Is it too early

Is it too early to raise this rather elementary question? Was Phil Gramm’s retirement from the Senate in early September tied to the Enron debacle?

Consider the timing.

True. There had been talk of a possible Gramm retirement, but as late as August 16th, in a discussion of possible Republican retirements, the Washington Post wrote …

Another Republican incumbent who has left his party guessing is Sen. Fred D. Thompson of Tennessee, who has indicated he will decide by late fall, say GOP sources. Like Helms, Thompson has raised little money but would probably have little trouble catching up. Thompson is favored to win if he runs, but Democrats believe the race could be close if the field is open. The only Senate incumbent who has said he will retire next year is 98-year-old Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.). Democrats, who so far have avoided retirements in their ranks, nurse hopes that GOP Sens. Phil Gramm (Tex.) and Pete V. Domenici (N.M.) might retire, but Republicans say they’re pipe-dreaming.

Consider what else was happening right about that time.

Two days before the Post story, on August 14th, Enron CEO Jeffrey Skilling quit after only six months on the job for what he called “purely personal” reasons. According to CNN, stock analysts were “stunned.”

Knowing what stock analysts couldn’t have known then, it now seems pretty clear that Skilling quit because of the first rumblings of the earthquake that would leave the company bankrupt in less than six months. Around the middle of August, it seems fair to say, he knew things were very, very bad.

Gramm’s wife, Wendy Gramm was on Enron’s Board and — even more important — on the board’s audit committee. If things were going very wrong, and if the problems centered on the company’s books being cooked, she’d likely be one of the first to know. And she would probably learn about it soon after Skilling. That is to say, sometime in late August.

Senator Gramm announced his retirement on September 4th.

Is all this speculation? Certainly. But the timing is hard to overlook. And besides, he’s not the only high-profile Texan in Congress to make a surprise retirement announcement last Fall.