WASHINGTON – “The Bush administration would like to downplay its intimate relationship with Ken Lay and Enron executives,” Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif, recently charged.

Waxman, the House Government Reform Committee’s ranking Democrat, has been pressing for an investigation into contacts between Lay and White House officials to see if bankrupt Enron Corp. got special treatment.

Lay, chairman of the Houston-based energy giant, “has had unlimited access to the administration,” Waxman complained.

While that may be true, the same could be said of Lay’s access to the previous administration – something Democrats and the Washington media seem to be overlooking.

Government records examined by WorldNetDaily show that, during the Clinton years, Lay and other Enron executives got seats on at least four Energy Department trade missions and at least seven Commerce Department trade trips, including a junket to India that would later get Lay in some hot water.

From Jan. 13, 1995, to Jan. 21, 1995, Lay joined late Commerce Secretary Ron Brown on the India junket.

Half way through the mission, two federal export-finance agencies – the Export-Import Bank and the Overseas Private Investment Corp. – announced they had agreed to lend nearly $400 million to an Enron-led group to build a $920 million electric power plant in Dabhoi, India.

The second phase of the power project called for building a 1,320-megawatt plant that would be fired by liquefied natural gas.

The project’s overall value was about $3 billion.

Lay pal Mack McLarty, then-White House counselor, helped him close the deal by tracking the project with the U.S. ambassador to New Delhi and briefing Lay on the administration’s efforts. (President Clinton even helped. White House documents uncovered by Time in 1997 show he wrote a Nov. 22, 1996, FYI note to McLarty and enclosed a newspaper article on Enron and the power project.)

Then in June 1996 – four days before India gave final OK to Lay’s project – Enron gave $100,000 to the Democratic National Committee and Clinton’s re-election effort.

Public-interest law firm Judicial Watch has pried away memo after memo showing that both Commerce and White House officials picked trade mission participants based on their support for the president’s party.

Enron has denied the gift was political payback.

Seeds to the India deal may have been planted during a July 1, 1994, to July 15, 1994, trade mission led by former Energy Secretary Hazel O’Leary.

Terence Thorn, Enron’s senior vice president for governmental affairs, accompanied O’Leary on that trip.

Clinton said he asked O’Leary to visit India “to further our talks on renewable energy.”

Thorn had accompanied O’Leary previously, in February 1994, on a trade mission to China.

In September of that year, the Enron officer went on an Energy trade mission to Pakistan, and again, in August 1995, on a junket to South Africa.

O’Leary caught flak for her junkets because they ran over budget, and she couldn’t account for many expenses.

But the controversy didn’t stop there.

An analysis of Federal Election Commission records by Investor’s Business Daily found that many of the major DNC donors who got seats on the trips tended to open their wallets wider after they returned, often scoring big business deals from the government-sponsored, taxpayer-paid overseas excursions.

There were several other Commerce trips, including one to Russia in March-April 1994 joined by Enron International Chairman and CEO Rodney Gray, one to South Korea in 1999 joined by Thorn, and one to the Middle East in October 1995 in which Lay participated.

Cronyism not limited to Bush

In a report last month exposing the cozy ties between Enron and the Bush administration, the Los Angeles Times pointed out that Lay is on a first-name basis with Bush, an old Texas oil buddy. Lay also has ties to top administration officials, such as White House economic adviser Larry Lindsey, an ex-Enron consultant, and U.S. Trade Representative Bob Zoellick, a former Enron advisory board member, the article noted.

Left out of the L.A. Times’ analysis, however, were Lay’s similarly close ties to Clinton administration officials.

McLarty and Lay developed a friendship while working in the energy field together. Before becoming Clinton’s chief of staff, and later his counselor, McLarty was chairman of Arkla Inc., which later became NorAm Energy Corp.

Largely as a result of that connection, Lay was a frequent visitor at the Clinton White House, records show.

Lay returned the favor by snatching up McLarty for Enron after he left the White House.

He also hired as a consultant Betsy Moler, Clinton’s deputy energy secretary. She was accused of stopping Energy Department counterintelligence chief Notra Trulock from briefing Congress early on about Chinese espionage and security lapses at Energy’s nuclear weapons labs.

In addition, Lay recently hired former Clinton Treasury official Linda Robertson, a Democrat, to run Enron’s Washington office.

Enron contributed some $530,000 to the DNC during the 2000 election alone.

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