Contentious BP Hearing Yields Little Insight

BP CEO Tony Hayward testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, June 17, 2010, before the House Oversight and Investigations subcommittee hearing on "the role of BP in the Deepwater Horizon Explosion and oil spill. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
AP Photo
The last thing BP CEO Tony Hayward probably expected to get from Congress today was an apology -- but that's exactly the way Thursday's congressional hearing started, reports CBS News investigative correspondent Sharyl Attkisson.

Not long after BP's CEO arrived to clicking cameras, the hearing started with a surprise apology from Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas.

It came from, of all people, the top Republican on the committee that oversees oil companies.

Special Section: Disaster in the Gulf

"I do not want to live in a country where any time a citizen or a corporation that does something that is legitimately wrong is subject to a shakedown," said Rep. Barton.

The "shakedown," Barton said, was President Obama asking BP to set up a $20 billion fund for claims.

Barton, by the way, has received more than $300,000 from the oil and gas industry donations since 2007. Most of the members on the committee have received a total of $1 million-plus since the start of last year -- Eleven took no money.

BP CEO Tony Hayward: Don't Blame Me
Hearing Blog: BP CEO Faces Congressional Ire
Joe Barton Under Fire from Republicans and Democrats for BP Apology
BP CEO Tony Hayward "Deeply Sorry" for Oil Spill

There was plenty of other drama.

An activist shrimper showing off pictures of oil-befouled pelicans

"This is the state bird of Louisiana … you ought to be charged with a crime!" said the woman before being dragged off.

And through it all, Hayward's apparent remoteness.

"You seem so removed,'' sniped Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif.

And Hayward's inability to answer questions -- left many disappointed.

"I had no prior knowledge … I am not stonewalling … I don't recall," he answered at various times during the day.

"I'm just amazed at this testimony, Mr. Hayward. You're kicking the can down the road and acting as if you have nothing to do with this company and the decisions."

"Your answer 65 times that 'you don't know' doesn't leave us with confidence," snapped Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vermont.

Said Rep. Mike Doyle, D-, Pa.: "Those of you at the top don't seem to have a clue about what was going on on this rig. I'm sitting here thinking I could be the CEO of an oil company. It pays a little bit better than being a member of Congress."

How much?

"My compensation last year was recorded, I think, at $6 million dollars," said Hayward.

Yet BP's $6-million man made it appear as though practically everyone knows more about the accident than he does. He never saw BP e-mails calling the well a "nightmare" until Congress showed him before the hearing -- more than 8 weeks after the blast.

"Have you seen this memo?" asked Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo.

"I saw this memo when it was raised by your committee," said Hayward.

"And that's the first you ever heard of it?" pressed Rep. DeGette.

"That is the first time," said Hayward.

Frustrated members resorted to sarcasm.

"Is today Thursday? yes or no,'' snipped Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Fla.

Hayward, after a pause, replied, "It is Thursday."

Hayward did apologize.

"I'm devastated by the accident, absolutely devastated."

But he said, as of yet, there's no one to blame.

"There is no evidence of reckless behavior,'' said Hayward.

"So you're standing here saying BP was not reckless behavior, yes?" asked Rep. Stearns.

"There has been no evidence of reckless behavior," said Hayward.

"Has anyone at BP been fired?" asked Stearns.

Hayward: "No,so far."

As for Joe Barton, after he apologized to BP, he took so much flak from Democrats and fellow Republicans -- including Gulf state governors -- that he came back and apologized for his apology.

  • Sharyl Attkisson On Twitter»

    Sharyl Attkisson is a CBS News investigative correspondent based in Washington.