U.S. attorney general opens criminal probe of Gulf oil spill
By Theresa Vargas
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 1, 2010; 5:32 PM EDT
NEW ORLEANS -- Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. announced Tuesday that his office is using "the full weight" of its investigative power to pursue criminal and civil investigations into the oil spill that has devastated the Gulf Coast.
"The Department of Justice will ensure that the American people do not foot the bill for this disaster and that our laws are enforced to the fullest extent possible," he said.
Earlier in the day, President Obama vowed a "full and vigorous accounting" of the causes of the disaster, telling the leaders of a new commission that they should pursue the trail of blame without limits.
"They have my full support to follow the facts wherever they may lead, without fear or favor," Obama said in the Rose Garden Tuesday after meeting with the co-chairmen of the commission, former Florida senator and governor Bob Graham and former EPA administrator William Reilly.
Holder's announcement came at an afternoon news conference in New Orleans, the same day the attorney general met with local law enforcement officials and surveyed part of the impacted area.
"What we saw this morning was oil for miles and miles and miles, oil that we know has already affected plants and animal life along the coast and has impacted the lives and livelihoods of all too many in this region," he said. "This must not be forgotten."
He also noted that eleven lives were lost the day the rig exploded. Among the statutes his office is examining: the Clean Water Act, the Oil Solution Act and the Migratory Bird and Endangered Species Act.
"As we move forward we will be guided by some relatively simple principals," Holder said. "We will ensue that every cent, every cent of taxpayer money will be repaid and that damages to the environment and wildlife will be reimbursed. We will make certain that those responsible clean up the mess that they have made... And we will prosecute to the fullest extent of the law, anyone who has violated the law."
Justice Department lawyers were sent to the gulf weeks ago to monitor the spill, and Holder said investigation has been ongoing, but he would not say who had come under focus.
"We are not in a position yet where I think we have in our own minds who should be ultimately held liable," Holder said. He added that they are taking steps to ensure the investigation does not interfere with the clean up effort, which is being spearheaded by BP. "It is in BP's interest," he said, "to keep doing what they're doing, in fact even doubling" the effort.
In Washington, Obama said he will soon appoint five other members to the commission he created to investigate the spill.
"We have an obligation to investigate what went wrong" leading to the April 20 blowout of the deep-sea oil well, Obama said. If current laws are insufficient to prevent such catastrophes, "the laws must change," he said.
"If oversight was inadequate to enforce these laws, oversight has to be reformed. If our laws were broken, leading to this death and destruction, my solemn pledge is that we will bring those responsible to justice on behalf of the victims of this catastrophe and the people of the Gulf region."
Tuesday, June 1
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