Newt Gingrich released the following letter sent to the Honorable Lamar Smith, Chairman of the House Committee on the Judiciary, requesting an investigation into a case in North Dakota where the Department of Justice potentially behaved in an abusive and ideological fashion against oil companies.
February 22, 2012
Honorable Lamar Smith, Chairman
House Committee on the Judiciary
United States House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20510
Re: US v. Brigham Oil and Gas et al.
Dear Chairman Smith:
The United States District Court for North Dakota recently dismissed a case brought by the Department of Justice against three oil and gas companies for alleged violations of the Migratory Bird Act, originally implemented in 1918. The case, US v. Brigham Oil and Gas et al., originated last year when Timothy Purdon, the U.S. Attorney for the District of North Dakota, charged the companies with "taking" several migratory birds found dead on property near their reserve pits. The criminal charges carried fines and, potentially, prison terms.
Continental Resources was changed with "taking" a single Say's Phoebe, a small bird the size of a sparrow. Brigham Oil & Gas, L.P. was charged with taking two Mallard Ducks. Finally, Newfield Production Company was charged with taking two Mallard ducks, one Red-Necked Duck, and one Northern Pintail duck.
None of these bird species is endangered, and many commercial activities result in vastly more accidental bird deaths on a regular basis. As the deciding judge noted in his decision to dismiss the charges, wind turbines kill "roughly 39,000 birds annually." Thousands of birds are also struck each year by commercial airlines. Yet this Justice Department has never prosecuted any of these industries under the 1918 law.
The government's case was a clear abuse of the justice system, and amounted to harassment of oil companies for motives unrelated to migratory birds. It is deeply disturbing that the Justice Department would abuse its authority in such a manner. Many questions remain to be answered about the decisions to selectively prosecute these particular organizations for a small number of incidental bird deaths.
I ask that you use your authority as Chairman of the House Committee on the Judiciary to subpoena decision documents from U.S. Attorney Purdon's office to determine why he decided to prosecute the case and explore whether he should be removed from office for deliberate abuse of power.
I further suggest that you investigate the involvement of officials at the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C. You might ask why the Justice Department decided to prosecute a tiny number of bird deaths near oil pits but ignored the thousands of bird deaths caused by wind turbines.
The American people deserve to know whether their Department of Justice, which is supposed to be defending the people, is deliberately abusing its authority to harass particular companies. I hope you will use your position to help answer these important questions of justice.
Former Speaker of the House of Representatives