Congressional hearings muddy WorldCom case

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 10, 2002

The scene was straight out of Hollywood. Famed Mississippi author John Grisham would have been proud.

On one side former corporate giant Bernard &uot;Bernie&uot; Ebbers sat grimly. The CEO of Clinton-based WorldCom Inc., Ebbers looked impeccable in his dark suit, French cuffs fastened with silver and turquoise links.

Across the table, perched high upon their merits, sat members of the U.S. House of Representatives, or more precisely, select members of a House committee. Each was equally dressed for their television appearance.

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Last month, WorldCom admitted it discovered a nearly $4 billion accounting error which error resulted in an inflated perception of the company’s worth.

Since the disclosure, the U.S. Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission have been investigating the company’s wrongdoing.

While the purpose of Monday’s Congressional hearing ostensibly was to hear testimony regarding the apparent accounting scandal at WorldCom, the event seemed as over-inflated as WorldCom’s stock.

Many of those involved, including Ebbers, chose to invoke their Fifth Amendment right to avoid self-incrimination. But having little testimony did not stop some committee members from hammering away at Ebbers and others. The entire episode seemed much too court-like with periodic yelling and accusations flying across the room. It made for good television, but proves little. The purpose of such meetings should be to investigate whether or not new regulations should be created to prevent such wrongdoing.

Unfortunately, having Congressmen jump into a criminal investigation does little other than make a few good television clips and muddy up the search for what actually happened.

Congress should sit on its hands a bit and do its job of creating laws once we know what laws are needed. In this case, it is obvious an existing law was broken. So far there’s little reason to create new ones.