Former Enron chairman Kenneth L. Lay will assert his right against self-incrimination and refuse to answer questions when he appears before Congress under subpoena tomorrow, his spokeswoman said last night.
“Under the instruction of counsel, Mr. Lay will exercise his Fifth Amendment rights at the Tuesday hearing,” Kelly Kimberly said in Houston. She declined further comment.
Two committees snubbed by Mr. Lay a week ago have issued subpoenas compelling him to appear. Some lawmakers had said they expected he would assert his constitutional right against self-incrimination, though his attorney had not previously indicated he would do so.
“We will be respectful but tough” in questioning Mr. Lay, Sen. Byron L. Dorgan, North Dakota Democrat and chairman of a Senate commerce panel on consumer affairs, had told CNN earlier yesterday.
Mr. Lay has been subpoenaed to appear tomorrow before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee and Thursday at a hearing of the House Financial Services subcommittee on capital markets.
Lawmakers say they have not considered granting immunity from prosecution to Mr. Lay or other Enron executives in return for their testimony, because they do not want to interfere with the Justice Department’s criminal investigation of Enron. Congress can compel witnesses to appear but cannot force them to answer potentially incriminating questions without granting them immunity from criminal prosecution.
Mr. Lay’s colleague at Enron, former Chief Executive Officer Jeffrey Skilling, did testify last week.
But several leaders of congressional investigations of the Enron collapse made clear earlier yesterday that they didn’t believe the sworn testimony of Mr. Skilling. One suggested Mr. Skilling could face accusations of perjury as a result of his testimony.
Mr. Lay has not spoken publicly about the Enron disaster since the company entered bankruptcy in December. His wife, Linda, said recently that other company officials had not told her husband some things about Enron’s finances.
After an intense week of hearings, lawmakers say they have strong evidence of illegal activity surrounding the failure of the energy-trading company, which slid into the biggest bankruptcy in U.S. history on Dec. 2.
A House investigative panel heard hours of conflicting testimony on Thursday from Mr. Skilling and other top company officials. Mr. Skilling said he knew few details of the complex web of partnerships that brought down Enron, and he insisted he was never warned of problems with the arrangements.
Rep. James C. Greenwood, Pennsylvania Republican., chairman of the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee, and Rep. Billy Tauzin, Louisiana Republican, who heads the full committee, told CBS’ “Face the Nation” that they didn’t believe Mr. Skilling.
“He was totally incredible,” Mr. Tauzin said. “This is the guy who was in charge of the corporation. I’m afraid he may have put himself in some legal jeopardy as a result.”
Asked whether Mr. Skilling could face a perjury indictment by federal prosecutors, Mr. Tauzin replied, “That could happen. I mean you can’t come to Congress take that oath as he did in front of Jim Greenwood, and then not tell the truth.”
Mr. Tauzin said: “He could have some real problems.”
Mr. Skilling’s attorney, Bruce Hiler, said later, “There is no basis for the allegations being made concerning my client’s testimony.”