Bush orders review of rules on pension, 401(k) plans

Thursday, January 10, 2002

AP White House CorrespondentWASHINGTON (AP) -- President Bush, in a follow-up to the criminal investigation of Enron Corp., has ordered the Treasury Department to review rules regulating company pension and 401(k) plans, The Associated Press has learned.

Administration sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Bush would announce the action Thursday in the Oval Office, in part to inoculate himself politically from the bankruptcy of the Texas-based energy company that has ties to Bush and administration officials.

The Justice Department announced Wednesday it has begun a criminal investigation of the bankrupt energy company whose collapse caused many employees to lose their life's savings.

The Justice Department is forming a national task force to look into the company's dealings. The group will be headed by lawyers at the department's criminal division and include prosecutors in Houston, San Francisco, New York and several other cities, said a Justice Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

As a follow-up, Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill will head a review of laws and regulations to determine if they can be tightened to protect worker pension plans. A senior official involved in discussions on the issue said the Justice Department will determine whether Enron broke any laws and the Treasury Department will study whether Enron's conduct, although potentially legal, exposed loopholes in the system.

Enron's chairman and chief executive, Kenneth L. Lay, is a political ally of Bush's. He and other Enron officials met six times with Vice President Dick Cheney or his aides last year, before and after the release of the administration's energy plan.

Lay and his company have been leading contributors to Bush as well as to a long list of Democratic and Republican candidates.

The Center for Public Integrity, a nonpartisan watchdog agency in Washington, says Enron's executives contributed nearly $800,000 to Bush, members of Congress and the two national political parties from 1999 to 2001.

A senior Bush adviser said the president wants to protect workers' pensions. His political team, the adviser said, is worried that the administration could face intense criticism for its association with Lay and Enron as hearings heat up on Capitol Hill.

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