Skilling takes the stand...

News & Politics

Former Enron CEO Jeffrey Skilling has finally taken the stand. And while many were anticipating the volatility and pompous arrogance that became his trademark at Enron -- what he has delivered so far is even more nauseating: contrived humility. Yes, he told jurors that "by some huge mistake on the part of Harvard Business School, they let me in," and qualified his offer to return to Enron when it was in crisis with "not that I'm God's gift to the world or anything."

Interestingly, this "humility" runs parallel to an insistence that, not only is he innocent, but that nearly every prosecution witness who has pled guilty and testified against him is innocent, too. This just reinforces something that was pointed out months ago: Skilling just doesn't see anything wrong with the conduct of Enron.

Skilling admits his clearly unhealthy relationship with his company. "Some would say I was obsessed with Enron," he told jurors. When Enron filed for bankruptcy, Skilling notes, "I wanted to die." Skilling, it seems, had his ego all wrapped up in Enron, and he's telling jurors all about it: "I was consumed by this company. I wanted to build this company to be an institution. We thought there was a chance Enron could become the energy company, and later the company of the 21st century."

Skilling doesn't seem to be a very healthy person in the head. Recall: "Back in 2004, he had an encounter with the NYPD outside a bar after trying to fight two men who he claimed were undercover FBI agents. (They weren't.) Apparently, Skilling, who was with his wife, "even tried to lift the woman's (companion of the "FBI agents") blouse, claiming he was looking for a 'wire.'" This week, he told jurors that he drank and cried after Enron collapsed.

The Enron trial opened with Skilling lawyer Daniel Petrocelli posing this question to the jury: "In 1999, [Skilling] had more money than he ever dreamed of having. So why would he do it? What is Jeff Skilling's motive?" On a similar tack, Skilling this week argued that "Enron's underlying financial performance was strong enough that there was no need for anyone to even consider committing fraud."

Skilling and lawyer Petrocelli's use of the "what was my motive?" strategy presumes that Skilling is a rational human being who would only seek a certain level of wealth and financial performance for himself and his company.

But the definition of "greed" is simply "selfish desire beyond reason." And by his own admission, Skilling was a man obsessed. He has essentially told jurors directly that he was bent on building an empire. Add to that his incapability to see that the charges against him are criminal, and it's hard to see Skilling as anything but a sociopath.

But in case you're wondering whether or not the sneaky accounting practices and fraud were a conspiracy, just talk to Skilling. On the stand, "he told jurors he has sifted through 'tens of thousands' of documents, memos, and e-mails and saw nothing that indicates a conspiracy."

Well, that settles it then.

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