It's the harshest attack yet on U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman.

"Norm, on your watch we had the greatest malfeasance in economic history," Independence Party Senate candidate Dean Barkley charged in a debate this week. "If you were in Enron, right now you'd probably be under indictment, not running for reelection."

Barkley sounded the theme in an earlier debate, when, according to a live Minnesota Public Radio blog, he said members of Congress "would be going to jail now" if they were Enron executives.

So does Barkley really believe Coleman committed a crime?

"No, I would not go that far," Barkley said Friday. "The malfeasance is looking the other way and letting Wall Street do whatever it wanted in the mortgage industry, as far as relaxing the standards."

Although he criticized Coleman for the financial crisis in the debates, Barkley said Democrats in Congress encouraged looser lending standards and Republicans allowed it to happen "because their friends were getting wealthy."

The IP candidate said both parties "let our economy basically face the greatest crisis we've ever had since the Depression. There was nothing criminal that Congress did other than they were asleep and they looked the other way.

"If you get a little inflammatory in the heat of an argument, sometimes maybe you do," Barkley said. "It was a pretty feisty debate."

Luke Friedrich, press secretary for the Coleman campaign, said Friday that "Dean Barkley's attacks are disappointing. For someone who served eight days in the Senate and then became a casino and tobacco lobbyist, his contemptuous dismissal of everyone serving in Congress lacks credibility."

Pat Doyle • 651-222-1210