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DOJ probe into BP began 'weeks ago'

From NBC's Pete Williams
Attorney General Eric Holder disclosed today that a federal investigation began "some weeks ago" into whether criminal and civil laws were violated in the Gulf Oil spill.

Holder said the government is looking into whether a variety of federal laws were violated, from the Endangered Species Act and other environmental laws to whether false statements were made to federal investigators and regulators.

"If we find evidence of illegal behavior, we will be very forceful in our response," Holder said.

He made no mention of an investigation during his prepared remarks at a news conference today. But asked by a reporter if one was underway, he said, "We have begun both a criminal and as well as a civil investigation as is our obligation under the law. Our environmental laws are very clear, and we have a responsibility to enforce them."

"There are federal charges that can include a wide range of things that have happened, everything from birds that have been harmed or killed, to the spill itself, and then with regard to the untimely and tragic deaths of those eleven rig workers," Holder said.

A senior Justice Department official said this does not mean that investigators have found any evidence that BP or the other companies involved in the spill willfully violated the law.

"The simple fact that there's oil in the Gulf is evidence of a crime," the official said.