NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Prosecutors urged a federal appeals court panel Wednesday to reinstate a criminal charge alleging that a former BP executive obstructed a congressional investigation into the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
The case before the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals involves allegations that David Rainey failed to disclose information from BP PLC indicating that the amount of oil gushing into the Gulf after the Deepwater Horizon explosion could have been far higher than estimates then being made publicly.
Last year, U.S. District Judge Kurt Engelhardt threw out the obstruction-of-Congress charge against Rainey. At issue is whether the law Rainey is accused of breaking applied to congressional subcommittee investigations. Arguments centered on legal semantics during the hearing conducted before the appeals court judges — Emilio Garza, E. Grady Jolly and Stephen Higginson.
Engelhardt had ruled in favor of defense lawyers who argued that the law refers specifically to committees, but not subcommittees.
Justice Department attorney Christopher Smith, arguing for reversal of Engelhardt's ruling, said the appeals court should use a broad definition of the word "committee" in interpreting the law.
Arguing for the defense, Reid Weingarten told the panel that the term "committee" in Congress is a narrowly defined legal term. "If you read the statute, you don't see 'subcommittee' anywhere, end of story," he said.
Engelhardt had also sided with defense attorneys who said prosecutors failed to expressly allege that Rainey knew of the pending congressional investigation he was accused of obstructing. Prosecutors say in briefs that the allegations are clear in the indictment.
The panel gave no indication when it would rule.