Bush called Lay, who was a friend of the Bush family and a large donor to the president's campaign, "a good guy." He said he was shocked to hear both about the Enron scandal and Lay's death this week from a heart attack at age 64.
"I was really surprised," Bush said on a cable news show. "You know, my hope is that his heart was right with the Lord and I feel real sorry for his wife. She's had a rough go and she's now here on earth to bear the burdens of losing her husband, a man she loved."
The president said he planned to write Linda Lay a letter expressing his condolences.
Lay faced life in prison after his convictions May 25 that ended a blockbuster trial stemming from one of the biggest business debacles in U.S. history.
Bush had nicknamed Lay "Kenny Boy" but pointed out they weren't always allied. He said Lay supported his opponent in his first Texas gubernatorial race, Democrat Ann Richards. When host King pointed out that Richards had told him earlier that she liked Lay, Bush responded, "Yes, he's a good guy."
"One of the things I respected him for was he was such a contributor to Houston's civil society," Bush said. "He was a generous person. I'm disappointed that he betrayed the trust of shareholders."
First lady Laura Bush, who joined her husband for the interview on his 60th birthday, said she didn't know Lay well. But she said she was acquainted with him and knew his wife and was sorry for her.