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Tuesday, 26 February, 2002, 23:20 GMT
The Enron outrage game
Sherron Watkins and Jeffrey Skilling
There was noticeable tension between the witnesses
By BBC News Online's Kevin Anderson in Washington

Speechwriters in Washington are working overtime to try to give members of Congress the necessary rhetorical ammunition to raise their profiles at the Enron hearings.

Certainly, members of Congress sense the historic nature of these hearings.

They have the ear of the media, and every member of Congress wants their quote and their name under the banner headlines charting the latest developments in the scandal.

Members of congress are working hard to outdo each other in expressing outrage.

It plays well with voters back home, and both parties sense the possibility to score political points in this critical election year.

Seeking political gain

Every politician, not just former president Bill Clinton, wants a place in history, and they all remember the "who knew what when" question during Watergate.

But in addition to wanting to be a footnote to history, the political sharks smell blood.
California Senator Barbara Boxer
Senator Boxer took off the gloves

Democrats obviously want to make the most of the Enron scandal and highlight the links between the now humbled energy giant and the Bush administration.

It is, after all, an election year, and Democrats find themselves running against a party whose standard bearer, George W Bush, enjoys unprecedented popularity.

And Enron lavished money on both parties. Some 70% of Senators received campaign contributions from the company, and evidence is coming out that the company tried to influence the Clinton administration, providing ammunition for Republican counterattacks.

Playing to the home crowd

But in addition to normal election year party politics, members of Congress are also playing to the home crowd, and trying to show as Senator Barbara Boxer that "we care about the little guy."

Senator Boxer was one of the most aggressive in her questioning, and not only does she care about the little guy but also about energy crisis that subjected her state of California to rolling blackouts in 2001.

She tore into former Enron CEO Jeffrey Skilling, saying, "we lost this transfer of wealth from the people of my state to the robber-barons of the 21st century."

If the theory is that Fastow went rogue somewhere, deep in the jungles of Enron, and was the sole agent of the apocalypse, I just don't buy i

Senator Peter Fitzgerald

But it was not just Democrats who laid into Mr Skilling. Republicans are quick to demonstrate a sense of outrage at the scandal.

Senator Olympia Snowe, a Republican from Maine, said, ""There is a plausibility gap" between the testimony of Mr Skilling and Sherron Watkins, who is seen as one of the few Enron insiders to raise objections to some of the company's questionable business deals.

Republican Senator Peter Fitzgerald of Illinois said, "If the theory is that Fastow went rogue somewhere, deep in the jungles of Enron, and was the sole agent of the apocalypse, I just don't buy it."

Tension at the witness table

But Mr Skilling was not content to sit and be steamrolled by the punishing line of questioning.
Former Enron CEO Jeffrey Skilling
Mr Skilling buckled but was not broken by the sharp questioning

In his opening statement, he blasted congress for what he categorised as unfair accusations against Enron executives that did little to make sense of the collapse of what was once the seventh most profitable company in the US.

"The entire management and board of Enron have been labelled everything from hucksters to criminals," Mr Skilling said, adding, "These untruths shatter lives and do nothing to advance the public understanding of Enron."

The scene was electric as Vice President Sherron Watkins sat only a seat away from Mr Skilling, separated only by his lawyer.

She has been applauded for being one of the few Enron executives who raised concerns about the company's questionable business practices.

The two were joined by current Enron President Jeffrey McMahon. Mr McMahon and Mr Skilling shook hands before the hearing, but Ms Watkins avoided eye contact with the company's former CEO.

There is no love lost between Mr Skilling and Ms Watkins. She claims that she would have lost her job if she had raised her concerns with Mr Skilling.

And she continued to accuse not only Mr Skilling but also former Enron chief financial officer Andrew Fastow, saying, "I believe that Andy Fastow would not have put his hands in the Enron candy jar without an explicit or implicit approval to do so by Mr Skilling."


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