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Department of Justice mum on criminal investigation of oil spill

From Paul Courson, CNN
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Justice Department official's letter was in response to request from eight senators
  • Assistant Attorney General Ronald Welch did not confirm or deny a criminal investigation
  • Staff members briefed by department officials

Washington (CNN) -- A Department of Justice official was noncommittal Tuesday in a letter responding to a Senate committee's request that the department open a criminal inquiry into the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

"We appreciate the facts that you have called to our attention and assure you they will receive due consideration," Assistant Attorney General Ronald Welch said in the letter, but he declined to confirm or deny that a criminal investigation has begun.

"The Department of Justice will take all necessary and appropriate steps to ensure that those responsible for this tragic series of events are held fully accountable," he wrote.

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee released the letter, which was dated Tuesday.

The panel's chair, Barbara Boxer, D-California, and seven other senators had sent a letter on May 17 to Attorney General Eric Holder expressing concerns "about the truthfulness and accuracy of statements submitted by BP to the government in its initial exploration plan for the site," and asking Holder to investigate possible criminal and civil wrongdoing.

Committee majority staff members were briefed by a delegation of Justice Department officials Tuesday afternoon in a closed-door meeting that lasted about an hour.

Boxer's May 17 letter had been signed by fellow Democratic senators Benjamin Cardin of Maryland; Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey; Kirsten Gillibrand of New York; Bernie Sanders of Vermont; Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota; Thomas Carper of Delaware; and Jeff Merkley of Oregon.