WASHINGTON -- The Justice Department, drawing the White House into its criminal investigation of Enron Corp., ordered President Bush's staff Friday to preserve documents relating to conversations with Enron executives about the energy company's financial interests
The White House said it would comply with the directive, which applied to several other federal agencies. It does not require the agencies to surrender the documents, only save them in case investigators want the information at another time.
"We believe that documents in the possession of the White House, its staff and employees may contain information relevant to our investigation," said the Justice Department letter written to the White House's top lawyer, Alberto Gonzales.
Back to Jan. 1, 1999
The order, announced by the White House, covers all documents, including e-mails, letters, computer records and notes regarding Enron's financial condition and business interests, dating to Jan. 1, 1999, nearly two years before Bush took office.
Congress has opened multiple investigations into the complex accounting practices of Enron, which collapsed last year with the life's savings of workers and stockholders.
Bush, fearing political fallout, has sought to distance himself from the gathering financial scandal despite his long association with former Enron Chairman Kenneth Lay. Several Bush administration officials also have close ties to the Texas-based energy trading company, and the president's political campaigns received millions of dollars through Enron.
The development came as Congress prepared for high-stakes Enron hearings next week. Ken Johnson, a spokesman for the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said Andrew Fastow, the company's former chief financial officer, and Michael Kopper, a former Enron executive, have indicated they will refuse to answer questions at a hearing Thursday.
Fastow has been described as a mastermind behind Enron's complex web of nearly 3,000 partnerships, which the company used to keep huge debts off its books.
Took the fifth
David Duncan, the lead Enron auditor from the Arthur Andersen accounting firm, invoked his Fifth Amendment right at a hearing last week.
Lay plans to testify Monday.
The Justice Department's letter to Gonzales says all documents that "relate in any way to Enron's financial condition and/or business interests" should be preserved, even if there are questions about whether destruction might otherwise be permitted.
"At this time, we are only requesting that you ensure the retention of these records," wrote Christopher A. Wray, principal associate deputy attorney general.
White House spokeswoman Claire Buchan said the White House would "fully comply with the request as part of our continued cooperation with this matter."