1. The Muck Around the BP-Halliburton Oil Spill Legal Fights

Earlier this month, BP filed papers in federal court alleging that Halliburton – which built the ill-fated Deepwater Horizon offshore well for BP – had destroyed test results showing it had used unstable cement to secure the well. The 310-page filing, filled with lurid accusations of negligence and cover-ups, is one of many such documents now sitting in publicly-available court records charging all kinds of misconduct by everyone involved in the oil spill disaster. For example, there’s also Halliburton’s suit against BP, filed in September, accusing BP of fraud and of hiding information that could have prevented the spill. A tour through all of this multi-million dollar lawyer name-calling is  bound to be fun reading, as would a highlights reel from the ton of documents produced in the dozens of suits filed by plaintiffs lawyers against both companies. It’s time that someone plow through all the mudslinging and tell us which charges, if any, seem real and what they tell us about letting either of these companies continue to operate in the Gulf or anywhere else.

2. Post-Crash Prosecutions: Excuses or Reality?

I tend to be skeptical of any government agency that cites funding shortages as an excuse for poor performance. So, as I keep reading all of those stories quoting the SEC saying that one reason the agency hasn’t been able to be tougher on those accused of violations related to the financial crash is because of budget constraints, my radar flares – especially since a quick check that any reporter could do before simply taking down those quotes reveals that the SEC’s $1.26 billion budget for the just-ended fiscal year is nearly three times its budget nine years ago. Can’t we see some reporting that details whether these supposed constraints on enforcement are real and, if so, why, given the flood of extra funding?

We also keep reading about the difficulty of proving criminal intent as the excuse for there not having been any prosecutions of major Wall Street bosses, which is the responsibility of the Justice Department, not the SEC. But I haven’t seen anything yet that actually explains why it’s harder to prosecute these securities fraud cases than others. Can’t someone zero in on those issues by talking to experienced prosecutors and defense lawyers and pinning down, with specifics, whether or why that’s true – or whether what’s more at work is some kind of failure of will, or nerve? How good a lawyer and leader is Lanny Breuer, the head of the Justice Department’s criminal division? And is it he or the local U.S. Attorneys who are making these decisions not to pull the trigger?

3. Gingrich and Tax Reform:

In a prior column, I suggested a story on the extent to which Mitt Romney has been able to pay lower taxes than the average American because Bain Capital is the prime source of his wealth. The story I envisioned would look at how Romney benefited from tax rules that provide advantages to off-shore entities (of which Bain reportedly has many) and that allow for the “carried interest” paid to partners in private equity firms to be taxed at capital gains rates even though their carried interest involves no investment of capital. Now that the New York Times has covered much of that (though not the question of the Bain off-shore entities) in a story published yesterday,it’s time to look at Newt Gingrich’s tax situation – which might prove an even more bountiful treasure trove of (legal) tax gamesmanship and another primer on the need for tax reform.

We already know that Gingrich formed multiple entities, including some non-profits, to which he channeled speaking and consulting fees. In fact, on “Face The Nation” last Sunday the former Speaker said that while his consulting company might have received $1.6 million from Freddie Mac, he personally had received only a small portion of the money. The rest of the money went for the firm’s overhead, he said. Really? Let’s see the books. How much of that overhead supported his personal expenses? (As an historian, Gingrich might remember that the darling-of-the-right lawyer Roy Cohn was famous for having his law firm pay almost every nickel of his personal expenses, which allowed him to avoid the income taxes he would otherwise have paid had he had the firm pay him a salary so he could pay those expenses himself.)