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Business

Enron Spectre Rises in the White House

In an unprecedented move, the Bush administration has been sued by the investigative arm of the United States Congress over the "murky" role played by private energy companies in developing its energy policy.

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The headquarters of Enron: who goes there?

The investigative arm of the United States Congress has pounced upon Bush no sooner has he returned from his first trip to South Asia.

In a historic move, it has slapped a lawsuit against the White House, demanding to know about the exact role played by energy companies including the battered Enron Corp in developing the Bush administration's energy policy.

The government's General Accounting Office (GAO) filed the lawsuit in the US district court of Washington as part of its investigation into the collapse of the energy giant Enron.

In a statement the GAO said, "We take this step reluctantly. Nevertheless, given GAO's responsibility to Congress and the American people, we have no other choice."

Deals with private energy companies?

The congressional agency is seeking records of an energy task force led by Vice President Dick Cheney that sought to draft a new national energy policy last year.

The GOA is following the case at the request of Democratic lawmakers who say environmentalists were deliberately left out of the closed door meetings of the task force.

Lawmakers suspect that private-sector groups heavily swayed the White House energy plan. The task force produced a policy calling for more oil and gas drilling, as well as a revival of nuclear power.

Mr Cheney himself is a former head of an energy services company and Bush is a former oil man.

Legal battle looms

But the White House vehemently denies all charges, though it does admit that the Vice President and members of the task force met representatives of Enron on six occasions last year.

Enron was President Bush's biggest financial backer in the 2000 election campaign.

The opposition Democrats sensing a whiff of murky deals, have gone in for the kill and hope to nail Bush with the Enron card.

But the White House seems to be ready for battle and said that it was "ready to fight" the GOA in court.

The Bush administration has refused so far to hand over records from its energy task force meetings, saying it would undermine the Constitution's separation of powers and endanger the presidency and possibly national security.

The GOA, created in 1921 works for Congress, evaluating federal programmes and auditing federal expenditures. It is expected to be independent and non-partisan.

But in the present case its actions have led to division within Congress, with Republican leaders in both houses saying the GAO is not entitled to the information it seeks. But a few Republicans are in favour of the GAO action.

As both sides arm themselves with legal heavyweights and get prepared to thrash out the issue in court, legal experts still remain split on who might win.