Obama Vows Thorough Oil Spill Probe

President Obama met Tuesday with the co-chairs of the BP oil spill commission, and said that an independent commission will thoroughly examine all aspects of the disaster. Meanwhile, he's dispatched Attorney General Eric Holder to the Gulf Coast. Holder said Tuesday that federal authorities have opened criminal and civil investigations into the spill.

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This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Im Robert Siegel.

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And Im Michele Norris.

As BP prepares yet another attempt to cap a runaway oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the Obama administration continues to try to show it's on top of the situation. President Obama met today with the co-chairman of his new commission set up to study the disaster. And Attorney General Eric Holder announced a criminal investigation of whats now the worst oil spill in U.S. history.

As NPRs Scott Horsley reports, theres no quick relief in sight.

SCOTT HORSLEY: BP has failed time and again to staunch the oil gushing from its broken well. Even if the latest effort is successful, it's likely to increase the flow of oil in the short run. That's left the Obama administration in the uncomfortable position of having to clean up a mess it's been powerless to prevent.

President Obama returned today to an itemized list of what he called the largest government cleanup effort in the nation's history.

President BARACK OBAMA: We've authorized more than 17,000 National Guard members to respond across four states. More than 1,700 vessels are currently aiding in the response and will ensure that any and all responsible means of containing this leak are pursued as we await the completion of the two relief wells.

HORSLEY: Mr. Obama spoke in the Rose Garden after meeting with two men he's tapped to lead a presidential commission on the oil spill. Former Florida Governor Bob Graham and former EPA administrator William Reilly will investigate the causes of this disaster and how to prevent something like it from ever happening again.

Pres. OBAMA: If our laws were broken, leading to this death and destruction, my solemn pledge is that we will bring those responsible to justice on behalf of the victims of this catastrophe and the people of the Gulf region.

HORSLEY: To dramatize that determination, Attorney General Eric Holder made a personal visit to the Gulf today. He announced the government has been conducting a criminal probe of the spill for some weeks

ERIC HOLDER (Attorney General): We will closely examine the actions of those involved in this spill. If we find evidence of illegal behavior, we will be extremely forceful in our response.

HORSLEY: Also today, the government began hosting its own daily briefing on the spill. Retired Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen will update reporters by himself instead of alongside BP officials, as the Coast Guard has done in the past.

Mr. THAD ALLEN (Former Coast Guard Admiral): The goal is to create as broad a picture of this response, what's going on and speak very frankly to the American public, be able to answer your questions in my role as a national incident commander.

HORSLEY: The goal may also be to put more distance between the administration and BP. Otherwise, mounting frustration with the oil company is likely to continue to spill over on the government, says political analyst Jack Pitney of Claremont McKenna College.

Professor JACK PITNEY (Political Analyst, Claremont McKenna College): The president's basic problem is the gap between expectations and reality. The president obviously built up a lot of expectations about what he could do in general. And now he's facing a problem that doesn't lend itself to an easy fix.

HORSLEY: The president reportedly has fumed in private about BP's inability to shut off the well. But he struggles to communicate his frustration publicly, as he did this morning with a rather colorless description of the unique Gulf lifestyle now at risk.

Pres. OBAMA: What's being threatened, what's being lost isn't just the source of income but a way of life, not just fishable waters, but a national treasure.

HORSLEY: Analyst Pitney says this is one instance where a little more emotion from the president might be welcome.

Prof. PITNEY: The president is famous for his reserve, for his steady control of his emotions. And in most respects, that's a virtue. But in this case he has to show empathy, he has to show that he cares about the people of the Gulf Coast.

HORSLEY: Still, Pitney says there are limits to that approach. Even the most emotionally demonstrative president could wind up stained by the oil spill until the engineers succeed in shutting off the leak.

Scott Horsley, NPR News, the White House.

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