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(NECN: Washington, D.C.) - A leading House Republican accused the White House of a "$20 billion shakedown" of BP in its agreement to establish a fund for compensating those affected by the Gulf oil leak.
Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) in his opening statement said he was "ashamed of what happened in the White House" on Wednesday. He was referring to the agreement announced by President Barack Obama, in which BP will establish a $20 billion relief fund for Gulf residents.
"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," Rep. Barton said. "The attorney general of the United States, who is legitimately conducting a criminal investigation and has every right to do so to protect the interest 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, which I think sets a terrible precedent for the future."
He said there is "no question" made decisions determined by "objective people" to have compromised safety, and that BP is liable for the damages. But he called for due process to be carried out before such a fund is created.
"I'm only speaking for myself -- I'm not speaking for anybody else -- but I apologize," Rep. Barton said. "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 some sort of political pressure that is, again, in my words amounts to a shakedown."
Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) opened his statement by disagreeing with Congressman Barton's assessment of the relief fund, which is being controlled by an impartial third party.
Rep. Barton closed in saying that he stands with Chairman Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) and Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) in asking the questions that "need to be asked" to prevent another such oil disaster from occurring.
White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs issued this statement shortly after Rep. Barton's testimony: