The dismissal of the General Accounting Office lawsuit against Vice President Dick Cheney is just another example of the veil of secrecy that permeates within the Bush administration and is a grim reminder of the dark days of former President Richard Nixon, who openly defied Congress during the investigation into Watergate.
The suit was filed to try and force Cheney to disclose the names of energy industry lobbyists he met with prior to drafting the nation’s National Energy Policy.
But despite the ruling in favor of the White House by District Court Judge John Bates, this energy policy is dead. Any attempt to resurrect the policy in Congress next year “will be met with numerous Democratic amendments, especially on drilling in the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge. Some of those amendments will fail, some will prevail,” said John Hess, an aide to Senator Barbara Boxer, D-California.
The Cheney policy, in its present form “is nothing more than a report with a series of recommendations. Some of these have been included in the energy bills that were considered by the House and Senate this past Congress. But, since nothing passed, the bills are dead and have to reintroduced next year,” said Chris Lu, another Boxer aide.
However, there is still the thorny issue pertaining to disclosure and the GAO said it might appeal the ruling. 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 earlier this year thanks to the spin job by Cheney and his staff, the GAO was not interested in gaining access to the task force’s minutes or notes.
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.
At the time, 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 Alaskan National Wildlife Reserve and freeing up transmission lines. That’s why California was ignored in the report. 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.
One can only assume that other players in the energy industry also met with Cheney and received the same kind of special treatment that was written into the National Energy Policy. Cheney has refused to identify those individuals not because it would undermine the administration’s ability to get advice from people but because it would greatly embarrass the President.
John Dean, former counsel to President Richard Nixon, wrote in a column on the web site FindLaw in February “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 principle. He told the Today Show that he wants to “protect the ability of the president and the vice president to get unvarnished advice from any source we want.” That sounds all too familiar to me. I worked for Richard Nixon.”
Dean added, “If the Vice President’s position should prevail, it will change the very nature of our government’s system of checks and balances. If GAO is held to be as restricted as Cheney would have it, such a ruling will create a black hole in the Federal firmament – a no man’s land where only the President and Vice President can go, unobserved by their Constitutional co-equals on Capitol Hill,” Dean wrote. “The Vice President can only win if we have another Bush vs. Gore-like ruling.”
Congressman Waxman agreed with Dean’s prediction Monday saying, “The decision is another Bush v. Gore. It is a convoluted decision by a Republican judge that gives Bush and Cheney near total immunity from scrutiny. In Bush v. Gore, five Republican justices gave the election to George Bush and Dick Cheney. Today, another Republican judge has decided that, once in office, Bush and Cheney can operate in complete secrecy with no oversight by Congress.”
Nixon would be proud.
JASON LEOPOLD can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org