After reviewing part of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico on Tuesday, Attorney General Eric Holder pledged the Justice Department would hold accountable anyone found responsible for the largest oil spill in American history.
“We must …ensure that anyone found responsible for this spill is held accountable,” Holder said in prepared remarks delivered in the Hale Boggs Federal Building in New Orleans. “That means enforcing the appropriate civil – and if warranted, criminal – authorities to the full extent of the law.”
A criminal probe is underway, Holder said. During a question and answer session, Holder declined to say who was the target of the probe or whether a grand jury had been convened, reported The Times-Picayune.
“I don’t want to cast aspersions unnecessarily,” he said.
Holder said investigators are considering both civil and criminal charges.
Holder visited the Gulf region Tuesday for a briefing on the current status of the cleanup and efforts to stop the leak.
Ignacia Moreno, Assistant Attorney General for Environment and Natural Resources Division, and the head of the Civil Division, Tony West also joined Holder on Tuesday’s trip to the region.
Moreno and West are coordinating the government’s legal response, Holder said.
“What we saw this morning was oil for miles and miles,” Holder said, “oil that we know has already affected plant and animal life along the coast, and has impacted the lives and livelihoods of all too many in this region. This disaster is nothing less than a tragedy.”
Holder continued, during the probe, the Justice Department “will be guided by simple principles: We will ensure that every cent of taxpayer money will be repaid and damages to the environment and wildlife will be reimbursed. We will make certain that those responsible clean up the mess they have made and restore or replace the natural resources lost or injured in this tragedy. And we will prosecute to the full extent any violations of the law.”
During his visit Tuesday, Holder also met with several U.S. Attorneys in the affected region including Jim Letten of the the Eastern District of Louisiana; William J. Flanagan of the Western District of Louisiana; Kenyen Ray Brown of the Southern District of Alabama; and Don Burkhalter Southern District of Mississippi, according to the Justice Department.
Holder also met with the state attorneys general of Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi. A spokeswoman for Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum told the Associated Press her boss was not invited to the meeting.
The trip underscores the awkward and seemingly fraying relationship between the Obama administration and BP. The government is relying on the company to stop the leak and clean up the environmental damage. At the same time, prosecutors are in the early stages of what could be an epic legal battle over the spill.
It is also somewhat unusual for attorneys general to take a high profile role in their administration’s public relations strategies. In this case, Holder is touring the Gulf as the Obama administration tries to distance itself from the company and demonstrate its responsiveness to the potentially devastating environmental consequences of the leaking well
As an independent legal official, Holder has little direct authority over spill related clean-up or recovery efforts, and charges against the company could take years to litigate. Federal prosecutors have told BP to retain relevant documents as they appear to be starting a preliminary inquiry into the company’s activities, a probe that is said to focus on potential violations of safety and environmental laws.
[...] month, Holder traveled to the Gulf coast and, during a press conference, said the DOJ had opened a criminal investigation [...]