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Cheney Refuses Records' Release

Energy Showdown With GAO Looms

By Dana Milbank Washington Post Staff Writer Monday, January 28, 2002; Page A01

Vice President Cheney yesterday said he would not give congressional investigators records from the administration's energy policy development, inviting what legal experts say would be the highest profile court fight between Congress and an administration since Watergate.

Cheney framed his forceful rejection of the demand for information in broad constitutional terms, professing a desire to restore presidential power to a level not seen in decades. "I have repeatedly seen an erosion of the powers and the ability of the president of the United States to do his job," he said. The vice president said it was "wrong" for past administrations to have acquiesced to congressional demands.

"We are weaker today as an institution because of the unwise compromises that have been made over the last 30 to 35 years," Cheney said on the ABC News program "This Week," one of two appearances he made yesterday. Cheney said the dispute "probably will get resolved in court."

The showdown between the Bush administration and the investigative arm of Congress, the General Accounting Office, follows a nine-month effort by Congress to see whether campaign contributors disproportionately influenced White House energy proposals. The matter has gained new prominence because of the collapse and numerous investigations of energy trader Enron Corp., which has ties to the administration.

U.S. Comptroller General David M. Walker, who heads the GAO, had said he would begin legal proceedings this week if the administration did not provide the information. "I've said it will be this week, and I intend to deliver on that," Walker said in an interview yesterday. Unless the administration reverses course, Walker said, he will notify congressional leaders, possibly as soon as Wednesday, of plans to file suit. Walker said he was "surprised" and "discouraged" by Cheney's vehemence.

Cheney attributed the threatened lawsuit to efforts to exploit the Enron collapse by Democrats, particularly Rep. Henry A. Waxman (Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the House Government Reform Committee. Cheney said the GAO "backed off" its effort in August.

"Now what's happened is we've come back around. As a result of the Enron corporate collapse, some of the Democrats on the Hill are trying to re-energize this and try to turn it into some kind of political debate with respect to Enron," Cheney said on "Fox News Sunday." "But what's really at stake here is the ability of the president and the vice president to solicit advice from anybody they want in confidence -- get good, solid, unvarnished advice without having to make it available to a member of Congress."

Walker, who had been a delegate to a Republican National Convention and an official in the Reagan administration, said it was not a partisan inquiry, noting that Sen. Fred D. Thompson (R-Tenn.), Rep. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.) and other GOP lawmakers want the White House to release the information. He said the GAO was "headed to court in September" and delayed its action because "it was not prudent to divert the administration's attention" after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11.

Walker said the GAO was seeking information from Cheney not in his constitutional role as vice president but as chairman of the interagency energy task force, which solicited information from executives and others outside the government. The task force has said it met with Enron representatives six times. The GAO is seeking to learn who met with the task force and what they wanted.

The administration's willingness to enter a high-profile legal battle with Congress surprised even some legal experts sympathetic to protecting executive power. Bruce Fein, a lawyer who served in the Nixon and Reagan Justice Departments, said there is "a possibility" the administration could convince a court that the GAO is not entitled to the information, but he said it would be "a pyrrhic victory."

A victory in court would only prompt congressional committees to issue subpoenas for the information, Fein said, and "the damage to the public perception of their honesty is going to be irreparable. The people would say there's another coverup."

In the last such legal battle, President Richard Nixon in 1974 won a case against a Senate committee that was seeking information related to campaign contributions and executive actions. But Fein said the current case, because it involves conflict-of-interest allegations, would be more like a 1927 case in which Congress won a lawsuit against a Harding administration official who was accused of covering up information in the Teapot Dome scandal.

The Bush administration already faces a public relations problem on the Enron situation. Sixty-seven percent of Americans surveyed late last week believe the administration is either hiding something or lying about its relationship with Enron, up from 53 percent the week before, according to a CBS-New York Times poll released Saturday.

Senate Majority Leader Thomas A. Daschle (D-S.D.) called Cheney's decision not to release the records "unfortunate." On CBS's "Face the Nation," Daschle said: "The General Accounting Office is on solid ground in demanding that these records be turned over. The American people have a right to know what the facts are."

White House aides have, in recent days, left open the possibility that their position on the task-force records could change, and White House Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr. sounded more conciliatory yesterday than Cheney did. But Cheney said the Enron scandal did not justify investigating the administration.

"There's no evidence to indicate anybody did anything wrong in the administration," he said. "This issue of Enron isn't about the administration. What it's really about is whether or not laws were broken or laws need to be changed with respect to the functioning of a major corporation."

2002 The Washington Post Company

-- (hiding@dirty.deeds), January 28, 2002


It seems that Dickhead the Dictator forgot who is paying his salary. I bet he's already followed the advice of their friend "Kenny" and shredded the documents.

LOL, it's going to be great to have Colin Powell as President, he might be the only honest one in the entire administration.

-- (Bring on @ the. whistleblowers), January 28, 2002.

Ha! You think Powell is preferable? You are being suckered, fool.

-- (Algernon C. Braithewaite@Cambridge.MA), January 28, 2002.

ANYTHING would be preferable to the Bush and Dick Show.

-- (get rid @ of. scum), January 28, 2002.

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