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Lead Prosecutor Chris Matthews Indicts Dick Cheney for Oil Spill

Chris Matthews simply can't get Dick Cheney out of his mind. On Tuesday's Hardball, the MSNBC host once again attempted to pin the blame of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico on the former vice president, a theory he first broached last week, as he sinisterly questioned "What role did Dick Cheney play in all of this?" Matthews, going after one of his favorite punching bags, brought on Democratic Congressman John Garamendi and an attorney suing BP, Mike Papantonio, to prosecute his case as he accused Cheney and Halliburton of weakening regulations, which in turn led to the oil spill. Matthews even went as far to liken government in the Bush/Cheney years as reminiscent of "a third world banana republic." [audio available here]

MATTHEWS: And I look at this situation, the President of the United States is allowed to have a vice president who in many ways looks more powerful than he does. And Dick Cheney, of his own volition, says, "I'm bringing all the oil industry tycoons into the office with me. Absolute secrecy. We're gonna set energy policy for a democratic country." We're supposed to be a democracy. Yet the policies made in the secrecy of the White House, no press allowed, no records kept. Absolute secrecy. And then we find out that these guys at Halliburton, one of these companies, in fact the company that paid him $34 million into the vice presidency, has gotten their pick of the regulators to regulate Halliburton. How do we stop this?! It seems like a third-world banana republic would do it this way.

The following teaser and exchanges were aired on the May 11 Hardball:

CHRIS MATTHEWS: Good evening, I'm Chris Matthews out in Los Angeles. Leading off tonight oil slicks. BP says Transocean and Halliburton did it. Transocean says BP and Halliburton did it. Haliburton says BP and Transocean did it. See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil. So who did cause the Gulf oil spill and who's going to hold them responsible? Are we talking poltergeist? Who is that enemy below that caused the spill? And what role did Dick Cheney play in all of this?

...

MATTHEWS: Let's start with the politics of the oil spill. U.S. Congressman John Garamendi is a Democrat from California. And Michael Papantonio is a lawyer whose firm has filed a class-action lawsuit in three states against the oil companies. I want to start with Mr. Papantonio. Sir, you brought a lawsuit, is there a case to be made here against Dick Cheney, as head of Halliburton?

MIKE PAPANTONIO, ATTORNEY FOR FAMILIES SUING BP: I think, I think it's a systemic problem. Look, influence pattern emerged after Dick Cheney's 100-day meeting that he had behind closed doors with the American Petroleum Institute, Exxon, Shell, Conoco. Look Congress needs to be asking these questions right now, Chris. Right now, they're not asking the tough questions. What happened in that closed-door meeting? What was discussed, what promises were made? What quid quo pro took place? And why was there this sudden change that took place after that meeting. More importantly, Chris, why is it we can't even get the minutes from that meeting.

MATTHEWS: Okay.

PAPANTONIO: Bobby Kennedy and I had sued this, sued this department to try to get, we can't get them.

MATTHEWS: Well let me help you with this, Mr. Papantonio, since it's your lawsuit. Consider this amicus information. The Vice President got $24 million, I'm sorry, $34 million from Halliburton after he joined the ticket in 2000. He was leaving the company. This wasn't for services, this was what, goodwill? $34 million. Then the two top regulators on MMS who were supposedly responsible for managing the oil industry and making sure there's safety in their own operations, both Halliburton people. So isn't that interesting? What do you make of that? Before we move on. The Halliburton factor here, the Cheney factor. Please answer my question, what role did Dick Cheney play, coming into the vice presidency and two top Halliburton people taking over responsibility for get this, regulating Halliburton?

PAPANTONIO: We know this, we know this Chris, what did happen is the whole, the whole mineral management department changed. New people showed up. New regulations showed up.

MATTHEWS: Halliburton people!

PAPANTONIO: Halliburton. Well, well, here, here it is. Here it is. It goes beyond that. It goes beyond, all you have to do is look at the fact that it wasn't just a meeting where nothing happened for Halliburton. After this meeting, a 300 percent increase took place in their business on things like off-shore drilling. It's about access. It's about access. Clearly about access, Chris.

Look here's, here's where this thing should go. There, there's a statute, it's clear, it's called the Honest Service Fraud statute. It's called 18 U.S. Code 1346. Prosecutors all over America use this statute to put, to put cronies, political cronies in prison for the type of thing that they should be asking questions about right now. It's real simple to follow.

MATTHEWS: Okay.

PAPANTONIO: When there's a government official and a third party that have an agreement and it doesn't look right, we need to investigate...

MATTHEWS: Okay let me, let me go to an office holder-

PAPANTONIO: That's what needs to happen here.

