The two top figures in the Enron corporate scandal have been found guilty. On Thursday Enron founder Ken Lay was convicted on 10 counts of conspiracy, securities fraud, wire fraud, bank fraud and for making false statements to banks. Enron’s former CEO Jeffrey Skilling was also convicted on 19 of 28 counts. With Lay’s conviction, one of President Bush’s top financial backers is now facing the possibility of spending the next 30 years in prison. We speak with investigative journalists Robert Bryce and Greg Palast. [includes rush transcript]
With the conviction of Enron’s founder Ken Lay, one of President Bush’s top financial backers is now facing the possibility of spending the next 30 years in prison. On Thursday Enron founder Ken Lay was convicted in two separate trials on 10 counts of conspiracy, securities fraud, wire fraud, bank fraud and for making false statements to banks. Enron’s former CEO Jeffrey Skilling was also convicted. A jury found him guilty on 19 of 28 counts. The conspiracy and fraud convictions each carry a sentence of up to 10 years in prison. Four years ago Enron filed for bankruptcy after years of defrauding its own employees and investors. The bankruptcy put over 4,000 people out of work. The value of the company’s stock dropped from ninety dollars to about 30 cents. Thousands of Enron employees lost their lifesavings. Hours after the jury announced its verdict Ken Lay spoke outside the Houston courthouse and proclaimed his innocence.
- Ken Lay, speaking after he was convicted Thursday.
Ken Lay will be sentenced during the week of September 11th. Today we are going to spend the hour looking at the Enron scandal, corporate crime, the energy industry and Enron’s close ties to President Bush. In Austin, Texas we are joined by Robert Bryce. He is a former reporter at the Houston Chronicle and is the author of “Pipe Dreams: Greed, Ego and the Death of Enron.” Here in New York we are joined by BBC investigative reporter Greg Palast. He has closely followed the Enron scandal and the regulation of power markets. His latest book is titled “Armed Madhouse: Who’s Afraid of Osama Wolf?, China Floats, Bush Sinks, The Scheme to Steal '08, No Child's Behind Left, and Other Dispatches from the Front Lines of the Class War.”
- Robert Bryce, Texas-based journalist who regularly covers energy issues. He is the author of two books: “Pipe Dreams: Greed, Ego, and the Death of Enron” and “Cronies: Oil, the Bushes, and the Rise of Texas, America’s Superstate.”
- Greg Palast, investigative reporter with the BBC who has closely monitored the Enron scandal and the regulation of power markets. His latest book is titled “Armed Madhouse: Who’s Afraid of Osama Wolf?, China Floats, Bush Sinks, The Scheme to Steal '08, No Child's Behind Left, and Other Dispatches from the Front Lines of the Class War.”
AMY GOODMAN: Hours after the jury announced its verdict, Ken Lay spoke outside the Houston courthouse and proclaimed his innocence.
KEN LAY: I’m going to make a very brief comment. Obviously there will be other times later. Certainly we’re surprised, I think probably more appropriately to say we’re shocked. Certainly this was not the outcome we expected. I firmly believe I’m innocent of the charges against me, as I have said from day one. I still firmly believe that as of this day. But despite what happened today, I am still a very blessed man. I have, on my left, this beautiful lady that’s my wife. I have a very warm and loving and Christian family that supports me, a lot of friends, including some out there in the audience right now. And most of all, we believe that God, in fact, is in control, and indeed He does work all things for good for those who love the Lord. And we love our Lord, and ultimately all of these things will work for good. Thank you so much for all of your courtesies, all of your interests, and obviously as time goes on we’ll have more things to say, but that’s all I want to say today. Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: Ken Lay, founder of Enron. He’ll be sentenced on September 11th. Today we’re going to spend the hour looking at the Enron scandal, corporate crime, the energy industry, and Enron’s close ties to President Bush. In Austin, Texas we’re joined by Robert Bryce, former reporter at the Houston Chronicle, author of Pipe Dreams: Greed, Ego and the Death of Enron. Here in New York, we’re joined by BBC investigative reporter, Greg Palast. He’s closely followed the Enron scandal and the regulation of power markets. His latest book is called Armed Madhouse. We turn first to Robert Bryce in Austin, Texas. Can you describe, Robert, exactly what these men, what Jeffrey Skilling and Ken Lay, were convicted of?
ROBERT BRYCE: Well, it was, you know — they didn’t go after Ken Lay and Jeffrey Skilling, Amy, on charges about accounting fraud. They went after the charges, I think, that were the ones that were easier to prove. Remember there were two different cases involved here. One was a bench trial that started right after the jury trial, which was also tried by Judge Sim Lake, which were the bank fraud charges, and Lay was convicted on all four of those. The other charges involved wire fraud and securities fraud. These were the charges that the federal prosecutors saw as ones that they were most easy, I believe, to pursue Lay and Skilling on. Skilling was facing similar charges, in terms of securities fraud and wire fraud, and they were the ones that I think that, again, the prosecutors thought were the ones that they could easily go into details with the jurors on.
