NEW YORK – Enron accountant Sherron Watkins, the Erin Brokovich of Enron, finally got to tell her side of the story. In calm, clear testimony she laid out Enron's sins in gory detail, fielding friendly questions from Congress in a hearing that often resembled a love fest.
"Mrs. Watkins, I apologize that we scheduled this hearing on Valentine's Day," said Rep. Billy Tauzin, R-La. "Happy Valentine's Day!"
The hugs and kisses didn't end there.
In hours of straight-forward testimony, Watkins spelled out in plain English where she believed Enron went wrong and why Enron's CEO Ken Lay just "didn't get it" when she told him about the accounting shenanigans last summer.
"It is my humble opinion that he did not understand the gravity of the situation the company was in," said Watkins.
That would make Lay the most out-to-lunch CEO to ever occupy a corner office. But it could help his case in the court of public opinion.
Former CEO Jeff Skilling was not so lucky. Time and time again, Watkins disputed his sworn testimony from a week ago, that he was as clueless as Lay. She went on to say that Cliff Baxter, the former Enron vice-chairman who committed suicide last month warned Skilling explicitly early last year.
"Mr. Baxter's recollection of the meeting was that he told Mr. Skilling, we are headed for a train wreck and it is your job to get out in front of the train and try to stop it," said Watkins.
That, of course, never happened. Nor did Lay follow Watkins' advice to do the same. And while Watkins never went public with her concerns before Enron de-railed, legal experts say she has a strong case.
"I can't tell you that prosecutors won't make threats to her to get more testimony," said John Coffee, professor of Law at Columbia University. "But I think that she is in a very strong legal position as the person who has done the most, wearing the whitest hat."
Watkins says she was almost fired by Enron CFO Andy Fastow when he discovered she talked to Ken Lay. She also said her computer was confiscated but that she was able to copy its contents.