WASHINGTON (AP) Congressional committees took steps yesterday to subpoena Enron”s no-show former chairman, while the Justice Department rejected a Democratic call for a special prosecutor to investigate the collapse of his energy-trading company.

Former chairman Kenneth Lay was to have been the star witness at congressional hearings this week, but he abruptly backed out Sunday night.

The Senate Commerce Committee scheduled a vote today on a subpoena to force Lay”s appearance.

Rep. Michael Oxley (R-Ohio), said the House Financial Services Committee would issue a subpoena to compel Lay”s appearance “at the earliest practical date.”

Lay, who resigned as chairman on Jan. 23, quit his remaining position as a director yesterday.

“It”s not possible to figure out what caused this huge Enron ship to capsize if you can”t hear from the captain,” said Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.).

Sen. Ernest Hollings (D-S.C.), chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, said a special prosecutor was needed because the Bush Justice Department could not be relied on to investigate objectively.

The Justice Department said in a statement that it sees no reason to appoint a special counsel to investigate Enron. “No person involved in pursuing this investigation has any conflict, or any ties that would require a recusal,” the department said.

Attorney General John Ashcroft stepped aside from the investigation last month because he had received campaign donations from Enron in his failed 2000 Senate bid. The probe is being led by Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson.

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