September 03, 2004
Lay says it's about politics

I'm trying to make sense of this op-ed piece which ran in the Chron and the WaPo yesterday, in which Kenny Boy Lay claims that there's a political motive behind his criminal indictment. (It's also now the sole content on

[W]hy can't we get on to trial? Perhaps, as my lawyers said in a court filing, it's because the acting attorney general was "unable to determine whether he was announcing an indictment or holding a political rally" and finally decided on the latter. Some other statements at that rally:

● Linda C. Thomsen, deputy director of enforcement for the Securities and Exchange Commission: "[T]he President's Corporate Task Force, which celebrates its second anniversary tomorrow... [has demonstrated that] just the mention of the name Enron evokes images of duplicity and greed."

● Internal Revenue Service Commissioner Mark W. Everson: "[T]he corporate culture of Enron guided by Mr. Lay is now synonymous with corporate fraud and greed at its worst. And Enron's crooked 'E' logo depicts the corporate management team at Enron—crooked."

Are these signs of a dispassionate prosecution of crime? To me they look more like part of a political campaign. Perhaps most telling: In the Justice Department's news release on my indictment, one must get to the 19th paragraph (third from the last) before there is any mention of "presumed to be innocent unless and until proven guilty."

Hey, this is the Ashcroft Justice Department we're talking about. You're lucky they even remembered that bit.

In March, when the Enron Task Force's long-term director, Leslie Caldwell, resigned, it was announced that Andrew Weissmann would replace her. In four months his new team did what the two previous teams were unable, or unwilling, to do after more than two years of intensive investigation: It indicted me on peripheral violations having little or nothing to do with the collapse of Enron. Then it illogically tagged me on to an earlier mega-indictment against others that had already been declared "complex." The maneuver meant that I had been accused and thus "taken off the table" as a political issue for this year's election, the assumption being that I could not possibly get an open, public trial before November.

Now, I know about politics. I have been active for years and I ask neither sympathy nor special treatment. But justice is a different issue. The tragic circumstances surrounding the collapse of Enron and the harm it caused to so many victims is something I will take to my grave. My inability to save Enron is one of my greatest regrets. But I am guilty of no crime and eager to prove my innocence. Our Constitution guarantees justice and a speedy trial. Yet, without the agreement of the President's Task Force, as hard as I may try, I may not be granted either.

I don't follow the logic here. Lay, Skilling, and Causey weren't news any more before they were arrested and indicted. Sure, they were out there, and sure there were political points to be scored because of it, but does anyone think this is a driving force in the election? The Enron collapse and the circumstances that surrounded it are part of a larger narrative about the Bush administration, but it's too subtle to get any screen time. As far as I can tell, nobody was paying any real attention to these guys before the indictments came down.

There's attention now, but not in the way that Lay implies. From where I sit, the main effect of the indictments has been to excite Bush opponents and to bring the whole Enron story back into the news. If there's any benefit to that to the Bush administration, why aren't they making a point to talk about it and brag about their impending victory for justice? The fact that they're not is why I believe if there were political calculations being made here, the task force would have deferred everything until after November, not brought them to the forefront now. I don't see how Lay's interpretation of it makes sense.

But all this is almost irrelevant anyway. I just don't see Enron being a deciding factor in anyone's vote this year regardless. I thought it might have an effect in 2002, but there wasn't. I don't believe it will be any different now.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on September 03, 2004 to Enronarama | TrackBack