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Ex-Enron CEO blasts Watkins

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Former Enron CEO Jeffrey Skilling defended the energy giant's decisions and blasted its critics, including Enron executive Sherron Watkins.

Speaking on CNN's "Larry King Live," Skilling accused Watkins of overstating her knowledge about the Enron case, saying she was "entitled to her opinion" but "not entitled to her own facts."

Watkins, a former Enron vice president, has come forward with information and memos she sent to Kenneth Lay, who succeeded Skilling as chief executive. She warned Lay about Enron's questionable accounting practices and urged him to go public with the company's woes: She also recommended he admit he trusted the wrong people, one of whom was Skilling.

"I think part of her motivation was very clear in her first letter to Ken Lay," Skilling's lawyer, Bruce Hiler, said. "She said, 'What are the rest of us, who didn't get rich, going to do at Enron?' I think she's discovered what she's going to do. She has a lucrative book deal."

Former Enron CEO Jeffrey Skilling appears on CNN's Larry King Live

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Transcript: CNN's Larry King interviews former Enron CEO Jeffrey Skilling 

Thousands lost their pensions and life savings in Enron's collapse, which began last fall when the company acknowledged more than $1 billion in previously undisclosed liabilities. In testimony to Congress, Watkins said Skilling and Fastow deceived Lay and the board of directors about the company's use of the partnerships -- claims that Skilling denied in congressional testimony Tuesday.

"Congress has taken her opinion -- and they know it's simply opinion -- and dressed it up as fact, and presented it to the American people as fact," Hiler said. "And that, in our view, is really irresponsible, because the American people begin believing that someone's unfounded view or opinion is factual, and it causes a lot of confusion."

While Enron's board of directors knowingly established business partnerships that were a "conflict of interest," Skilling said the board implemented procedures to try to offset those conflicts.

"We put in place a set of controls to manage and eliminate the conflict of interest," he said. "It didn't work. It's still not clear exactly what happened."

But Watkins' attorney, Philip Hilder, told CNN that Skilling was on a calculated mission "to convince others he had no knowledge, when I think the evidence is beginning to demonstrate otherwise." Hilder said his client figured out Enron's problems in six weeks -- and that Skilling "certainly was in a position to figure it out all along."

"It is not up to Sherron Watkins to prove the case against Skilling," Hilder said. "She rang the alarm that Enron would implode in a wave of accounting scandal. It is now up to the Justice Department to prove if he and others are the culprits to allow this to happen."

Three months after Skilling resigned last August, the energy trader became the largest U.S. company ever to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. But the ex-CEO defended his record in his five years at Enron, saying the company made "tremendous progress" before he stepped aside because he was "tired."

"What did we do wrong? What did the board do wrong?" Skilling said. "You know, you go back and you look at it, and I think we made the right decisions. We had good people. We had good control systems. We had accountants. We had auditors. We had lawyers."

The Justice Department, Securities and Exchange Commission and numerous congressional committees are investigating how the Houston-based firm, which once had $62.8 billion in assets, saw its stock value plummet from $90 a share to virtually nothing.

Skilling is the highest-ranking Enron official to testify before Congress, after several other executives -- including Lay -- invoked their Fifth Amendment right not to testify.

According to congressional investigators, Skilling sold more than 500,000 shares of the stock for more than $21 million in 1999 alone, and profited greatly by cashing in more stock in the months before the collapse. But Skilling told CNN that Enron's losses had hammered his portfolio, saying that he still owns the company's stock.

"The only stock I owned was Enron Corporation," he said. "Was I a believer in Enron Corporation? Yes sir, I was."

On Friday, he criticized Congress for deciding that he was "guilty until proven innocent."

"Congress was acting as a judge and a jury, (not) as a fact-finding entity, trying to figure out what happened, which is the reason I was there," Skilling said.


• Enron

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