WASHINGTON — Two Bush cabinet members said Sunday they never considered intervening in Enron’s spiral toward bankruptcy, nor informed President Bush of requests for help from the fallen energy giant.
"Companies come and go. It’s … part of the genius of capitalism," said Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill, when asked if he was surprised at the sudden collapse of Enron. The company’s failure has left the one-time energy trading behemoth’s stock virtually worthless and thousands of workers’ pension funds in disarray.
Last fall, a month before Enron declared bankruptcy, O’Neill received two telephone calls from Enron’s chief executive, Kenneth Lay. Lay also called Commerce Secretary Don Evans at the time, reaching out for help to harness the energy company’s financial slide.
O’Neill and Evans said Sunday that while they received calls from Lay in late October and early November, they dismissed any suggestion of intervening to help the company.
Evans said that Lay was looking "for all the possible ways that he could stabilize his company" and asked that Evans consider contacting credit rating agencies. "I considered it and said, ‘Thank you for the call,’ " Evans said on NBC’s "Meet the Press."
O’Neill said that Lay, in a call of three or four minutes, "asked me for nothing." But O’Neill acknowledged that during one conversation Lay said Enron’s ability to sustain its credit rating "was a critical aspect" of keeping a merger with rival Dynegy on track. The merger later fell apart.
The Treasury Department has acknowledged that, around the same time in late October and early November, another Enron executive repeatedly contacted Peter Fisher, a Treasury undersecretary, trying to get the government to encourage banks to extend credit to the struggling company.
But an Enron spokesman, Mark Palmer, said the calls "were informational" and "not about trying to improve our credit rating."
Neither O’Neill nor Evans said they informed President Bush of the telephone calls. But Evans said he frequently discussed Enron’s situation during general meetings with the president in November and December.
The tone of those conversations was "how sad it was to see what was happening to that once great company," Evans said on NBC.
Enron filed for bankruptcy on Dec. 2.
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