Person of the Week: Kenneth Lay

  • Share
  • Read Later
Rob Rich/Getty Images

Not talking: Kenneth Lay

Congressional hearings aren't about getting confessions so much as they are about introducing the voting public to the villains — with your public servants playing the heroes. There was only one man from Enron that we wanted to see on our TVs getting grilled by Congress this week, and he didn't show: Company CEO Ken Lay. And so our Person of the Week made his greatest impact by staying out of sight.

Andrew Fastow, Enron's financial wizard who set up those partnerships everyone's looking into, went before Congress Thursday, but he wasn't talking. Jeff Skilling, the company's hard-edged CEO until last August 14, was there too, but he claimed that as far as he knew everything was fine when he left. Lay was supposed to be there on Monday. He was the prime target of congressional investigators (particularly Democratic congressional investigators) from the very beginning. And he was going to vault these hearings into the must-see stratosphere.

Then, saying through his lawyer that he believed the congressmen he was to face had already made up their minds, he simply didn't show up.

What exactly did we want him to say? That he did it, of course. That he knew about the partnerships long before Watkins told him, knew that they were shady, dangerous and maybe even illegal, knew that they made Enron more a house of cards than a company. At the very least, we wanted to watch him squirm.

We will see him, eventually. Lay, staring at a subpoena, is now due in Washington next week — in the House Tuesday and the Senate Thursday. Skilling, his successor/predecessor, has already given him a crash course in how to walk into Congress with saying you're ready to tell all — and walk right out again without giving much away. Not only did Skilling not squirm under fire, he managed to spray the blame (if there is any) in nearly every direction except his and Lay's. Which strongly suggests that Lay will do the same for Skilling.

But the stakes for both men get a little higher next week. If it turns out that the partnerships that underlings like Fastow set up are judged to be illegal, those underlings are going to be bending over backwards to refer the Justice Department to their bosses in exchange for leniency.

None of that action will be seen on TV. But congressmen still hope that Lay will provide, if not entirely forthcoming testimony, then at least some nice images and sound bites.

Of course, he has to show up first.