So, you know, I think stepping back from all of that, though, I think that what the jurors have said here, and when you read what they’ve said since the trial ended, they simply didn’t believe Lay and Skilling. They didn’t believe that Lay and Skilling were unaware of all the accounting shenanigans that were going on, and they didn’t believe that Lay and Skilling were blameless here. And I, for one, having followed the story now for, you know, since before the bankruptcy, really started looking at Enron in 2000 and earlier, I think it’s great. I think this is a really strong message, and also it’s a clear and a huge win for the Bush Justice Department and for the Bush White House, in many ways.
AMY GOODMAN: Greg Palast, can you explain in lay terms, while we’re talking bank fraud and conspiracy, making false statements to banks, in lay terms, what were they convicted of? What did they do? How did Skilling and Lay bring down the company?
GREG PALAST: Okay. I actually have a darker view than my colleague, Bryce, on this. They were convicted — think of it this way. This is the Al Capone of electricity, Ken Lay, and like Al Capone, who got convicted of not filing his taxes — after machine gunning people, right? —here Ken Lay, who is really the master financial criminal of the late 20th century, part of a crew, part of a mob, he’s only sent up the river for very limited charges. Yes, it’s a victory for the Bush Justice Department. He’s basically convicted of not filing the proper papers, like not filing his taxes. So it’s fraud charges, not filling out loan forms properly, not proper disclosures to the SEC.
Now, you have to understand what’s happening here. That means, despite the fact that this one guy is getting nailed and stands — two guys could go up the river, for up to a century in the case of Skilling, in fact, they’re not charged with their big crimes. The Bush Justice Department went way out of its way to make sure that the big crimes were not busted. After all, these guys played games with not only the books of their company, but they took down the California power market, ripped off consumers with other power companies as co-conspirators, with investment banks as co-conspirators, $9 billion. $9 billion from the consumers of California. Not a single charge was excluded from the trial. So, all these guys are actually breaking out the champagne bottles, because what they did was is they hung out Ken Lay and Skilling to dry, but the mob stays there; just like when Capone went up the river, we saw the legacy of the mob. In this case, Skilling and Lay go up the river for these technical infractions, but the power mob still stays there.
It was, you know, the Justice Department — in fact, justice wasn’t done. It wasn’t even begun, because you have the situation in which, for example, the investment banks, which had to pay almost $7 billion in civil settlements, they should now be indicted. They’re co-conspirators with Lay. But in fact they were let off the hook, and the law firm which brought these investment bankers to heel, the co-conspirators, made them pay the $7 billion, that law firm has now been indicted: Milberg Weiss. In other words, the Bush administration is sending out a very clear signal to big business: okay, we had to hang out — we had to sacrifice some guy; we needed a sacrificial lamb; we gave the crowd Lay and Skilling. But big business, it’s business as usual. We have nailed the law firm that went after Enron. No new indictments. The power markets remain controlled by basically a mob of power pirates, the co-conspirators to Enron. They could not have done this alone.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break, and then we’re going to come back, and we’re going to hear some of the startling audio tape conversations that had to do with bringing down the whole case of energy in California. Greg Palast is our guest. He is author of the book Armed Madhouse. We’re also joined by Robert Bryce in Austin, Texas. He’s author of Pipe Dreams: Greed, Ego and the Death of Enron.
AMY GOODMAN: In California, the state’s former governor Gray Davis praised the jury for convicting Ken Lay and Jeffrey Skilling. David said, quote, “Given the way Enron ripped off California, I think the jury did an excellent job. I take some solace in the fact that Lay and Skilling be will send some time in prison,” he said. Six years ago, California was plunged into an unprecedented energy crisis, rolling blackouts shut down parts of the state, power bills soared. It turned out that at the center of the crisis was Enron, although the company’s role wasn’t fully understood at the time. Two years ago, lawyers involved in a lawsuit in Washington state obtained audio tapes that proved Enron asked power companies to take plants offline at the height of the California energy crisis, in order to make more money. In one taped phone call, an Enron employee celebrated the fact that a massive forest fire had shut down a transmission line carrying energy into California, causing the price of energy to rise.
ENRON EMPLOYEE 1: Yeah.
ENRON EMPLOYEE 2: Now, the magical word of the day is “Burn, baby, burn.”
ENRON EMPLOYEE 1: What’s happening?
ENRON EMPLOYEE 2: There’s a fire under the core line. This will delay us from 45 to 2,100.
ENRON EMPLOYEE 1: Really. Burn, baby, burn!
AMY GOODMAN: In this phone call, an Enron employee talked about how the company had ripped off poor grandmothers in California. Listen carefully.
ENRON EMPLOYEE 1: So the rumor is true? They’re f—-ing taking all the money back from you guys? All that money you guys stole from those poor grandmothers in California?
