House representative accuses White House of shaking down BP

UPDATE: Republican Rep. Joe Barton is issuing an apology - of sorts - about his apology to oil company BP.

Hours after making the comments, Barton said his remarks had been "misconstrued." He said, "I want to apologize for that misconstruction."

Barton says that he considers BP responsible for the catastrophic oil spill and that the company should "do everything possible to make good."

WASHINGTON (AP) - A leading House Republican has accused the White House of a "$20 billion shakedown" of oil giant BP by requiring the company to establish a huge fund to compensate those hurt by the Gulf Coast oil spill.

Rep. Joe Barton made the assertion Thursday at the outset of a House hearing where BP's chief executive officer, Tony Hayward, was appearing for the first time before Congress.

Facing Hayward at the witness table, the Texas Republican congressman said, "I'm ashamed of what happened in the White House" on Wednesday. Barton was referring to the agreement that President Barack Obama announced with BP for establishment of a $20 billion relief fund.

In response to Rep. Barton's statement, the press secretary issued a statement of his own:

"What is shameful is that Joe Barton seems to have more concern for big corporations that caused this disaster than the fishermen, small business owners and communities whose lives have been devastated by the destruction.  Congressman Barton may think that a fund to compensate these Americans is a 'tragedy', but most Americans know that the real tragedy is what the men and women of the Gulf Coast are going through right now.  Members from both parties should repudiate his comments."

(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)