12/15/2011 12:23 pm ET Updated Dec 15, 2011

NRC Chairman Attack Dismissed As 'Witch Hunt,' 'Character Assassination' By Barbara Boxer

WASHINGTON -- Senator Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) on Thursday denounced what she referred to as the "witch hunt" and "character assassination" launched against Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Gregory Jaczko by four of his colleagues on the commission.

"I'm going to have hearings every three months and bring people back ... I'm not going to be holding a hearing like Chairman Issa did to delve into ... character assassinations of anybody," Boxer said in a hearing before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, adding that she was "shocked and appalled" by the assault on the chairman, an attack which she said her own committee's research had determined to be entirely unfounded.

"I would also say in reference to whistle-blowing," Boxer added, "when I look at the nuclear industry over the years ... the whistle blowers are the ones who blow the whistle on safety problems, they're not the ones who blow the whistle because they don't like this or that."

The attempted coup on Jaczko became public on Friday, after Rep. Darrell Issa released an October missive airing the commission's internal disputes. In that letter to White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley, the four commissioners said they had "grave concerns" about the chairman's leadership. Daley has since defended the chairman and declined Issa's request to have an administration official appear at Wednesday's hearing.

The NRC's four commissioners on Wednesday testified at Chairman Issa's House Oversight and Government Committee hearing, accusing him of "bullying and intimidation," as well as "outbursts of abusive rage." Commissioner William Magwood even charged, in written testimony, that the chairman has been abusive to women.

Boxer on Thursday called the charges against the chairman baseless and politically motivated, singling out Magwood's charge regarding women as particularly absurd. Though the four commissioners have sought to paint the conflicts as personal, a report released last week by Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) suggests more ideological underpinnings. Markey's report revealed a concerted effort by the commissioners -- two Democrats and two Republicans -- to delay the implementation of stricter safety standards after the Fukushima meltdown. Jaczko's use of an emergency status declaration to implement the recommendations of the Fukushima Task Force, which the other pro-industry commissioners opposed, was a particular bone of contention.

Republicans at Thursday's hearing continued their attempts to tar the personality of the chairman, with Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) asserting he was "very troubled by the leadership of the chairman."

Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Gregory Jaczko on Wednesday said he will not step down despite the unified attack on his leadership launched by his colleagues on the commission, a line of argument he has continued to promote. "We have to figure out a way to disagree without there being personality accusations," Jazcko said at the hearing on Thursday.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said personality differences are the least of it.

"I suspect that there is more going on here other than personality conflicts," said Sanders at Thursday's hearing. "The media has also -- at least some of the media -- has characterized what's going on as a 'coup' attempted by several commissioners to remove the chairman, Mr. Jaczko, who in fact has been pushing for safety reforms. I think what we may have here is a situation where some commissioners did not understand the function of the chairman and where some commissioners have a philosophical disagreement with the chairman on safety and transparency ... My understanding is Chairman Jaczko is fighting for more transparency and some [commissioners] are not. That's not a personality difference."

Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) was even more direct.

"What we're seeing today," Lautenberg said, "is what you get when commissioners put the profit interests of the industry they're supposed to regulate ahead of the safety of the indsutry." Chairman Jaczko, Lautenberg noted, is the first chairman in the history of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission who has not come from the industry. "He's a scientist running his commission based on science," Lautenberg said, "and clearly some powerful people don't like his style."

HuffPost reported on Monday that Magwood, the leader of the assault on the chairman and his likely successor in the event of a successful coup, had previously worked as a consultant for the parent company of the firm that operates Fukushima's nuclear facility.