ENRON EMPLOYEE 2: Yeah, Grandma Millie, man. So she’s the one who couldn’t figure out how to f—-ing vote on the butterfly ballot, but yeah, now she wants her f—-ing money back for all the power you’ve charged right up her —- jammed right up her a—- for f—-ing $250 a megawatt hour. Yeah, you know. You know Grandma Millie. She’s the one that Al Gore is fighting for.
AMY GOODMAN: Enron employees also discussed the possibility of Ken Lay becoming Secretary of Energy if George W. Bush won the 2000 election.
ENRON EMPLOYEE 1: Tell you what, you heard this here first. When Bush wins, that f—-ing Bill Richardson, he’s gone, that f—-ing Clinton, all these f—-ing socialists are gone.
ENRON EMPLOYEE 2: Yeah.
ENRON EMPLOYEE 1: You know who the biggest single contributor to the Bush campaign is?
ENRON EMPLOYEE 2: You.
ENRON EMPLOYEE 1: Enron.
ENRON EMPLOYEE 2: What?
ENRON EMPLOYEE 1: Enron.
ENRON EMPLOYEE 2: Is it Enron?
ENRON EMPLOYEE 1: Yeah.
ENRON EMPLOYEE 2: Jesus Christ. Is that true?
ENRON EMPLOYEE 1: Yeah, I think it is.
ENRON EMPLOYEE 2: The biggest single contributor.
ENRON EMPLOYEE 1: Yeah, the biggest corporate contributor to the —
ENRON EMPLOYEE 2: Holy — really? That’s huge. That’s huge.
ENRON EMPLOYEE 1: Ken Lay is going to be Secretary of Energy.
ENRON EMPLOYEE 2: Get out of here! Can you imagine that?
ENRON EMPLOYEE 1: Why not, though? Why not? It could be, right?
ENRON EMPLOYEE 2: Yeah.
ENRON EMPLOYEE 1: I mean, why not? Who, you know, who’s to say, why not?
ENRON EMPLOYEE 2: He could be. That would be awesome, actually.
ENRON EMPLOYEE 1: That would be — how great would that be for all the players in the market?
ENRON EMPLOYEE 2: It would be great. I’d love to see Ken Lay be Secretary of Energy.
ENRON EMPLOYEE 1: We’d open these markets up.
ENRON EMPLOYEE 2: Yep, and you know what? If you don’t know what you’re doing, you’re f—-ed. See you.
AMY GOODMAN: And in this phone call from January 2001, an Enron employee asked a worker at a power plant in Las Vegas to take the plant offline. That same day energy supplies were so tight that Northern California experienced a stage three power emergency, and rolling blackouts hit as many as two million consumers.
POWER PLANT WORKER: Las Vegas Co-Gen, this is Rich.
ENRON EMPLOYEE: Hey, Rich, this is Bill up at Enron.
POWER PLANT WORKER: Bill.
ENRON EMPLOYEE: How you doin’, man?
POWER PLANT WORKER: Junior or Senior?
ENRON EMPLOYEE: Heh, heh, the Third.
POWER PLANT WORKER: The Third! What’s happening, Bill the Third?
ENRON EMPLOYEE: Not much, man. I’m giving you a call. We’ve got some issues for tomorrow.
POWER PLANT WORKER: Okay.
ENRON EMPLOYEE: Are you ready for some issues? You’re just about out of there, aren’t you?
POWER PLANT WORKER: I got a couple more hours, I ain’t going anywhere. All right, shoot. I’ve got pen and paper.
ENRON EMPLOYEE: All right man. I’m not — this is going to be a word-of-mouth kind of thing.
POWER PLANT WORKER: Okay.
ENRON EMPLOYEE: Tonight, when you finish your normal QF, so for hour ending 1, which will actually be tomorrow —
POWER PLANT WORKER: Right.
ENRON EMPLOYEE: We want you guys to get a little creative —
POWER PLANT WORKER: Okay.
ENRON EMPLOYEE: — and come up with a reason to go down.
POWER PLANT WORKER: Okay.
ENRON EMPLOYEE: Anything you want to do over there? Any cleaning, anything like that?
POWER PLANT WORKER: Yeah. Yeah. There’s some stuff that we could be doing tonight.
ENRON EMPLOYEE: That’s good.
POWER PLANT WORKER: Yeah, we need to do some — we need to come down and inspect this switch on the steam turbine, this one switch on this induction steam valve that’s been failing us, and we need to be down in order to pull the switch and adjust it.
ENRON EMPLOYEE: No sh—?
POWER PLANT WORKER: Yeah.
ENRON EMPLOYEE: I like that. And, I don’t know, I guess around 11:00 for hour ending 11 —
POWER PLANT WORKER: Right.
ENRON EMPLOYEE: You got to go back — we need you to go back down.
POWER PLANT WORKER: Okay, shut back down for hour ending 11?
ENRON EMPLOYEE: Yeah.
POWER PLANT WORKER: So, we’ll do our normal afternoon shutdown tomorrow.
ENRON EMPLOYEE: Yep.
POWER PLANT WORKER: Okay.
