A Capitol Sin: Stop the Enron Madness

By Neil Cavuto for The Balance Sheet.

You know what's worse than a Washington congressional committee looking into a corporate scandal? More than a dozen other committees doing the exact same damn thing! It's ridiculous. It's costly. And it's a complete waste of time.

Now don't get me wrong. I welcome investigations into what brought about the collapse of America's seventh largest corporation, but are we really better served having 13 Senate and House committees and sub-committees doing the exact same thing?

I say no, and here's why. Congressmen and women are by nature, blowhards. They can't help themselves. Now there's nothing intrinsically wrong with being a blowhard. In many professions it's almost a requirement, and it's certainly a gift. But when it comes to getting to the bottom of this Enron mess, it's also something that gets in the way. I mean, think about it. For the half dozen or so former Enron bosses who pleaded the Fifth, what took longer, them pleading or the Congressmen grandstanding? No contest — the grandstanders clocked the most time.

Usually they blather on for minutes, making long self-serving speeches about how heinous this crime is and expressing why someone has to pay for this. They know full well that the person before them is going to invoke his Fifth Amendment rights and not say a thing. So all this was and is for show. Our tax dollars at work.

Sometimes they can be "kind of" instructive, when people like former Enron executive Sherron Watkins come out and spell out what happened. At least then, it was Sherron Watkins talking and these other clowns listening...much more preferable, but all too rare.

I say, enough of it. This is no way to run an investigation. I say, let a prosecutor do it, and a court finish it. Just keep Congress out of it. My good friend Dick Morris, the former Clinton advisor, says I'm all wet on this issue. He says that if these hearings serve as nothing more than a public forum to humiliate disgraceful former Enron executives, have at it. Morris argues this is the only public embarrassment these guys will suffer. I'm not so sure. If you had a big hand in bringing down a company, believe me, you'll get what's coming to you with or without Congress butting in.

My problem with Congressional investigations is that they aren't meant to shed light, just heat. Now maybe that's all they're intended to do...just get a lot of publicity-hungry Washingtonians on a soapbox to prove to their constituents their sufficiently outraged by what happened. Unfortunately, that doesn't mean they're constituents burned by Enron get any money back from Enron, or any more peace of mind. They're still screwed. They're still empty. And they're still mad.

I believe investigations of any sort should have a higher purpose than just venting. Try "preventing." It's not about making new laws or sweeping indictments of all companies, as if all are guilty of Enron's apparent abuses. It's about enforcing the laws Congress itself has failed to enforce. And it's about getting their own filthy hands out of the very cookie jar they now find so disgusting. It's about getting over their rage, and seeing through their hypocrisy.

I mean, is it just me or isn't it a little odd that scores of Congressmen who've happily and dutifully gone to the Enron well are now sitting there and pointing fingers at the very Enron executives who signed the checks? I don't know who is worse...the guys taking the questions or the ones asking them. And the problem isn't with just one or two Congressmen; it's with Congress itself. Even during the height of the Watergate crisis, Washington effectively limited the charade to two committees: the Judiciary Committee doing its thing in the House, followed by Sam Ervin's gang doing theirs in the Senate. That was it. Simple. Sweet. And in the end, informative and instructive.

There's nothing simple, sweet or informative going on with these Enron hearings. Dozens more are planned in the weeks and months ahead. Yet there's no method or strategy. Some committees ask for the identical witness lists, the identical documents, even the identical witness and document lists combined. You'd think one of these guys would conclude, "hey, we're overdoing it here, let Charlie handle it." But no. Rather than settle the mess, they create only a bigger mess. And they say dumber things than the very folks they're accusing. When some go to great lengths on national TV to say more than a few of these Enron guys could end up in the Pokie, who's justice are they really serving?

Look, there appears to be a ton of wrongdoing here. And maybe several Enron guys will be going to jail. But it's still too early to conclude that, let alone "blast" that, on national television. These investigations call for order and discipline, not heat and hokiness.

I say, let professionals do the job, not Congress. Let a special "independent" prosecutor find the bodies, and leave it to a Court to dispense the justice. Congress will have plenty of time to make amends for sins once we know "exactly" what the sins are — not now when we don't, but later when we do.

It's human nature to feel angry. A lot of people should, and a lot of people are. But we can't hope to help those who've been hurt by just making speeches. We have to get results. And the quickest way to get results is to investigate more and grandstand less. It might kill Congress to say it, but they damn well better admit it. They're not fit to judge sin. In their kangaroo court of public opinion, they're not fit to even discuss it. But if these guys could shut up long enough to let the real pros get to the bottom of this, we'll all be the better for this.

Enron was and is a mess. Congress needn't make it more so. These corporate suits might yet go to prison, and if it's proven they have done illegal things, I say, so be it. And go ahead and throw away the key. But you can't solve a mess by creating an even bigger mess. The people you want to help will only get hurt.

So get out of the way. Now.

Neil Cavuto is managing editor of Business News at FOX News Channel. He is also the host of Your World with Neil Cavuto airing weekdays at 4 p.m. ET and Cavuto on Business which airs Saturday at 10:30 a.m. and Monday at 4:30 a.m. ET.