On his trip to the Gulf today, President Obama criticized BP for spending millions of dollars on a new public relations campaign addressing the Gulf oil crisis, and also for planning to pay $10 billion in dividends to investors. “They’ve got a moral and legal obligation to the Gulf,” Obama said, according to a White House pool report. The president added he doesn’t want BP “nickel and diming the folks down here.”
Then Obama addressed the question of damages and other financial claims against BP. According to the pool report, BP and Coast Guard officials whose job it is to handle claims “are stationed with each parish president in Louisiana, and [Obama] wants the same arrangement for county governments in all the affected states.”
At that point, the pool report says Obama “lit into BP” because he wants to — Obama’s words — “make sure that BP is not lawyering up essentially.”
Just two days ago, Attorney General Eric Holder traveled to Louisiana to announce that the Justice Department has begun criminal and civil investigations into the oil spill. As a result of that investigation, BP and other companies could be charged with violating a variety of environmental laws, as well as other crimes. Holder pledged to prosecute any offenders “to the fullest extent of the law.” The prosecution could result in enormous penalties and losses for BP beyond what has already occurred because of the spill. And now the president himself goes after BP for “lawyering up.” The company certainly has huge obligations as a result of its actions in this matter. But surely the constitutional-law-professor-in-chief would concede their right to a legal defense. If you were facing a full-scale federal investigation in which the attorney general personally pledged to punish you “to the fullest extent of the law,” you might well consider lawyering up.