Irate members of Congress, upset with former Enron CEO Kenneth Lay's refusal to testify at a pair of hearings today, are vowing to bring him back to Capitol Hill.
Lay was to be the star witness at two congressional panels today, kicking off a series of Capitol Hill hearings this week examining the firm's collapse. But the former chief of the failed energy titan opted not to appear after what his lawyer says were inflammatory comments by members of Congress that served to pre-judge Lay.
As a result of the no-show, the Senate Commerce Committee — which cancelled a hearing today because of Lay's decision — is likely to vote Tuesday to compel him to appear in Congress. The House Financial Services Committee, which had similarly pencilled in Lay for testimony today, has also voted to authorize a subpoena mandating that Lay appear.
Even if handed subpoenas, the former head of Enron would still have the option to exercise his Fifth Amendment rights and not answer questions while appearing before the committees.
This evening, Lay announced he was resigning from Enron's board of directors. On Jan. 23, Lay had resigned as CEO, saying he did not want to be an unnecessary distraction for the now-bankrupt company.
Powers: Enron's Management 'Appalling'
The second committee at which Lay was slated to speak, House Financial Services, opted to proceed with its hearing anyway. It heard from William Powers, a member of Enron's board who directed an internal report, released this weekend, that blasted Lay and Enron's management for a lack of leadership and oversight.
"What we found was appalling," said Powers in his prepared testimony, adding: "We found a systematic and pervasive attempt by Enron's management to misrepresent the company's financial condition."
Powers pointed a finger directly at Lay, as well as former Enron President and CEO Jeffrey Skilling, and cited "misconduct" by former Chief Financial Officer Andrew Fastow and "other senior employees" who set up the company's undisclosed partnerships. Slightly less emphatically, he said the Enron board did not perform its watchdog role, noting, "The board of directors failed in its duty to provide leadership and oversight."
Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., told ABC's Good Morning America he thinks Lay's move was a reaction to the internal report.
"It's a devastating indictment of what went on inside the corporation," said Dorgan, a member of the Commerce Committee, "with the construction of secret partnership deals, overstatement of income and profits by a substantial amount, adding additional debt to the corporation and not reporting it by use of these partnerships."
In another development, Senate Commerce Committee chairman Fritz Hollings, D-S.C., became the most prominent congressman yet to call for a special prosecutor to investigate Enron's connection to the Bush administration. Hollings charged, "We've got an Enron government" at a news conference in Washington today.