As two longtime members of the Congressional Black Caucus Charles Rangel and Maxine Waters are dragged into the public square to be punished for alleged ethical indiscretions, it may be worth remembering how Official Washington responded to evidence that President George W. Bush aided and abetted his corrupt benefactors at Enron.
Bush, a member of a powerful American political dynasty, could count on Official Washington to avert its eyes from the evidence and to promote an upside-down conventional wisdom insisting that Bush actuallly had demonstrated the highest ethical standards by rebuffing Enron's calls for help.
The widely accepted storyline was that Bush refused to intervene to save his pals despite the hundreds of thousands of dollars that Enron executives had poured into his political coffers. Such integrity supposedly set Bush apart from lesser politicians.
However, the Bush-can't-be-bought spin was never true. The reality was that Bush and his administration did pretty much everything they could to pull Enron out of its death spiral, even treating the corrupt company's financial troubles as a national security priority.
According to the documentary evidence, it is clear that in summer 2001 at the same time Bush and his National Security Council team were ignoring warnings about an impending al-Qaeda terrorist attack NSC adviser Condoleezza Rice was personally overseeing a government-wide task force to pressure India to give Enron as much as $2.3 billion.
Even after the 9/11 attacks, when India's cooperation was crucial because of its proximity to Pakistan and Afghanistan, the Bush administration kept up its full-court press to get India to pay Enron for a white-elephant power plant that the company had built in Dabhol, India.
The save-Enron campaign went up the chain of command to Vice President Dick Cheney, who personally pushed Enron's case, and to Bush himself, who planned to lodge a complaint with India's prime minister. Post-9/11, one senior U.S. bureaucrat warned India that failure to give in to Enron's demands would put into doubt the future functioning of American agencies in India.
In other words, behind the scenes, the Bush administration made Enron's bailout a top priority that eclipsed the diplomatic needs of the "war on terror."
The NSC-led effort to pressure India didn't end until Nov. 8, 2001, when the Securities and Exchange Commission raided Enron's offices and protection of Lay's interests stopped being politically tenable.
That afternoon, Bush was sent an e-mail advising him not to raise his planned Dabhol protest with India's prime minister who was visiting Washington. [For more details on the Dabhol case, see below.]
What Money Buys
But Enron's longtime financial support for the Bush Dynasty did not buy simply some hardball diplomacy with India. That was only part of what Bush-43 did to rescue his cronies, including Enron Chairman Ken Lay who had earned his own Bush nickname, "Kenny Boy."
In the first nine months of Bush's presidency, as Enron desperately sought cash to cover mounting losses from its off-the-books partnerships that were hiding the company's financial plight from investors, Lay secured Bush's help in three key ways:
--Bush personally joined the fight against imposing caps on the soaring price of electricity in California at a time when Enron was artificially driving up the price by manipulating supply. Bush's resistance to price caps bought Enron extra time to gouge hundreds of millions of dollars from California's consumers.
--Bush granted Lay broad influence over the development of the administration's energy policies, including the choice of key regulators to oversee Enron's businesses. The chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission was replaced in 2001 after he began to delve into Enron's complex derivative-financing schemes.
--Bush had his NSC staff organize that administration-wide task force to pressure India to accommodate Enron's interests in selling the Dabhol generating plant for as much as $2.3 billion.