Lay sits stoically through scolding from Congress

Wednesday, February 13, 2002

WASHINGTON -- There were no yes-men here. Ken Lay ran into a phalanx of naysayers at a congressional hearing where he sat stoically through an hourlong scolding by lawmakers, then refused to answer their questions.

Lay briefly grinned at a joke likening Enron to the Titanic. But mostly the one-time captain of the nation's seventh largest corporation was glum, eyelids drooping, the sides of his mouth sloping into a frown.

He was staring out at Senate Commerce Committee members who had received nearly $200,000 in campaign contributions from Enron and its people between 1989 and 2001 -- back in normal times.

Lay, 59, who resigned as chairman and chief executive officer late last month and has since stepped down from the board of directors, straightened his red tie as he took his seat at the front of the crowded hearing room.

He sat motionless -- his hands, at times, pressed against his knees. His daughter, Liz, sat one row behind him. His wife, Linda, who had defended him on TV, calling him a victim and saying he was eager to tell his story, did not attend.

Unlike fired Arthur Andersen auditor David Duncan, who stood up to take the customary oath swearing to tell the whole truth at a House hearing last month, Lay remained seated when he raised his hand and took the oath.

Like Duncan, Lay did not tell anything.

"I come here today with a profound sadness about what has happened to Enron, its current and former employees, retirees, shareholders and other stakeholders," he said in a statement of fewer than 200 words.

On his way out, he dropped his folded statement and stooped to retrieve it.

Last week, Lay ducked a scheduled appearance before the committee.

Over the weekend, under subpoena forcing him to show up, he said he would not testify.

On Tuesday, he asked Congress not to think badly of him for staying mum about how Enron crumbled.

"I respectfully ask you not to draw negative inference because I am asserting my Fifth Amendment constitutional protection on instruction of counsel," Lay said.

Inferences had already been drawn.

"It's just not possible to determine why the Enron ship is at the bottom of the ocean unless you hear from the captain," said Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore.

"We deserve an explanation from the man who was at the helm of this ship as it sank," said Sen. Jean Carnahan, D-Mo. "Like passengers aboard the Titanic, thousands were blissfully unaware that hidden below the waterline lurked a danger over which they had no control."

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