Enron's Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling are about to trade their corporate suites for prison cells. Sometimes the system works. As prosecutors argued and jurors apparently agreed, Enron collapsed not because of bad press or market forces beyond executives' control, but because of criminal choices and "outright lies."
In retrospect, it boggles the mind that Lay and Skilling thought their lawyers could talk their way out of a conviction.
It was smooth talk, after all, that sealed their fate. Jurors were especially incensed that Lay assured Enron employees that the company's stock was a great buy in 2001, even as he was selling some $70 million worth of it. "I thought that was a disgrace," pronounced juror Don Martin. No lie.
These convictions bolster the Bush administration's admirably tough take on white-collar crime. Yes, Dubya gave Lay the nickname Kenny Boy. And yes, according to a Center for Public Integrity report, Bush has received $736,800 from Enron since he ran for governor in 1994. But the donations didn't stop his Justice Department from prosecuting the onetime big donor.
And the big money didn't help Lay when he tried to get former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill and former Commerce Secretary Don Evans to help Enron avoid bankruptcy.
This administration also successfully threw the book at biggies at WorldCom, Tyco and Adelphia Communications Corp. On the political-corruption front, the Bush Justice Department has won guilty pleas from U.S. Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham, R-Calif., uber-lobbyist Jack Abramoff and three former GOP congressional aides.
Still, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi rails against the GOP "culture of corruption."
And in the most boneheaded political move of 2006, House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., just handed her extra rope.
This has been a sorry year for congressional ethics. Cunningham pleaded guilty. Under indictment and with news reports linking him to Abramoff, Rep.
Tom DeLay has announced his resignation. When he pleaded guilty, Abramoff implicated Rep. Bob Ney, R-Ohio. Last month, Alan Mollohan, D-W.V., stepped down from the House ethics committee after The Wall Street Journal reported that he was under investigation for directing federal spending to nonprofits with which he has financial ties. So when the FBI raided the office of Rep. William Jefferson, D-La., Hastert should have kept his head down and, for a change, let Pelosi do the squirming.
Instead, Hastert and Pelosi issued a joint statement demanding that the federal government return "the papers it unconstitutionally seized." Bush responded by sealing the seized records for 45 days.
Be it noted that the FBI had a subpoena and the House raid followed a search of Jefferson's home last August that netted $90,000 stashed in Jefferson's freezer -- money that allegedly came from a $100,000 bribe captured on videotape. The feds had tried to get Jefferson to honor the subpoena for months -- but to no avail.
Sen. David Vitter, R-La., told The Washington Times, "Make no mistake, the American people will come to one conclusion -- that congressional leaders are trying to protect their own from valid investigation." That's certainly how I see it.
If Hastert wants to do something for his institution, he should lay off Department of Justice investigators and lean on Republicans to stop larding pork-barrel projects onto the bill to provide supplemental funds for the war on terrorism and hurricane spending.
Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., led an insurgent effort against the orgy of log-rolling last week, but he failed. "We have one of our former members in jail right now for basically selling earmarks. He was able to get his earmarks through the legislative process without being challenged.
Jack Abramoff reportedly referred to the Appropriations Committee as an "earmark favor factory," Flake told The New York Times.
Rep. Henry Bonilla, R-Texas, who chairs the subcommittee that produces the agriculture appropriations bill, responded that it was "really bad form'' for Flake to mention the scandals on the House floor.
Really bad form? Try: padding emergency spending bills with pet projects without finding ways to pay for them.
Try: living large off lobbyist lucre when you're supposed to be serving constituents. Try: showing more outrage at an FBI search than the possibility that a member may have accepted bribes.
To paraphrase what the juror said, it is a disgrace.