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Oil commission co-chair prepared to go wherever the facts lead

From Dana Bash, CNN Senior Congressional Correspondent
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Bob Graham talks spill commission
  • Graham: Commission will follow facts to White House, Capitol Hill if necessary
  • Graham: Commission directed to be hard-nosed, candid
  • Only co-chairs have been named; 5 other members needed
  • Commission has until end of the year to complete report
  • Graham criticizes BP's apology ad campaign

Washington (CNN) -- The Democratic co-chair of the president's new oil spill commission says, if necessary, the investigation could very well lead straight to the Oval Office, and an interview with the president himself.

"The president understands when he appointed us that we had the direction to be as hard-nosed, candid, fully engaged as possible, and that's exactly what we intend to do," former Sen. Bob Graham said Friday.

Graham and former EPA administrator William Reilly, a Republican, were tapped this week to head a seven-person commission charged with looking into how the devastating oil spill happened, how the government and BP responded and how to avoid situations like this again in the future.

The other five members of the commission have yet to be named. The commission has been given until the end of the year to finish its work.

"I don't think we can do our job for the American people, and frankly I don't want my name, and I don't think Mr. Reilly wants his name associated, with anything that's anything other than a full, independent, candid assessment of this horrific event and what we need to do to not leave a legacy for future generations to suffer again," said Graham.

Graham had harsh words for BP's new aggressive advertising campaign featuring company CEO Tony Hayward apologizing and promising to make it right.

Video: Obama: BP has 'moral obligations'
Video: Obama to BP: don't nickel and dime us

"I wish they'd spent the money that they spent on that ad a year ago making certain that their equipment they had out there in the gulf was safe, and they had a plan in place and ready to implement in case there was the kind of emergency that we are now dealing with," Graham told CNN.

When asked if he was suggesting BP's effort is too little too late, Graham replied that it's the "wrong place, wrong priorities."

"The right place was safety and response, and the wrong place is trying to engage in a public relations campaign 45 days after the accident," said Graham, who said flat out that he was "angry" about it.

Graham, who served on the Senate Energy and Resources committee before retiring from the Senate six years ago, conceded that Congress may be culpable, too, in not performing proper oversight.

"I think Congress does bear some responsibility," said Graham. "They created all those organizations such as the Minerals Management Service. There have been some suspicions about credibility, the arms length relationship or lack of that relationship between that agency and the industry for a long time, and maybe Congress wasn't aggressive enough in probing that."

The oil commission co-chair said Congress may be a target, too.

"We're going to go wherever the facts take us. If they take us to the White House, if they take us to Capitol Hill, that's where we'll go," Graham promised.

Graham also is a former governor of Florida, which is now bracing for oil to wash up on its shores.

"Like most Floridians, I've lived through situations like this," said Graham, reflecting on the many hurricanes that have wreaked havoc on the state.

"This wasn't nature inflicting its winds on us, this was man failing to take the right kind of precautionary steps to avoid a problem and deal with it," said Graham.

When he was in the Senate, Graham opposed offshore drilling, but he said he can still approach this investigation with objectivity.

Graham acknowledged presidential commissions are often created to respond to a mishap but aren't always successful in correcting the problems they're charged with investigating.

"I believe that the kind of people that the president will be appointing to this commission will have the credibility -- behind our findings, what went wrong and our recommendations -- to be persuasive," said Graham.

"Our worthiness will be determined by what we do. Do we do the kind of solid investigation of what happened and make recommendations clearly focused on the public interest?" Graham said. "That's how we will be judged."

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