Senate Majority Project

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Ted Stevens Makes You Want To Swear

The Washington Post has obtained documents showing “officials from Exxon Mobil Corp., Conoco (before its merger with Phillips), Shell Oil Co. and BP America Inc. met in the White House complex with the Cheney aides who were developing a national energy policy.”

But just last week, executives of three of the firms say that they played no role in the task force.

Thanks to Committee Chair Ted Stevens, who refused to administer an simple oath to the oil executives, they cannot be prosecuted for perjury. There is a fallback statute, but Sen. Stevens so far has not committed to using it. Even after his colleagues asked him to swear in the witnesses, a quick and simple process that numerous witnesses in similar circumstances have agreed to, Stevens refused. His justification? "I intend to be respectful of the position that these gentlemen hold."

When it was revealed that the oil company executives lied to Stevens and his committee, Stevens was outraged. But not at the oil company executives who flatly denied easily demonstrated facts. Rather, Stevens flew into a rage on the Senate floor today because Sen. Durbin took him to task for refusing his colleagues’ simple request. Stevens accused Durbin of violating Senate Rule 19 that makes it taboo to “impugn to another senator or to other senators any conduct or motive unworthy or unbecoming a senator.”

To sum up, Stevens made sure that the oil companies got special treatment from the Senate. The companies then turned around and denied that they had gotten special treatment from the administration. That, it turned out was flat out wrong. Who’s to blame? Sen. Durbin of course.

Stevens may have a deteriorating relationship with reality, but his cozy relationship with the oil companies is well-documented. The oil and gas industry has given his campaign more than $350,000. BP is his second largest contributor. He has backed opening the Arctic Wildlife Refuge to drilling and recently supported increasing tanker traffic in Puget Sound. Stevens even owns oil wells in Oklahoma.

This investigation needs to be done right, and that means recalling the executives, putting them under oath, and asking them the tough questions that Americans deserve answers to. And this time, Stevens should hand the gavel over to somebody who can be genuinely impartial and not cowed by the “position these gentlemen hold.”