ENRON EMPLOYEE: But we’re not wanting to have it prescheduled.
POWER PLANT WORKER: Right.
ENRON EMPLOYEE: It’s supposed to be, you know, kinda one of those things.
POWER PLANT WORKER: Okay, so we’re just coming down for some maintenance, like a forced outage type thing.
ENRON EMPLOYEE: Right.
POWER PLANT WORKER: And that’s cool?
ENRON EMPLOYEE: Hopefully.
POWER PLANT WORKER: Because the schedule I just got over here, well, you know what it says.
ENRON EMPLOYEE: Yep, I’m looking right at it.
POWER PLANT WORKER: Okay, it’s the new schedule.
ENRON EMPLOYEE: You just got a new one?
POWER PLANT WORKER: It says “new schedule” on the bottom. It’s showing 52 all day.
ENRON EMPLOYEE: Oh, right, and so that’s the one you’re going to want to ignore.
POWER PLANT WORKER: Exactly.
ENRON EMPLOYEE: I knew I could count on you.
POWER PLANT WORKER: No problem. I’m sure I’ll have a good time.
AMY GOODMAN: Again, that’s an Enron employee asking a worker at a power plant in Las Vegas to take the plant offline. That same day energy supplies were so tight, Northern California experienced a stage three power emergency, and rolling blackouts hit as many as two million consumers. Greg Palast, you write about this in Armed Madhouse.
GREG PALAST: Yeah, in a chapter called “When Arnold Got Layed.” Sorry, the pun is one of my worst, but you have to understand, this call to shut down power plants and basically flick the light switches to pretend that there was a blackout, that we’re heading towards blackout, drives up the price of power in California by ten thousand percent in an hour. But this was not just Enron. One thing we got to get clear here, we’re talking about an entire mob, not two guys, not even one company.
The same calls were made by Duke Power to San Diego Gas and Electric. We had a whole gang, Reliant, Dynergy, El Paso, Duke, Entergy. These guys were all working in coordination — Public Service of New Mexico — and they were playing games with the power market. They were running it like a fixed casino. And yet only one company went down and only two guys, and they weren’t even allowed to bring up the California power markets in the trial, so that basically, the Bush Justice Department did its very, very best to keep the real crimes and the whole mob out of the courtroom, because it would have brought it right back, of course, to the Bush administration itself.
AMY GOODMAN: And what does Governor Schwarzenegger have to do with this?
GREG PALAST: Ah, well, the worst thing — these guys fear one thing more than jail, and that’s giving back the money. The State of California under Gray Davis — you just had him on saying, you know, 'God bless this jury.' Gray Davis had demanded that after Enron got and their buddies got caught nicking the state for $9 billion-plus, he did the obvious thing, he demanded that the money be returned.
So Lay panicked. He did two things: He went to meet with Dick Cheney in Washington, but he also held a meeting with Mike Milken, who had just gotten out of jail for his multi-billion-dollar stock fraud. Milken and Lay invited Arnold Schwarzenegger to a private meeting at the Peninsula Hotel in Beverly Hills, and, you know, Schwarzenegger used to do these private hotel things where he’d go down to his Speedos, but now this is in 2001, and they suggested that they needed — if only they could get the State of California to agree to basically a sweetheart fake settlement, where the people would get back, instead of $9 billion, would basically get, you know, donuts instead of dollars, next to nothing.
Right after that, the recall drive starts against Gray Davis, who is demanding that the money be returned. Schwarzenegger becomes — the Terminator becomes the Governator, and literally within days, the Lay plan from the Peninsula Hotel goes right into effect, and Schwarzenegger just starts signing off with every one of these power companies to give dimes on the dollar, so that the public in California just never got its money back, just got virtually nothing.
AMY GOODMAN: One of the things that wasn’t addressed very much yesterday, though there was wall-to-wall coverage of the trial and the verdict that came down yesterday for Skilling and for Lay — Ken Lay found guilty on every count — is the connection between President Bush and Enron. Enron founder Ken Lay and his family rank among President Bush’s biggest financial backers of his political career. The family donated about $140,000 to Bush’s political campaigns in Texas and for the White House.
The President personally nicknamed Ken Lay “Kenny Boy.” Overall, Enron employees gave Bush some $600,000 in political donations. According to the Center for Public Integrity, this made Enron Bush’s top career donor, a distinction the company maintained until 2004. Shortly after Bush took office in 2001, Vice President Cheney met with Enron officials while he was developing the administration’s energy policies. Our guest, Greg Palast, examined the connections between Enron and the Bush administration in his documentary, Bush Family Fortunes.
GREG PALAST: Even before he takes the presidential oath, Bush forms a secret task force, including Enron’s Ken Lay to rewrite America’s environmental and energy laws.
CRAIG McDONALD: He put the very people who funded him in the room to devise a clean air policy. They wrote the policy. He enacted the policy and the policy was strictly voluntary, did nothing to clean up the air, yet he touted it as a major accomplishment.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Instead of the government telling utilities where and how to cut pollution, we will give them a firm deadline and let them find the most innovative ways to meet it.
