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Wednesday, 10 July, 2002, 10:03 GMT 11:03 UK
US politicians suffer scandal fall-out
George W Bush
Mr Bush prefers business to politics

The president of the United States, we are told, is "mad as hell" about the apparent collapse in corporate ethics.

Further down the pecking order, politicians are falling over themselves to seem stern and forbidding.

The current wave of economic puritanism may, cynics suggest, have much to do with Congressional elections, due in November, and a series of opinion polls showing public disapproval of white-collar crime.

But with links between politicians and big business famously close - particularly in the governing Republican party - ever more of those scandals are likely to spill over into the political arena.

As one campaigning website puts it, "Bush and his economic team promising to crack down on corporate America is like letting the fox guard the henhouse."

BBC News Online presents a basic guide to the fox's den.

Tough at the top

By the rationale that the bigger they are, the harder they fall, President George W Bush has the most to lose in the current fracas.

George W Bush
Mr Bush says he is "outraged"

From the moment that Enron started to totter late last year, attention turned to the White House.

Mr Bush and his family have their roots deep in the Texas business community that Enron briefly dominated.

As the former governor of Texas' home state, Mr Bush would have questions to answer under any circumstances.

Man with a mission

And these circumstances are by any measure unusual.

Mr Bush is one of the most business-friendly presidents ever: he was a mini-tycoon before running for office, became the first president with an MBA business degree, and has made no secret of his preference for executive efficiency over political perfidy.

Now, the spotlight is being turned on his own business dealings, which include an alleged bout of insider trading while an oil-company director in 1990.

Opponents gleefully point out that the scale of the trade, at some $849,000 (549,000), is four times bigger than a similar sale that got Martha Stewart, a famous US lifestyle expert, into hot water.

And as president, Mr Bush is accused of being soft on his corporate buddies, including helping out El Paso Corporation, an energy firm and Bush campaign contributor, when it was being pursued for damages by a Dominican court.

In trouble

Mr Bush is arguably big enough to skate over the surface of the current troubles, especially since his personal popularity remains high.

Dick Cheney
Mr Cheney is seen as more vulnerable than his boss

The same cannot be said for Vice-President Dick Cheney, an even more corporate man than his boss.

Mr Cheney was already in trouble for dragging his feet over a Congressional investigation into how energy policy was moulded by Enron.

The Bush administration's energy plan, which removed some of the environmental safeguards that restricted the oil and gas industry during the Clinton years, was alleged to have been heavily influenced by lobbying from Enron and other well-connected firms.

Now, Mr Cheney faces mounting criticism over his role until 2000 as chief executive of Halliburton, an oil services firm which has been hit by numerous allegations of accounting irregularities.

The anti-corruption pressure group Judicial Watch has said it will sue Mr Cheney for alleged fraudulent accounting practices which supposedly deceived investors while he was a director of the oil company Halliburton in the 1990s.

In the line of fire

Another official in immediate danger is Army Secretary Thomas White, who carries the stigma of being a former Enron official.

Thomas White
Mr White was on Enron's payroll
Mr White was vice-chairman of Enron Energy Services, a division mentioned in a memo about strategies to manipulate power markets.

Like other senior Enron managers, he sold the company's shares at a crucial time, just as the firm was officially urging employees and investors that its stock was rock-solid.

Mr White was supposed to have severed his ties with the firm when he took office two years ago.

But he was reprimanded by a Senate committee after admitting retaining a large chunk of Enron stock options, as well as a pension partly paid by the company.

Too close for comfort?

Outside the Bush administration's inner circle, House of Representatives majority leader Tom DeLay is coming under fierce fire.

Tom DeLay
Mr DeLay was too close to one constituent, his foes say
As a Texas congressman, Mr DeLay was at the forefront of raising funds from Enron, bringing in money both for himself and the Republican party.

He was one of the leaders of a Republican drive, in the late 1990s, to boost party contributions from big business in response to the financial success of the Democrats under Bill Clinton's presidency.

This keen spirit of competitiveness, it is now alleged, caused Mr DeLay and other leading Republicans to go too far.

According to his political opponents, Mr DeLay repeatedly intervened on Enron's behalf with administration officials, and enjoyed a relationship with the firm far closer than that of congressman to constituency employer.

Ripples spread

These are only the alleged ringleaders: in fact, these corporate crises extend their tentacles into every corner of political life.

No actual mud, but certainly a taint of suspicion, clings to the many corporate suits in Mr Bush's cabinet, including Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill (former chief executive of Alcoa), Budget Director Mitch Daniels (vice-president of Eli Lilly) and Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld (chairman of Gilead Sciences).

Enron, and to a lesser extent other scandal-hit firms such as WorldCom and Global Crossing, spread their largesse far and wide, bankrolling both major political parties and a string of congressmen of all persuasions.

Even supposedly impartial regulators are being dragged in, as calls mount for the resignation of Harvey Pitt, the Bush-appointed head of the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Getting mad is easy enough; as the suspect list gets longer, getting even might prove messy.


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