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For the Department of Justice, organizing a criminal investigation into the largest business failure of all time and accommodating an attorney general who has recused himself may have been the easy part. The trickier task may be running that inquiry effectively amid the jumble of overlapping probes on Capitol Hill and in other executive branch agencies. Between all the parties with legitimate interests in the Enron Corp. debacle — not to mention all those with conflicts of interest — the separate investigations are bound to collide. “There will be the need for a great deal of coordination so that no one is stepping on anyone else’s case,” says former Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. So far, communication between DOJ officials and the various congressional panels running inquiries has been minimal. A top staffer for the Senate’s Permanent Investigations Subcommittee, where some 50 subpoenas related to Enron and Arthur Andersen have been prepared, said last week the subcommittee had not been contacted by the department. Nonetheless, says DOJ spokesman Bryan Sierra, “We’re very much aware of what they’re doing. They’re very much aware of what we’re doing.” The laissez-faire approach is unlikely to last, says Robert Raben, a former DOJ legislative affairs chief. “I cringed when I saw how much activity is going on at once,” Raben says. “Congress has legitimate authority to inquire about things, as does the Department of Justice. But with those competing authorities there is inherent tension.” From the department’s perspective, one big concern is the transparent nature of congressional inquiries and the tendency for findings to be leaked to the press. Last week, the House Energy and Commerce Committee released several memos indicating Enron and Andersen executives had been alerted to potential accounting problems. “That memo is a smoking gun. No prosecutor wants that released,” says a former senior Justice Department official. “You don’t want people who are potential targets of an investigation to know what you know.” Ken Johnson, spokesman for the House Energy and Commerce Committee, says staffers have been in touch with the Justice Department. “Obviously, we don’t want to do anything to impede their investigation,” Johnson says. “At the same time, we have a job to do, too.” The largest point of contention between the Hill and law enforcement often arises over the question of immunity. Congressional committees have the power to grant immunity to witness testimony by a two-thirds vote. In such instances, individuals’ statements before Congress can not be used against them in criminal proceedings, and federal prosecutors face the difficult task of proving in court that their evidence has been gathered independently. Congressional testimony brought down the government’s case against Iran-Contra figure Oliver North, whose 1989 conviction was overturned by a federal appeals court decision that North’s immunized testimony had tainted the trial. Congressional committees typically confer with the Justice Department before granting immunity to a witness. At the very least, committees are required to provide 10 days’ notification to the department. However, given the political overtones of the Enron situation, the Department of Justice will face tough scrutiny if it asks Congress to slow down or back off independent probes. “The Justice Department would prefer Congress to stand aside pending completion of their inquiry. Sometimes Congress does,” says Richard Rossman, former chief of staff of the DOJ Criminal Division. “A lot of it depends on the current state of goodwill between Congress and Justice.”

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