NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A federal judge on Monday tossed out one of two pending charges against a former BP executive the federal government accuses of trying to hide the severity of the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill.
U.S. District Judge Kurt Engelhardt threw out a charge of obstruction of Congress against David Rainey, BP's former vice president of exploration for the Gulf of Mexico, according to The Advocate (http://bit.ly/1cuX8VM ).
Rainey now faces a single charge of making false statements to the FBI during a 2011 interview.
His federal trial got underway in New Orleans Monday with jury selection. The newspaper reports that a jury was selected to hear the case Monday and arguments and testimony are expected to start Tuesday.
Rainey has pleaded not guilty to charges that he obstructed the investigation, and that he made false statements about his calculations of the rate at which oil was flowing from BP's Macondo well.
Rainey was accused of lying to a U.S. House subcommittee investigating the spill in the weeks after the disaster.
As part of his defense, Rainey served trial subpoenas to three former congressmen and six staffers, including U.S. Sen. Ed Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat who chaired the subcommittee as a U.S. Representative, and former U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman, who was at the time the committee's chairman and has since retired.
The subcommittee voluntarily turned over hundreds of documents. But it would only produce other records if Rainey stipulated that doing so wouldn't waive the staffers' protection under the "speech or debate" clause of the Constitution. That clause gives legal protection to congressmen and their staffers for things they say, and reports they produce, in the course of carrying out their legislative duties.
The Office of General Counsel of the U.S. House of Representatives argued that Engelhardt should quash the subpoenas, citing the constitutional privilege.
Engelhardt on Monday agreed that the subpoenas should be quashed. He also agreed with Rainey's attorneys that the charge should be dropped as a result, because Rainey would not have sufficient ability to defend himself without being allowed to question the members of Congress and their staffers.
The Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded in flames in April 2010, killing 11 people and spewing millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico for months. The well wasn't capped until mid-July of that year.