CRAIG McDONALD: These same funders were sick and tired of trying to play by the environmental rules and regulations. George Bush gave them an environmental clean air policy that any corporation would lust after.
JIM HIGHTOWER: How proud we are to be the number one state in the country in air pollution.
CRAIG McDONALD: Ken Lay, got almost total complete energy deregulation out of George Bush.
JIM HIGHTOWER: What did the Bush administration do? It refused to impose price controls to put a cap on those utility prices, meaning a company like Enron could set its own prices to consumers.
CORPORATE EXECUTIVE: Show me the money! Show me the money!
CRAIG McDONALD: He was delivering a favor in a policy that the donors who put him in that office want.
JIM HIGHTOWER: Consumers in California were being stiffed, and Enron was raking in hundreds of millions of dollars during that period in corrupt profits. So that’s a pretty good payback.
GREG PALAST: But Enron squandered their California windfall in a series of spectacular frauds which imploded, leaving thousands jobless and pensioners bankrupt. Now, George tried to downplay his links with Enron’s Ken Lay and other corrupt bosses.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: By far, the vast majority of CEOs in America are good honorable, honest people. In the corporate world, sometimes things aren’t exactly black and white when it comes to accounting procedures, and the SEC’s job is to rev — is to look and is to determine whether or not, whether or not, whether or not the decision by the auditors was the appropriate decision.
JIM HIGHTOWER: Ken Lay, whom George W. fondly called “Kenny Boy,” was the major campaign contributor to George W. Bush, and they exchanged Christmas cards with each other. Ken Lay was very personal, very close with the Bush family.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: I do know that Mr. Lay came to the White House in — early in my administration along with, I think, twenty other business leaders to discuss the state of the economy. It was just kind of a general discussion. I have not met with him personally.
AMY GOODMAN: An excerpt of the BBC’s Bush Family Fortunes, produced by our guest and author today, Greg Palast, author of Armed Madhouse. Care to elaborate?
GREG PALAST: Well, yeah. I mean, you heard the traders saying that Ken Lay, being number one donor, was going to become Secretary of State. That’s not what Lay wanted. Lay had a bigger wish list.
AMY GOODMAN: Secretary of Energy.
GREG PALAST: Excuse me, Secretary of Energy. He wanted to name the electricity cops, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, so Ken Lay secretly gave Dick Cheney a list of three names. Now, you have to understand, Al Capone used to have to buy off the cops. Here’s Ken Lay trying to get them appointed. He said, “Here’s three good choices for chairman of the commission that’s supposed to regulate me.” Right? That he already knew that he was being asked for the $9 billion back, right?
Anyway, George Bush gave him a real extraordinary Christmas gift. He appointed all three guys to the Energy Commission. So Lay appoints his own regulators, and he did this before in Texas, when George, when George Bush was Governor of Texas, when George Bush says he didn’t know Ken Lay, and I’ve got a letter in Armed Madhouse showing a note from Ken Lay saying, “Here’s the guy I want to be my regulator, the cop that’s supposed to be watching me,” and sure enough, Governor George Bush appoints Ken Lay’s personal cop.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to bring back in Robert Bryce, author of Pipe Dreams: Greed, Ego and the Death of Enron. You are in the state, you’re in Texas, where it all began, where the relationship between Ken Lay, Enron and the Bush family began. Can you talk more about this issue that is not very much addressed in the media, though they are covering the story, of course, of the verdict.
ROBERT BRYCE: Well, remember that the Enron and Ken Lay connection to the Bush family precedes George W. Bush. Ken Lay was a donor to the presidential campaign of George the first, George H.W. Bush, when he ran for president in 1980, and Lay was also involved in and had close ties in the Reagan administration when they deregulated the natural gas market. So, you know, this was not by any means any kind of a secret here in Texas. Enron was pushing deregulation in Texas, they were pushing deregulation in California, etc.
If I can just mention one thing in terms of California, you know, I take Mr. Palast’s point about all of these companies, you know, gaming the market in California. That’s all true, and they all certainly did. Many of them have paid fines, they haven’t faced criminal charges, which I think they should, but remember that was largely a product of the fact that the California legislature opened the market, and they did so in a shoddy manner that allowed it to be game. So I’m not excusing any of the activity here, but there’s enough blame to go around here, in terms of what happened in California, and some of that was due to simply poorly written laws that occurred in California.
Now, what happened, though, with regard to the Bush administration and Enron? Well, it’s clear, remember, it’s six years ago, six years and a month, when George W. Bush was at Enron Field at the opening day of Enron Field, watching a Houston Astros game in the box seats owned by Ken Lay. I mean, this is a relationship that’s long and deep.
