WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Attorney General Eric Holder said on Tuesday that he saw some “disturbing” things in the energy markets, which support forming the task force unveiled last week to investigate possible fraud and manipulation.
“There are at least a couple of things that are I think disturbing and I think we’ll look into those,” Holder told reporters when asked if he believed people were illegally manipulating the market. He declined to identify his concerns.
“But again I don’t want go too far out there and say that that is the reason why we have seen these gas price rises, but there is I think a basis for us to announce the formation of the task force,” he said.
The Obama administration unveiled the task force working group as President Barack Obama tried to head off a political headache of soaring gasoline prices as his 2012 re-election bid begins.
Holder said the administration will likely discuss the task force more next week. A Justice Department spokesman declined to elaborate.
Previous administrations have set up task forces to investigate possible manipulation and fraud in the energy markets but have never brought any significant cases or charges.
“Clearly gas prices rise and fall, there are market factors that are always I think a part of that,” Holder told reporters. “The question is whether or not it’s something beyond that and that’s why the task force was formed, to see if there are anything happening that’s inappropriate.”
Separately, Holder shrugged off criticism about putting the Justice Department’s criminal division in the lead of the investigation into the BP Plc oil spill a year ago in the Gulf of Mexico instead of its environmental division.
“The BP oil spill is first and foremost an environmental matter,” he said. “I’m confident we will take a full look at what happened there and that we will take the appropriate steps when it comes to making determinations as to who or what should be charged.”
He said the recent flurry of reports and lawsuits between the companies over who was responsible for the spill would not have any impact on the investigation.
Reporting by Jeremy Pelofsky