Washington Recap: Nation in Brief

Walker appears in court

John Walker Lindh, the American accused of conspiring to kill U.S. nationals as a Taliban solider, was in federal court last week, accused of four federal charges which could amounting to possible life imprisonment.

Lindh spoke briefly during the 15-minutes hearing, responding with “Yes, I do, sir” when U.S. Magistrate Judge W. Curtis Sewell asked him if he understood the charges against him.

Lindh’s parents and attorney James Brosnahan accused the government of preventing Lindh from consulting with an attorney for the 54-day period following his capture during a Taliban prison riot in which CIA agent Johnny Spann was killed.

“John did not take up arms against America, he never meant to harm any American and he never did harm any American. John is innocent of these charges,” said Frank Lindh, the defendant’s father said after the hearing, according to The New York Times.

Lindh was transported to Alexandria, Va., late last week under heavy protection. Police and more security officials than usual were on hand at the federal courthouse for the Thursday hearing, and armed guards patrolled the roof.

Lindh will be held without bail until his next hearing Feb. 6.

Enron CEO calls it quits

Enron CEO Kenneth Lay resigned from his leadership post of Enron Trading Company late last week due to pressure from shareholders.

Lay, 59, stepped down just a day before two congressional hearings were held on the energy giant’s fourth-quarter collapse.

During the hearing conducted by the House Energy and Commerce Committee, former Arthur Andersen auditor David Duncan avoided answering Rep. James C. Greenwood’s (R-Pa.) questions by invoking his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.

“Enron robbed the bank, Arthur Andersen provided the getaway car, and they say you were at the wheel,” Greenwood said.

Duncan stated, “I would like to answer the committee’s questions, but will not under advice of counsel.”

The latest development comes as evidence of widespread document shredding by both Andersen and Enron was revealed by congressional investigators.

Duncan was fired from Arthur Andersen this month due to the accusation that he was partly responsible for the destruction of evidence.

House democrats force vote on finance reform

Advocates of revamping the government’s campaign finance laws won a decisive victory last Thursday as House Democrats gained enough support to force a vote on new legislation.

Bill supporters used the Enron situation as ammunition, citing the $6 million in political campaign contributions which the energy trading giant spread around in the past decade as proof of the danger of money in politics.

The new legislation, co-authored by Christopher Shays (R-Conn.) and Martin T. Meehan (D-Mass.), will include bans on “soft money,” or unregulated financial donations from private sources.

“The bill will be treated in an expeditious and cordial fashion,” House majority leader Rep. Dick Armey (R-Texas) said about the largely Democratic initiative.

Campaign finance reform became a hot topic seven years ago but was constantly blocked by the House Republican majority.

The Democratic victory came just two days after Congress returned from Winter Session.

Greenspan Signals Economic Recovery

The recession may be coming to a close, Federal Reserve Bank Chairman Alan Greenspan told the Senate Budget Committee last week.

“There have been signs recently that some of the forces that have been restraining the economy over the past year are starting to diminish, and that activity is beginning to firm,” Greenspan told the senators.

Despite an optimistic outlook, the Fed did raise some concern over the stability of consumer spending and business investment.

Under Greenspan’s leadership, the Fed has cut interest rates 11 times in the past two years. Last week’s announcement dispelled concerns based on a Jan. 11 speech in which Greenspan implied that another rate cut was being considered.

Following the news, the stock market responded with a slight gain.

The Fed is scheduled to meet this week on Tuesday and Wednesday to declare an end to falling interest rates.

-Patrick W. Higgins

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