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U.S. VP Cheney Off Hook As GAO Declines To Appeal

GAO Won't Appeal Ruling To Force VP Cheney To Disclose Names Of Energy Task Force Members


By Jason Leopold

The identities of the people who advised Vice President Dick Cheney on the National Energy Policy—particularly those who work in the energy industry—will remain secret.

On Friday, General Accounting Office Comptroller David Walker said he would not appeal a U.S. District Court decision, handed down in December, that rejected the GAO’s lawsuit it filed against Cheney two years ago to force the Vice President to disclose the names of the people who helped draft President Bush’s National Energy Policy.

When U.S. District Court Judge John Bates tossed out the lawsuit in December, his ruling was clearly mired in politics. This is the same man who worked for Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr during the investigation into Whitewater and supervised the investigation into Whitewater figure Vince Foster’s death and the billing records into Hillary Clinton’s law firm.

Walker said Friday his decision not to appeal U.S. District Court John Bates’ ruling was based on the amount of time his office would have to invest to continue to pursue the case. The GAO’s decision is a major blow to Congressional oversight powers and will likely allow future presidential administrations to withhold other types of information from the public and from lawmakers.

“Despite GAO’s conviction that the district court’s decision was incorrect, further pursuit of the (National Energy Policy Development Group) information would require investment of significant time and resources over several years,” Walker said. “In the final analysis, transparency and accountability in government are essential elements for a healthy democracy. Based on my extensive congressional outreach efforts, there is a broad-based and bi-partisan consensus that GAO should have received the limited and non-deliberative NEPDG-related information that we were seeking without having to resort to litigation.”

Walker said in December that Bates’ decision, should it stand, “would permanently "shackle Congress's [investigative] power in a [remarkable] and unprecedented manner."

The GAO's unprecedented lawsuit against Cheney was prompted when the Vice President rebuffed Congressman Henry Waxman, D-California, and the ranking member on the Committee on Government Reform, and John Dingell, D-Michigan, who asked Cheney for the same information in May 2001. Cheney refused to disclose the names of the people he met with voluntarily saying he wants to "protect the ability of the president and the vice president to get unvarnished advice from any source we want." Waxman, nor other leading Democratic officials would comment on the GAO’s decision.

At the time the energy policy was drafted, the California energy crisis was at its peak and many of the policies contained in the report seemed to benefit energy companies such as Enron (which had not yet imploded in a wave of accounting scandals) that contributed heavily to President Bush's campaign. However, the policy made only scant references to California's energy crisis, which Enron was accused of igniting, and did not indicate what should be done to provide the state some relief.

Cheney said the policy focused on long-term solutions to the country's energy needs, such as opening up drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and freeing up transmission lines. That's why California was ignored in the report, Cheney said.

But then news reports surfaced that former Enron Chief Executive Ken Lay met with Cheney several times between January and April 2001, just days before the policy was unveiled. What's more, in January, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that Lay gave Cheney a memo outlining eight policy recommendations that would clearly benefit Enron. Of the eight, seven were included in the policy.

John Dean, who was former President Richard Nixon’s White House counsel, said in a column when Bates tossed out the GAO’s lawsuit that if Cheney can withhold the information, “the consequences will be grave.”

“Not since Richard Nixon stiffed the Congress during Watergate has a White House so openly, and arrogantly, defied Congress's investigative authority. Nor has any activity by the Bush Administration more strongly suggested they are hiding the incriminating information about their relationship with the now-moribund Enron, or other heavy-hitting campaign contributors from the energy business. Cheney says he is refusing to provide information to the Congress as a matter of principal,” Dean added.

“The Bush-Cheney Administration will have insulated the activities of the Vice President from scrutiny, violated the principles of transparency and accountability essential to a democracy, and decimated the oversight and investigative powers of Congress,” Dean said.

On its face, what the GAO requested from Cheney in its lawsuit filed in January is limited information about the energy task force, specifically, what process was used in developing the National Energy Policy, where did the task force get the information and from whom. That's it. Contrary to what has been reported in the media last year, the GAO was not interested in gaining access to the task force's minutes or notes.

This is just another example of how the dead-in-the-water Democratic arm of Congress is allowing the Bush Administration to undermine the public. The party is showing how weak it truly is. The only recourse left for the Democrats is to reject Bush’s National Energy Policy when it comes up for a vote later this year.

*******

- Jason Leopold is a freelance journalist based in California, he is currently finishing a book on the California energy crisis. He can be contacted at jasonleopold@hotmail.com.

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