CNN's Griffin to Reich on Idea to Seize BP: 'Illegal;' 'Smacks of Venezuela'

On Wednesday's Rick's List, CNN's Drew Griffin pressed former Clinton administration official Robert Reich on his call for a federal takeover of BP and its efforts against the Gulf oil leak. Griffin first questioned Reich if his proposal was serious, and later stated that the Democrat's idea "sounds not only highly illegal...but seems to me to smack of something that we might see in Venezuela" [audio clips available here].

The CNN personality, who was filling in for anchor Rick Sanchez, brought on the current University of California, Berkeley professor to discuss his proposal, which he first made in a May 31 column (as noted by Jeff Poor at MRC's Business and Media Institute). After summarizing Reich's position, that it was "time for the government to seize control of BP and take over the company's oil spill recovery efforts in the Gulf," Griffin bluntly asked the former labor secretary, "I've got to tell you, I have always considered you a very serious person, but this doesn't sound serious to me at all. Are you serious about this, or was this some kind of a joke to get things going?"

When Reich made it clear that he was being completely serious, the substitute anchor upped the ante: "But to take over a company like this sounds not only highly illegal and counterproductive, but seems to me to smack of something that we might see in Venezuela or in Russia under Putin." The Democrat brushed Griffin's concern aside: "Oh, please- you know...a temporary receivership is not a wild legal remedy. In fact, it's undertaken...quite often, and even without statutory authority....I'm not suggesting the President do this if there's no statutory authority, no congressional action. But even without statutory authority, you've had presidents like Harry Truman take over the entire steel industry in a national emergency."

Later in the interview, Griffin again questioned the soundness of Reich's proposal: "So, Mr. Secretary, just to wrap this up, a temporary receivership- put the power in the hands of the government, somehow appoint somebody who would be the government's CEO of this oil company, and then run the operation from there? That sounds incredibly time-consuming and a waste of precious time."

The CNN correspondent's hardball treatment of Reich is a study in contrasts when compared to Sanchez, whom he was substituting for. During a September 10, 2009 interview of Senator Bernie Sanders, the CNN anchor seemed to endorse the Vermont socialist's call for public financing of elections and railed against the influence of the rich in politics.

The full transcript of Drew Griffin's interview of former Labor Secretary Robert Reich, which began 42 minutes into the 4 pm Eastern hour of Wednesday's Rick's List:

Drew Griffin, CNN Correspondent; & Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich | NewsBusters.orgGRIFFIN: It is time for the government to seize control of BP and take over the company's oil spill recovery efforts in the Gulf. Seriously, that's what former Labor Secretary Robert Reich says. We were talking about his reasons before the break. Now, let's break it down with the man himself, Robert Reich, now professor of public policy at the University of California. He joins us live from Berkeley. Professor- Secretary, I've got to tell you, I have always considered you a very serious person, but this doesn't sound serious to me at all. Are you serious about this, or was this some kind of a joke to get things going?

REICH: I don't think this is a joking matter at all. I mean, we have here one of the most serious environmental dangers- catastrophes faced by this country in history, and yet the effort to stop this spill is in the hands and under the control of a private, for-profit company, answerable to shareholders. That is an untenable proposition. BP's expertise is certainly relevant. Its knowledge is certainly relevant. I'm not saying that that expertise and knowledge should not be applied. But the government does have to be in the position of weighing the risks and benefits, and also, making sure the public is getting the right information, and also, making sure that all resources that BP has are being put to stopping this leak.

GRIFFIN: But to take over a company like this sounds not only highly illegal and counterproductive, but seems to me to smack of something that we might see in Venezuela or in Russia under Putin.

REICH: Oh, please- you know, this is- a temporary receivership is not a wild legal remedy. In fact, it's undertaken a great- quite often, and even without statutory authority. And, by the way, I'm not suggesting the President do this if there's no statutory authority, no congressional action. But even without statutory authority, you've had presidents like Harry Truman take over the entire steel industry in a national emergency. No, this is very, very specific, and it is very important that the Obama administration have the power- the legal power- to order BP to do what is necessary- to also get to the bottom of all of the facts, and make sure that BP uses all of its resources.

GRIFFIN: I think you would agree that- I mean, priority number one has to be to stop that leak, and the President has said that is where both- the President, the administration, the government- and BP's concerns merge. There is no upside-

REICH: Well, Rick [sic], I think that- you know, with due-

GRIFFIN: For BP to allow this to continue.

REICH: Well, with due respect, I don't think BP's interests are exactly the same interests as the United States [unintelligible]-

GRIFFIN: You don't think they're doing everything they can to stop this leak?

REICH: Well, no. In fact, BP has shown time and again- its history in the United States with regard to explosions, worker safety, the spill on the North Slope of Alaska. It is willing to cut corners, in terms of making a profit. And now, other companies have not had nearly as bad a safety and environmental record as BP. But given BP's record, how can we entirely entrust this operation to BP? It simply doesn't make any logic. BP was responsible for this, and BP needs to be under federal control, at least until this is cleaned up. Now, again, I'm not suggesting this is a permanent receivership. I'm suggesting a temporary receivership because this is such a national emergency.

GRIFFIN: The President- the administration has been criticized for not doing enough. Certainly, that's coming out of the governor of Louisiana. Do you think that the response- whether or not BP or the government is in charge- the response of the federal government in cleaning up and trying to get containment on this- has been enough?

REICH: Well, cleanup is a separate task. That's a very, very important task, and whether the federal government is doing enough or can do more right now- frankly, I don't know. But in terms of containing the spill, I don't see that the federal government is doing nearly what it could do, and that's precisely why I think it's so important to make sure that all of the assets that BP has- all of the information it has, all of the expertise it has- are directed to this one objective of containing the spill. Right now, BP is saying we're not going to be able to do this until August. Well, by August, we are going to have even a larger environmental hazard on our hands. I don't recommend this lightly. I would not have recommended this if BP had been able to contain the spill up until now. But again and again, BP shows that it is either unwilling or unable do it- and, again, I worry that its loyalty, its primary responsibility, is to its shareholders, and not to the health, safety and environmental protection of the United States.

GRIFFIN: So, Mr. Secretary, just to wrap this up, a temporary receivership- put the power in the hands of the government, somehow appoint somebody who would be the government's CEO of this oil company, and then run the operation from there? That sounds incredibly time-consuming and a waste of precious time.

REICH: Well, look, I'm not suggesting in any way that we wait. In other words, we ought to- BP ought to be doing just exactly what it's doing now. The government ought to do what it's doing now. But alongside, we need to have government take BP's operations over, at least until this is solved. I mean, again, the analogy of Three Mile Island comes to mind. The analogy of any major corporation that was threatening because of its malfeasance or its nonfeasance- threatening the safety, health and environment of the United States. No president can simply allow this kind of operation to be completely under the control of the people who created the problem to begin with.

GRIFFIN: Controversial. Thanks for joining us. Secretary Reich from California- thanks for joining us.

REICH: Thanks very much.

Matthew Balan
Matthew Balan
Matthew Balan is a news analyst at Media Research Center