In the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing today on the BP oil spill, Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) said something very remarkable: Amidst a committee slamming BP all around, he apologized to the company for the $20 billion escrow account that the Obama administration asked them to create for paying out damages in the case.
“I think it is a tragedy of the first proportion that a private corporation can be subjected to what I would characterize as a shakedown, in this case a $20 billion shakedown,” Barton said.
I’m speaking now totally for myself, I’m not speaking for the Republican Party, I’m not speaking for anybody in the House of Representatives, but myself. But I’m ashamed of what happened in the White House yesterday.
I think it is a tragedy of the first proportion that a private corporation can be subjected to what I would characterize as a shakedown, in this case a $20 billion shakedown, with the Attorney General of the United States, who is legitimately conducting a criminal investigation and has every right to do so to protect the interests of the American people, participating in what amounts to a $20 billion slush fund that’s unprecedented in our nation’s history, that’s got not legal standing, and which sets I think a terrible precedent for the future.
If I called you into my office and I had the subcommittee chairman, Mr. Stupak, with me, who was legitimately conducting an oversight investigation on your company, and said if you put so many millions of dollars in a project in my my Congressional district, I could go to jail. And should go to jail.
Now there is no question that British Petroluem owns this lease, there is no question that British Petro— BP, I’m sorry, it’s not ‘British Petroleum’ anymore — that BP made decisions that objective people think compromised safety. There is no question that BP is liable for the damages. But we have a due process system where we go through hearings, and in some cases court cases, litigation, and determine what those damages are and when those damages should be paid.
So I’m only speaking for myself, I’m not speaking for anybody else. But I apologize. I do not want to live in a country where any time a citizen or a corporation does something that is legitimately wrong, is subject to to some sort of political pressure that is, again, in my words, amounts to a shakedown. So I apologize.