U.S. attorney general Eric H. Holder Jr. to visit Gulf Coast

Cleanup and containment efforts continue at the Gulf of Mexico site of the oil spill following the Deepwater Horizon explosion.
By Jerry Markon
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, May 31, 2010; 6:04 PM

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. will visit areas affected by the Gulf of Mexico oil spill on Tuesday as the Justice Department considers whether to launch a criminal investigation into the disaster.

After a briefing and tour by the U.S. Coast Guard, Holder will meet with U.S. attorneys from Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi and state law enforcement officials from the three states, the Justice Department said Monday.

The attorney general will then take questions from reporters. Officials declined to say if Holder will announce a criminal investigation or any civil action by the department, which has been monitoring the spill and cleanup for the past month.

Holder announced on April 30 that he was dispatching a team of Justice Department attorneys to the gulf to meet with federal prosecutors from the area and response teams and to monitor what he called "a major environmental incident." The Justice team is led by Ignacia S. Moreno, assistant attorney general for the environment and natural resources division, and Tony West, assistant attorney general for the civil division.

Federal law enforcement officials have sent mixed signals over whether the Justice response will mushroom into a full-fledged criminal probe. Holder has said his attorneys are examining whether there was any "malfeasance" related to the leaking oil rig, and investigators have sent letters to BP instructing the company to preserve documents and internal records related to the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig, which exploded on April 20, killing 11 people.

But officials have said the demands to preserve records were precautionary, and another federal official said Monday that Holder's trip is a continuation of the Justice Department's effort to make clear that environmental laws will be enforced and that BP will be held accountable for the spill.

Staff writer Michael D. Shear contributed to this report.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company