Once Bush gets elected, what happens in early 2001, when the power market in California starts to — I mean, where the, you know, the price gouging is obvious, prices are skyrocketing, Ken Lay gets a personal meeting with Dick Cheney and briefs him on their goal, which was not to have the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission intervene in the California power market. When you look at the records of those meetings, you see that when Cheney comes out of the meeting, he then has an interview with the Los Angeles Times either the next day or following day, and he repeats virtually the very same talking points that Ken Lay handed to him, which were, “Don’t intervene. We believe in the free market. Let’s let the free market figure out what the price or proper price of power in California is.”
Well, so, in fact, the FERC didn’t intervene. They stayed out of the market for another two months. Billions more were — of costs were imposed on California consumers. But then, what happened finally, the FERC intervened in June of 2001, imposed soft price caps, and the entire power market collapsed. Price sanity returned to the market, because the federal government showed that it was willing to intervene, and that was what that whole market had been waiting for for months was some kind of federal intervention. And that’s where I think the corruption has really occurred, clearly was that Lay got access to Cheney and Cheney and the Bush administration led the FERC or instructed the FERC not to intervene, and that cost California dearly.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Robert Bryce, author of Pipe Dreams and Greg Palast, author of Armed Madhouse. Both men have followed Enron and the Bush dynasty for years. Robert Bryce talking to us from Texas, Greg Palast here with us in New York. We’re going to go to break, and when we come back, we’re going to play a clip of the former British ambassador to Uzbekistan, talking about Enron and the Bushes, and what that has to do with this regime in Uzbekistan, and then a clip of Alex Gibney’s film, Smartest Guys in the Room. Yes, it’s about Enron.
AMY GOODMAN: Enron’s influence reached as far as Uzbekistan. In January, we interviewed the former British ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray. He spoke about the relationship between President Bush and the Uzbek regime of President Karimov.
CRAIG MURRAY: It goes back to before George Bush became President. In 1997 or 1998, George Bush, as Governor of Texas, had a meeting with the Uzbek ambassador to the United States, Ambassador Safayev, which was actually organized and set up by Kenneth Lay of Enron. And if you go to my website, you can find a facsimile of Kenneth Lay’s letter to George Bush, telling him to meet Ambassador Safayev in order to conclude a billion-dollar gas deal between Uzbekistan and Enron. And that was the start of the Bush relationship with the Karimov regime.
Karimov is one of the most vicious dictators in the world, a man who is responsible for the death of thousands of people. Prisoners are boiled to death in Uzbek jails. And he was a guest in the White House in 2002. It’s very easy to find photos of George Bush shaking Karimov’s hand.
AMY GOODMAN: Again, that is the former British ambassador to Uzbekistan, in our Democracy Now! studios. And for people who are listening on the radio, you can go to our website at democracynow.org to see the photographs of the leaders of Uzbekistan shaking the hands of President Bush. Greg Palast, your response?
GREG PALAST: You have to understand that Enron is an international conspiracy locked up very tightly with the Bush family. You have to understand that not only was a call made to the dictator of Uzbekistan, but Jeb Bush called up the finance minister of Argentina to fix a deal and said even though Enron was low bidder for the natural gas of Argentina, Jeb Bush called and said, you know, “My father has just been elected president of the free world.”
AMY GOODMAN: This is before Jeb Bush was Florida governor?
GREG PALAST: Before he was governor. This is George’s brother. And what Jeb was saying is “My father would very much appreciate if you would give Enron the deal.” And the finance minister was just floored. He thought that this was being muscled into giving away Argentina’s resources to some guy he’s never heard of: Ken Lay. This is Jeb Bush. Neil Bush then goes on the payroll of Enron to sell the Saudis water systems for Enron. You have to understand that literally the Bush family has been kind of an armed sales force for Enron, and an empowered sales force, sometimes on the payroll, sometimes just in office and the gimme is, of course, the huge political donations.
And that really hasn’t been touched in the U.S. papers, the huge international reach of Enron, including, by the way, Mr. Tony Blair, where I broke a story there about Enron’s influence with the Blair government, that huge amount of money was paid into the Labour Party to allow Enron to bust the rules to allow them to build power plants in England. I mean, Tony Blair had a lot to answer for, but that story was covered there.
AMY GOODMAN: I didn’t hear these questions asked last night in the news conference with Tony Blair and George Bush, who were having a kind of mini-summit in Washington, D.C.
GREG PALAST: Yes, very mini. Yeah, no, Tony Blair is also completely mobbed up with Enron. I mean, I pretended, I went undercover and was able to virtually buy Tony Blair’s Cabinet back in 1998. It was a big scandal. I won the equivalent of Britain’s Pulitzer Prize for it. It’s in the book. And basically I pretended to be an Enron representative, consultant, and the doors literally opened. I was invited right into 10 Downing Street. All I had do was say “Enron.” It was like “abracadabra.” But it was all about cutting secret private deals. And they said, “Well, you know, we just had your guys in, and we’ve already given them xyz. We’ve given them waivers on the power plants.” And I was like —
AMY GOODMAN: Were you wired?
