levn D-MI
Daniel K. Akaka D-HI
Richard J., Durbin D-IL
Robert G. Torricelli D-HJ
Max Cleland D-GA
Thomas R Carper D-DE
Jean Carnahan D-MO
Mark Dayton D-MN