Oil spill panel: a push for subpoena power in Deepwater Horizon probe
Senate Republicans have blocked subpoena power for President Obama's oil spill commission. The commission's chief counsel will push for it again, arguing it's needed to learn the truth about the Deepwater Horizon rig.
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On Monday, Mr. Bartlit, who helped litigate the 2000 election recount for President Bush, took a view opposite that of many Democratic lawmakers on whether corporate corner-cutting and profit-padding lay behind the accident. "We don't see a person or three people sitting there at a table considering the safety and cost and giving up safety for cost, we have not seen that," Bartlit said.Skip to next paragraph
In intricate detail, the oil spill commission has laid out a tragedy born of poor corporate decisions, irrational hubris, and failures of experience and even common sense on the Deepwater Horizon rig, leading to the worst industrial offshore oil spill in American history.
A lot of systems and protocols failed, but one prime mistake led to the explosion, said counsel Sean Grimsley: the downplaying of a failed negative pressure test that had hinted at problems. It's that blow-by-blow account of how the rig floor crew began a scheduled "temporary abandonment" procedure, despite evidence that the well was still live, that is missing from the record.
"None of these men wanted to die or jeopardize the safety of people they work with every day," Mr. Grimsley said. "So why did these experienced men come to this conclusion? We may never know the answer to that question."
Of the men who know the truth, Grimsley said, some died in the explosion, others are too seriously injured to participate, and others have invoked their Fourth Amendment protection from unreasonable search and seizure – a hurdle only a subpoena can overcome.
"The disputes between Transocean and BP and Halliburton as to who said what when, and who has the responsibility for that, this is where subpoena power would be helpful," said Bartlit. "It's hard to resolve that unless I can sit people down in a room and cross-examine them and find out what's believable and not believable."
But Americans may ultimately get closer to the truth, despite the commission's lack of subpoena power. Criminal investigations are ongoing by the Department of Justice, which has broad subpoena powers. By resisting the subpoena power for the commission, Republicans may be seeking through politics a kind of prosecutorial balance.
"I don't think the Republicans are going to want to ignore culpability for the energy companies, but rather to focus the spotlight on the Obama administration," says Mr. Cain. "And the way to do this is to resist subpoena power for the commission and to concentrate on using the House's oversight authority once the new Congress begins in January."
But given criticism of the Obama White House for making deals with BP and allowing BP agents in the Gulf free rein in the spill's aftermath, many Democrats may be worried about where blame would ultimately fall if the commission were to have subpeona power.
"It's possible that the commissioners are trying to objectively do what's right, and they're being stymied by people who don't want them to do what's correct," says Vincenzo Sainato, a criminal justice professor and government accountability expert, also at Loyola. "Maybe [lack of subpoena power] isn't about protecting the BPs and Halliburtons. Maybe it's about protecting [ineffectual government]."