By William Rivers
have to love the irony: Since Kerry announced his VP choice of John
Edwards, the Bush campaign has broadbanded the anti-Edwards slam that
he is nothing more than your basic gutter-dwelling trial lawyer. This
comes blithely on the heels of Bush hiring his own trial lawyer to
protect him during the 70-minute Oval Office interrogation he endured
regarding the Valerie Plame CIA-outing case some weeks ago. Everyone
hates lawyers until they need one, it seems.
Perhaps Bush doesn't like trial lawyers because a team
of them failed to keep his long-time friend and financial backer,
Kenneth Lay, from getting his hide nailed to the shed in Houston.
According to CNN, Lay was indicted by a Texas grand jury today for
crimes relating to the apocalyptic Enron scandal. The indictment is
sealed until further notice, so no determination of the exact criminal
charges can be made.
For those who cannot quite recall the specifics of
Ken Lay and Enron, a bit of background is in order. Lay, along with
Andrew Fastow, Jeffrey Skilling and some dozens of other high-flying
bosses from Enron, are accused of insider trading, securities fraud,
wire fraud, conspiracy, manipulation of earnings reports to hide the
fact that Enron was hemorrhaging cash from every pore while they reaped
massive salaries and bonuses, and finally, manipulation of the California
energy market for no other reason than to wring pin money out of grandmothers
who were forced to live in the dark because they couldn't afford to
pay their Enron-inflated energy bills.
Tape recordings of Enron energy traders were recently
aired by CBS News. In one segment, the traders can be heard discussing
the ins and outs of manipulating the California energy market. "They're
fucking taking all the money back from you guys?" complains one
Enron employee. "All the money you guys stole from those poor
grandmothers in California?" The response: "Yeah, grandma
Millie, man." Another response: "Yeah, now she wants her
fucking money back for all the power you've charged right up, jammed
right up her asshole for fucking $250 a megawatt hour."
In filing the largest bankruptcy claim in the history
of the universe, Lay and his merry men cost investors somewhere in
the neighborhood of $30 billion. This wiped out retirement benefits
not just for the Enron employees who were forbidden from selling their
stock (while Lay et al. happily shucked theirs off to the tune of
a $1.1 billion profit), but also wiped out the retirement portfolios
of millions of Americans who had put their savings into Enron stock.
The resulting carnage on Wall Street, which erased the accounting
giant Arthur Andersen, did even more financial damage.
Martha Stewart was convicted of crimes that seem quaint
by comparison, and meanwhile Mr. Lay has been walking free and happy.
How did the priorities of the Justice Department get so far out of
whack on this one? The Enron debacle happened in December of 2001,
and it has taken them almost a thousand days to get an indictment
returned on Lay.
Enron made campaign contributions totaling more than
$5.7 million between 1989 and 2001. Republicans received 73% of this
money. Ken Lay was an ardent supporter of George W. Bush during Bush's
time as Governor of Texas. During the 2000 campaign, Lay allowed Bush
to use Enron corporate jets to fly from stump speech to stump speech.
So close were these men that Bush granted Lay a nickname: 'Kenny-Boy.'
Some 15 high-ranking Bush administration officials
owned Enron stock in 2002. The stockholders included Defense Secretary
Don Rumsfeld, political advisor Karl Rove, deputy EPA administrator
Linda Fisher, Treasury Undersecretary Peter Fisher and U.S. Trade
Rep. Robert Zoellick. Army Secretary Thomas White was a vice-chairman
for Enron before assuming his post, and owned between $50 million
and $100 million in Enron stock.
Two other officials had professional connections to
Enron. Former White House economic adviser Lawrence Lindsey was a
consultant for Enron while serving as managing director of Economic
Strategies Inc., a consulting firm. Zoellick also served on the Enron
advisory council, earning $50,000 a year.
Enron, in many respects, set about to write the Bush
administration's energy policy. Ken Lay gave the White House a list
of his personal recommendations for key federal energy posts. Lay
pushed his list of suggested members of the federal energy regulatory
commission in the spring of 2001. Two of the people he suggested -
Pat Wood and Nora Brownell - were appointed by Bush to positions that
would directly affect the fate and fortunes of Enron.
Lay himself was on the short list of potential appointees
for the position of Energy Secretary. The CBS Enron tapes reveal one
trader looking forward to a Bush win during the 2000 campaign. "It'd
be great," says one. "I'd love to see Ken Lay Secretary
of Energy." Another trader responded by saying, "When this
election comes, Bush will fucking whack this shit, man. He won't play
this price-cap bullshit."
The infamous secret energy policy meetings run by Vice
President Dick Cheney, the substance of which he still refuses to
reveal, were riddled with Enron officials and Enron priorities. It
has been speculated that one of the reasons Cheney refuses to divulge
the elements of those meetings is that Enron was wielding the drafting
pen as Bush's energy policy was created. It has also been speculated
that the secrecy surrounding these meetings is due to the fact that
the not-yet-begun Iraq war, and the resulting petroleum/pipeline profits
to be reaped, played a large role in the discussions.
The beat goes on and on in this fashion, leading to
an inescapable conclusion. Enron was certainly among the most crooked,
corrupt, twisted companies ever to hang a sign in the American marketplace.
Enron was, simultaneously, umbilically tied to George W. Bush and
vast swaths of his administration.
Now that Lay has been indicted, those Enron stockholders
still experiencing the length, breadth and depth of the shaft can
hope for a measure of justice. For the rest of us, we citizens who
have to live in a country whose energy policy was essentially written
by Lay and his pals, we citizens who have to wonder if our current
adventure in Iraq somehow plays a central role in that Enron-birthed
policy, we can perhaps hope that a thousand days is enough time to
wait before we hear the truth about Kenny-Boy and George.
William Rivers Pitt is the senior editor and lead writer for t
r u t h o u t. He is a New York Times and international bestselling
author of two books - 'War on Iraq: What Team Bush Doesn't Want You
to Know' and 'The Greatest Sedition is Silence.'