The grand Congressional inquisition of BP CEO Tony Hayward has been adjourned until 2 PM—annoyingly, members of Congress are occasionally expected to vote for things—but so far the biggest revelation has come from Republican Representative Joe Barton. As Jay Newton-Small observed over in Swampland, Barton began his opening statement this morning by apologizing to Hayward that the White House had yesterday pushed the company to establish a $20 billion escrow to compensate victims of the oil spill:
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 no legal standing, and which sets, I think, a terrible precedent for the future.
It didn’t take long for Democrats to jump all over Barton—White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs termed the comments “shameful,” and called on the Republican party to repudiate them. (Today the AP published a list of how much members of the House and Energy Committee have received from the oil and gas industry—Barton comes in at number two, with $100,470 since the beginning of 2009.) In fact, Michael Burgess of Texas, the first Republican to get a chance to question Hayward, began his interrogation by warning the BP CEO: “I am not going to apologize to you.” (Though he then spent much of his time complaining to the committee chairman Bart Stupak that there had been little chance so far to question the real culprits: the Obama Administraton—Stupak said that there would get to that in future hearings.)
Through the first phase of the hearing, though, anyone expecting to be enlightened by Hayward’s testimony—and if you did, you shouldn’t have—would have been disappointing. Though in his opening remarks Hayward said that he was “personally devastated” by the accident and expressed contrition for the spill, he hasn’t yet come close to accepting specific responsibility, on a personal or even corporate level. When Henry Waxman, Congress’s Grand Inquisitor, pushed Hayward on specific problems in the engineering of the well and the lead up to Deepwater Horizon, Hayward seemed to distance himself from what happened on the rig:
I wasn’t involved in any of the decision making. Those were decisions taken by the engineering team… I feel a great sense of responsibility for the accident, [but].. we need to determine what were the critical decisions. I can’t pass judgement on those decisions.
Ultimately, Hayward went on to say:
I’m not prepared to draw the conclusions about this accident until the investigation is concluded.
Hayward’s neutrality on his own company’s actions finally infuriated Waxman:
I’m amazed at this testimony. You’re not taking responsibility. You are kicking the can down the road, acting as if you have nothing to do with these decisions. I find that amazing.
That left Democrat John Dingell of Michigan, the senior member on the committee, to ask Hayward a series of very specific questions on how much time and money the company saved on Deepwater Horizon as it carried out what many critics have termed corner-cutting. Each time, Hayward had nothing:
I can’t possibly know why the decisions were made [on the rig].
I don’t know.
I can’t answer the question in that form. I can’t recall the number.
I can’t answer because I wasn’t there.
I’m afraid I can’t recall.
I can’t recall that either.
That was a decision I was not party to.
I don’t know.
I’m afraid I don’t know that either.
Hayward was able to remember, however, that the procedures BP followed on the rig—and its oil spill response plan—were all approved by the government’s Minerals Management Service. But it looks like anyone expecting a Frost/Nixon-like moment of sudden revelation from Hayward—even if he rather does resemble the British actor Michael Sheen—is going to be disappointed. More to come after halftime’s over.