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TO THE COMMENTS
OF RELPROMAX ANTITURST INC.
The Washington Post
By Dan EGGEN
One week before John D. Ashcroft suffered he biggest defeat of his political career, a $25,000 donation arrived at the Ashcroft Victory Committee, one of the Missouri senator's fundraising committees for the 2000 race.
The donor was Kenneth L. Lay, head of a rapidly growing Houston energy company called Enron Corp., whose executives contributed more than $50,000 to Ashcroft's Senate campaign in 1999 and 2000.
The contributions prompted Ashcroft to recuse himself yesterday from a criminal investigation into Enron's collapse by the Justice Department, which he heads s attorney general.
Ashcroft's decision was based on "the totality of the circumstances of the relationship between Enron and the attorney general," and Ashcroft "has not been involved in any aspect of initiating or conducting any investigation involving Enron," the Justice Department said in a statement. Chief of Staff David Ayres, who ran Ashcroft's failed reelection bid, also will divorce himself from the Enron probe, officials said. In Houston, U.S. Attorney Michael Shelby said his entire office has removed itself from any matter involving Enron because he and other prosecutors have relatives affected by the company's collapse. The Justice Department had named Houston on Wednesday as one of three U.S. attorney's offices that would participate in the investigation. Ashcroft and his aides have determined that no other top Justice officials in Washington, including several who have played prominent roles in Republican politics, had direct involvement with Enron, officials said.
Deputy Chief of Staff David Israelite and new Communications Director Barbara Comstock came to Justice after working at the Republican National Committee, which received more than $700,000 from Enron and its executives in 1999 and 2000, records show.
"It was determined that all the people [from] RNC, including David and Barbara, had no involvement with Enron," an official said.
The Ashcroft campaign received $57,499 in 1999 and 2000 from Enron and its executives, according to records compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics, a campaign finance watchdog group. Rep. Henry A. Waxman (DCalif.), in a letter to Ashcroft yesterday, complained that Lay's $25,000 gift "was many times greater than the maximum allowable contribution by individuals to federal candidates" and said the gift may have "thwarted the intent of election laws."
The Ashcroft Victory Committee, like many similar committee formed by parties and candidates in the last election, was structured to avoid rules that limit individual contributions to $20,000 and bar corporat donations.
The Enron probe will be overseen by Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson and the Justice department's criminal division chief, Michael Chertoff, officials said.