GREG PALAST: I was wired, yes. And unfortunately for Tony Blair, I was wired. And when he called me a liar on the floor of the House of Commons, we said, “Well, let’s listen to the audio tape.” But, you know, that’s not done here in the U.S. I mean, at the same time that we were busting Enron over there, the U.S. press here was acting like Ken Lay, like especially writers like Thomas Friedman of the Times, like he was, you know, Elvis on a pogo stick. He was bringing the wonders of the free market to electricity, this guy who was basically leading — like I say, you have to understand it’s a mob. And one thing I am very discouraged at, reading the coverage, it’s all about symbol of an era, as if it’s gone, as if under George Bush that era is over. No, that era is beginning. Okay, they got rid of the guy who kicked it off. They had to. He went too far. But the whole gang is still operating. That’s one of the big evils.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn now to an excerpt of the documentary, Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room. It’s based on the book by the same name by Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind. In this excerpt, Enron founder Ken Lay talks about the state of Enron to a room full of Enron employees. The date was October 22, 2001, a week after the Securities and Exchange Commission sent a letter to Enron asking for information on the company’s third quarter losses.
KEN LAY: As you can, of course, see the underlying fundamentals of our businesses are very strong, indeed the strongest they’ve ever been. But regrettably, that’s not what Wall Street is focusing on, and I doubt that’s what you’re focusing on. This inquiry will take a lot of time on the part of our accountants and lawyers and others, but it will finally put these issues to rest.
NARRATOR: At the very moment Ken Lay was talking to employees, only a few blocks away, Enron’s accounting firm, Arthur Andersen, had begun destroying its Enron files. On October 23, Andersen shredded more than one ton of paper.
KEN LAY: Despite the rumors, despite the speculation, the company is doing well, both financially and operationally.
SHERRON WATKINS: He was making all kinds of statements, reassuring employees, and not just employees, reassuring investors we have no accounting irregularities, the company is in the best shape it’s ever been in.
KEN LAY: From the standpoint of Enron stock, we’re going to bring it back. We’re going to bring it back. All right, we’re down to questions, and I’ve got a few up here. “I would like to know if you are on crack. If so, that would explain a lot. If not, you may want to start, because it’s going to be a long time before we trust you again.”
UNIDENTIFIED MAN 1: It certainly wasn’t clear to anyone at Enron, much less anyone outside of Enron. It wasn’t really clear what was going on or what was going to happen.
KEN LAY: I know this is a lot — there’s a lot of speculation about Andy’s involvement. I and the board are also sure that Andy has operated in the most ethical and appropriate manner possible.
NARRATOR: The next day, Andy Fastow was fired, when the Enron board discovered that he had made more than $45 million from his LJM partnerships.
REP. JIM GREENWOOD: The question, Mr. Fastow, is how could you believe that your actions were in any way consistent with your fiduciary duties to Enron and its shareholders or with common sense notions of corporate ethics and propriety? How do you answer, sir?
ANDREW FASTOW: Mr. Chairman, on the advice of my counsel, I respectfully decline to answer the questions, based on the protection afforded me under the United States Constitution.
SHERRON WATKINS: Andy, in many ways, I think he was set up as the fall guy. All of the Enron executives were saying, “There’s your man, Andy Fastow. He’s the crook. You know, he’s the one that stole from Enron, stole from LJM> He’s the one that cooked the books. Go after him.”
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: I’ve thought about this and thought about this, and it couldn’t have just been a few executives at Enron that made this happen. If you think of the banks involved, Chase, Morgan, Citibank, the billions in loans, Arthur Andersen. What about Vinson & Elkins, the lawyers that represented us? There had to have been complicity across the board, because it was all too easy.
AMY GOODMAN: Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, an excerpt. It was produced and directed by Alex Gibney. Our guests are Robert Bryce, Pipe Dreams, and Greg Palast, Armed Madhouse. Greg, this is the point you were making about it being larger than Enron.
GREG PALAST: Yeah. I mean, basically the co-conspirators, the rest of the mob, was breaking out champagne yesterday, because they said, “We’re off the hook.” This should have been the beginning of new indictments, and like I say, the only new indictment are the guys that went after Enron, the law firm that sued Enron for its shenanigans. Milberg Weiss was put up. It was clearly political prosecution to say “We’re going to go after the guys who went after Enron,” and yet you heard the list. You had the law firm Vinson & Elkins, you had Arthur Andersen, you had a whole crew of characters who got off scot-free here.
And what’s even worse is that the game continues. See, the last Ken Lay — and this is important to understand — was a guy named Sam Insull. In 1930, all those companies called Edison were actually started by Sam, who was the Ken Lay of his time, watered the stock, played games with the books, overcharged customers. F.D.R. came into office, had the guy busted, but even more, he says, “I’m not just going after the criminal. I’m going after the crime.” And F.D.R. changed the law to say we’re going to prohibit price gouging by these power pirates. We are going to prohibit them from flickering the light switches. They keep those lights on. No more freezing Grandma Millie, okay? And third — this is the big one — the law under Franklin Roosevelt said you cannot make political donations if you’re a big power company.
