NPR : News

Filed Under:

Key Charge Against Ex-BP Official In Spill Case Dismissed

It's another bad day for the Justice Department.

A federal judge in Louisiana has thrown out the central criminal charge against a former BP executive because prosecutors failed to prove he knew about a pending congressional investigation into oil flowing into the Gulf of Mexico three years ago. U.S. District Judge Kurt Engelhardt also ruled that a Democratic House member who inquired about the oil flow rate was acting as head of a subcommittee, not a full congressional committee, as required under the federal Obstruction of Justice statute.

The judge's ruling dismisses half of the BP Task Force prosecution against David Rainey, the highest ranking official at the British oil giant to be charged with a crime in connection with the spill and explosion on the Deepwater Horizon rig. Eleven men died there in April 2010.

Brian Heberlig, a lawyer for Rainey, told NPR in an email statement that "we are very pleased with the Court's thoughtful and well-reasoned opinion dismissing the main charge in the indictment."

The original grand jury indictment said Rainey failed to share accurate information about the oil flow rate during a briefing with members of Congress and their staff only weeks after the spill, and that he helped prepare a misleading response to Massachusetts Democrat Rep. Ed Markey about flow rate estimates.

But the judge ruled that "it is not enough that the indictment obliquely suggest that the defendant was aware of a request emanating from some person or group associated with Congress."

He added: "Because it is an essential element of this crime that the defendant knew of this inquiry and investigation, the indictment must allege such knowledge. It does not."

A Justice Department spokesman said prosecutors are reviewing the ruling and declined to comment further "at this time." Authorities have the option of appealing the ruling or refashioning their indictment. The judge's decision left in place a second charge against Rainey, for allegedly making false statements about the oil flow rate in an April 2011 interview with law enforcement agents.

Lawyers who represent people in front of Congress are already taking note of the decision.

Washington lawyer Stanley Brand says "it's certainly significant from a congressional standpoint for future cases."

"For obstruction purposes," Brand says, "it has to be an officially authorized investigation and what that means is, you've got to have the chair and you've got to have the majority otherwise it's just a rump exercise for the purposes of the law."

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit

WAMU 88.5

Anne Tyler: "A Spool Of Blue Thread" (Rebroadcast)

In her first live radio interview ever, Pulitzer Prize winning author Anne Tyler joins Diane to talk about her 20th novel, "A Spool of Blue Thread."


Fine Brine From Appalachia: The Fancy Mountain Salt That Chefs Prize

An artisanal salt producer is processing brine from ancient ocean deposits below West Virgina's mountains. The company, J.Q. Dickinson Salt-Works, ships to top chefs who value the salt's minerality.

Downed Russian Warplane Highlights Regional Divide On Syria

Hugh Pope, director of communications and outreach at the International Crisis Group in Brussels, explains the growing divide between Turkey and Russia on their priorities inside Syria.

From Takeout To Breakups: Apps Can Deliver Anything, For A Price

Convenience is at an all-time premium — and a lot of smartphone apps promise to make many of the things we do every day easier. In a time-crunch or sheer laziness, how far will the apps take us?

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.