Eight U.S. senators have asked the Justice Department to investigate whether any of the chief executives of five major oil companies lied or intentionally misled Congress during a recent hearing on industry profits. The issue involves a question by Senator Frank Lautenberg, (D-NJ), at the November 9th hearing about whether any of the representatives of the oil companies participated in Vice President Dick Cheney’s 2001 energy task force activities. Testifying at the Senate hearing were the chief executives of ExxonMobil Corp., Chevron Corp., ConocoPhillips, Shell Oil Co., and BP America Inc. Four of the executives said they were not aware of any such participation and a fifth said he did not know. When one considers how the oil companies came out like “bandits” in the energy bill, you have to wonder what happened in the task force.
In subsequent letters, seeking to clarify their responses, the oil company executives reiterated that they believe they responded truthfully. Some also acknowledged that their companies had contacts with task force staff members and discussed energy priorities. The senators wrote Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, stating: “Many of these latter statements (by the oil executives) admitted participation in task force activities and raised greater concern about the accuracy of the hearing testimony.” While the executives were not under oath, the testimony may have violated federal laws prohibiting false statements to Congress.
The hearing was held by both the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee and the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Bill Wicker, a spokesman for Senator Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico, the top Democrat on the Energy Committee, said Senator Bingaman and other committee Democrats have concluded that neither Lautenberg’s question nor the executives’ response was “sufficiently precise to convince them that the representations delivered answers untruthfully.” If there are grounds for the Justice Department to take action, it should happen. Of course, that is something the Justice Department is going to have to decide.
Three of the senators who signed the letter to Gonzales – Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Daniel Inouye (D-HI), and Ron Wyden (D-OR) – are on the Energy Committee. The others are Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL), Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Edward Kennedy (D-MA). Cheney’s task force issued its report outlining the Administration’s energy priorities in May 2001. The Vice-President’s office has steadfastly refused to disclose what private parties may have participated in the process. This is a matter that should be cleared up, especially considering how the giant oil companies have such powerful political connections in the Bush Administration, and soon.
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