NEW YORK (CNN) - The federal government has indicted Arthur Andersen -- the entire accounting firm with 85,000 employees worldwide -- on a single count of obstruction of justice. Andersen had admitted the shredding of Enron Corp.-related documents, the basis of the Justice Department charge. The effect of last week's indictment will be to destroy Andersen and the livelihoods of most of the 85,000 people who work for the firm.
No one has shown those shredded documents were material to the investigation into Enron's collapse. Andersen is therefore accused of destroying documents that may or may not have anything to do with the Enron scandal. When they signed Enron's financial statements, Andersen's auditors clearly stated that those statements were the responsibility of the energy trader's management. That responsibility is made clear in the annual report of every American company audited by an Andersen accounting firm. I haven't seen that fact reported by journalists or brought up in congressional hearings in what is one of the worst examples of a press and political feeding frenzy in years. No authority, including the Justice Department, has demonstrated or even charged Enron with a crime. That's right. Neither Enron nor any of its executives have been charged with a crime. This is about Enron, isn't it? Should we expect the Justice Department to indict Enron as a firm? Or will the Justice Department charge the executives responsible for the firm's collapse? Or is the Justice Department too busy in its new partnership with Microsoft Corp., defending its settlement of anti-trust charges against the attorneys general of nine states? Those attorneys general say the settlement with Microsoft is too, well, soft. Microsoft has been found guilty ... of being a monopolist.
This Justice Department can't seem to find balance and proportionality in its prosecutions. In one case, it kills a firm of 85,000 people who have been found guilty of nothing, and in the other case it protects half as many jobs at a company that is guilty of breaking the law and that fought the government for years.
Attorney General John Ashcroft's modesty recently was offended by statues that have stood in the Justice Department's Great Hall for 66 years. Ashcroft should be as offended by his department's failure to weigh reasonably the scales of justice.
The names of those statues that so offended the attorney general are called the "Majesty of Law" and the "Spirit of Justice."