Now, Ken Lay slithered around that to give the big bucks to the Bush family. I mean, the law says they can’t do that, you have to understand. He was the number one giver, when the law says you can’t give. And in 2005, Bush made it official by repealing the F.D.R. Public Utility Holding Company Act, which barred these contributions by power companies to politicians. In other words, basically they just opened up the game, they threw Lay and Skilling to the dogs, to the crowd, and the game continues on.
AMY GOODMAN: Robert Bryce, you talk extensively about the similarities between the Bush administration and Enron.
ROBERT BRYCE: Sure. Let me make one point I think that we’ve missed here. It’s not just the Bush administration, as well. I mean, Congress had a hand in allowing Enron to do what it did. Let’s look at the case of Phil Gramm. Phil Gramm was the one who carried legislation that allowed Enron to do a lot of the things it did and avoid federal oversight at the same time that his wife, Wendy, was on Enron’s board.
AMY GOODMAN: Phil Gramm, the former Texas senator.
ROBERT BRYCE: Former senator from Texas. So Enron had tremendous power in Congress, as well, that allowed it to operate with a free hand in the energy trading business and to operate really as an unregulated commodities broker, an unregulated commodities exchange.
AMY GOODMAN: Just one second, because I spoke over you. I spoke over you. The former Texas senator Phil Gramm’s wife, Wendy, say again her role.
ROBERT BRYCE: She was on the board at Enron at the same time that Gramm was in the Senate sponsoring legislation that benefited Enron. Not only did Gramm not recuse himself, he sponsored legislation that effectively allowed Enron to operate as an unregulated commodities exchange. So, I mean, there’s plenty of — Enron’s money corrupted a lot of elements of government, and it wasn’t just the Bush administration. I’m not saying that to excuse the Bush administration, because, I mean, when you look at Enron and you look at the Bush administration, you see the similarities. Both operated with this clear idea that they were going to change the world, that the world was going to follow their new business model and that that was going to change the world forever.
What else? Well, they launched brutal attacks on anybody who doubted any of their programs. They had huge surges in debt that they covered up with creative accounting. We see that now with the Bush administration, creating some of the largest deficits in American history of any presidency in American history, and also just this idea that they were on a religious mission. This was — their business model was going to change the world. No one could doubt them. Anyone who did was immediately cast aside. And in a word, it’s the same commodity, the same trait that brought down Enron is the defining trait of the Bush administration, and that’s hubris. It’s the Greeks’ fatal flaw. And I think that that clearly came home to roost with Lay and Skilling, and I think eventually it’s going to come home to roost with the Bush administration.
AMY GOODMAN: Greg Palast.
GREG PALAST: Well, what you have here is economic political gangsterism, which has now seized control of the government. You can’t look at it any other way. We have a system in which basically, instead of — that basically, just like the mob, is able the rewrite the laws, pick the judges. They have decriminalized what we call deregulation, Ken lay’s great gift to America, deregulation of industry. And it’s not just electricity, okay, it’s deregulation of industry. His great gift is really decriminalization of price gouging, of monopoly abuse, of economic abuse. These guys still have California by the light bulbs, and as deregulation disease is spreading across the nation, still 24 states have deregulated their power markets. The march continues on.
And you have to understand the other problems that have occurred here. It used to be that these guys had to keep the lights on and keep track of the money that they took from you to keep your lights on. Well, that game is over now. We had a blackout, if you remember, a couple years ago, and that was because these companies had literally sucked the cash out of these firms and fired all their workers to keep the money that you pay to keep your lights on. And Bush’s response and Dick Cheney’s response and Congress’s response was further deregulation; that is, further decriminalization of sucking the money and lifeblood out of these power companies. So, this is just — you have to understand, is that basically what we’ve done is we’ve decriminalized the rip-off of the consumer.
AMY GOODMAN: And finally, in the last few seconds we have, Robert Bryce, author of Pipe Dreams, the workers, what do they gain by all of this?
ROBERT BRYCE: Well, the workers at Enron gain nothing. I mean, you know, they gained a little bit of satisfaction, but I know a lot of these people who are former Enron employees, some of them I know still haven’t been able to find work after losing not only their jobs, their life savings, and in many cases their reputations. Just having worked at Enron became a blot on their resume. So I think in Houston and here in Texas, I think there’s a lot of satisfaction to see Lay and Skilling convicted. But if I can just add one other thing, this game isn’t over yet. There’s certain to be an appeal, and there’s a possibility of an overturn here, because of the judge’s jury instructions, which were fairly open-ended and were similar to the instructions given in the Arthur Andersen trial, which was then overturned at the Supreme Court, so while I’m pleased —
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to have to leave it there, Robert Bryce. We’re going to have to leave it there. Robert Bryce, author of Pipe Dreams, Greg Palast, author of Armed Madhouse. Skilling and Lay will be sentenced on September 11th.