MATTHEWS: -a good government guy. John Garamendi, I 've known you a long time. You're a good government guy. What is the role of Halliburton here? This amazing relationship where the Vice President gets $34 million on his way into the vice presidency, as these regulators are being named and they're being named from the very company they're supposed to be regulating. I don't see how you can trust that kind of a relationship.

GARAMENDI: You can't, we used to say fox guarding the henhouse, now we shave the skunks guarding the henhouse. No doubt about it and it's not just the oil industry. We're talking about a war, we're talking about $1 trillion of American taxpayers' money for an unnecessary war in Iraq. Dick Cheney and the oil boys really screwed up this country to a fare-thee-well.

MATTHEWS: Well they wanted the war too.

...

MATTHEWS: I've talked to people in the oil industry, Congressman Garamendi and they tell me that no mistake is ever new. No accident is ever new. Everything that ever goes wrong has happened before. And when it happened before - this is just a fact - they established safety management procedures from making sure it doesn't happen again. They don't want this to happen. Why didn't they follow those procedures in this case so it wouldn't happen, what happened before? They're acting like this is an act of God, all the right-wingers are saying, "Act of God, oh we can't believe it. It's poltergeist! Weird spirits did this! God did this!" But at some point we take responsibility for money-making when money-making goes bad. Your thoughts Congressman. Can we have safe offshore oil drilling or not?

GARAMENDI: I don't think that it'll ever be safe. There's always going to be an inherent danger and when it occurs it's going to be a real troublesome thing because you're in a marine, ocean environment. I have a bill in to ban, permanently, new leases off the west coast of America. We just don't need to go there. We need to shift. We need to shift away from oil. We need to move to the renewable energy policies. As long as we continue to drill we're gonna find ourselves with these kinds of problems. Not every year, not every drill rig but it's going to happen. And when it does, keep this in mind Chris. Last year, within the last 12 months there have been two massive blowouts on offshore oil rigs. One off the west coast of Australia and another one in the Gulf of Mexico. This is not unheard of. In fact it's all too common. So enough already. Move away from our dependance on oil and let's get on with that renewable energy, which everybody says is our future and has to be our future.

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MATTHEWS: Let me go to the government end of this. Mr. Garamendi, Congressman, congratulations on being a congressman and it's a wonderful opportunity to make law now. And I look at this situation, the President of the United States is allowed to have a vice president who in many ways looks more powerful than he does. And Dick Cheney, of his own volition, says, "I'm bringing all the oil industry tycoons into the office with me. Absolute secrecy. We're gonna set energy policy for a democratic country." We're supposed to be a democracy. Yet the policies made in the secrecy of the White House, no press allowed, no records kept. Absolute secrecy. And then we find out that these guys at Halliburton, one of these companies, in fact the company that paid him $34 million into the vice presidency, has gotten their pick of the regulators to regulate Halliburton. How do we stop this?! It seems like a third-world banana republic would do it this way.

GARAMENDI: Well first of all you better elect the right people We knew when George W. Bush came in that he was an oil man. And we knew that when he chose Cheney that we were in for an oil economy. And we got exactly what the people voted for. You got to be aware that elections matter. They make a big difference. There ought to be laws, in fact there are laws. Congress did it's very best to try to get that information but Executive Privilege was pulled to shield all of that information. Wrongly done. We're gonna have to hammer away at this. And these kinds of problems should not be allowed. It really depends upon who you choose to elect as a president. If you're choosing an insider from the oil industry, you better expect the oil industry is going to call the shots. And they did. But it's only part of the puzzle.

Halliburton has been on the edge of the law, if not an outlaw, for this entire last decade. Take a look at what you just talked about. The establishment of the oil policy. Look what they did in Iraq. There's been extraordinary scandals that involved Halliburton in Iraq. Hundreds of millions of dollars disappeared when it was sent off to Halliburton. There are problems after problems after problems. But it goes back to whose president? Take a look, who does that person serve? Do they serve the interest of the general public, the environment, or do they serve the interests of the oil industry? No doubt about where George Bush was coming from and then when he chose Cheney and Halliburton, hey the dye was cast, the problems were created.

MATTHEWS: Okay thank you very much. I think you put it together. Mr. Papantonio we'll have you back on. I think we have the facts. $34 million bucks in the pocket of Dick Cheney. His regulators and the regulating positions of his own company! Nice deal they got there Dick! Anyway Congressman John Garamendi thank you sir. Thank you Mike Papantonio. Good luck with the suit.

-Geoffrey Dickens is the Senior News Analyst at the Media Research Center. You can follow him on Twitter here