- The Washington Times - Friday, July 27, 2001

Vice President Richard B. Cheney will not comply with a federal agency's order to hand over the names of nongovernment officials who attended meetings of his energy task force, saying the demand is "inappropriate" and could set a bad precedent.
The General Accounting Office, prompted by a request by Rep. Henry A. Waxman, California Democrat, last week issued a "demand letter" to the vice president ordering him to turn over the names by Aug. 7.
In his first comments on the order, Mr. Cheney said late Wednesday he has decided not to release the names, calling his decision a stand on an "important principle."
"In effect, what we're saying here, if in fact we were to respond to that request, is that any member of Congress can demand to know who I meet with and what I talk to them about on a daily basis," Mr. Cheney said.
"The idea that any member of Congress can demand from me a list of everybody I meet with and what they say to me strikes me as inappropriate," he said.
The task force headed by Mr. Cheney last month released its report on the current energy situation in the United States and long-term solutions to break U.S. dependence on foreign oil, which has skyrocketed in recent years. The report calls for increasing exploration for domestic oil and natural gas, overhauling the nation's delivery infrastructure and enhancing conservation efforts.
Mr. Cheney and the task force's members met with dozens of officials from all sides, among them oil, natural gas, electric, and nuclear companies, as well as consumer and environmentalist groups. He said no one with whom the panel met "would be at all surprising."
But Mr. Waxman, ranking member of the House Committee on Government Reform and a longtime defender of President Clinton during his battles with Congress, contends the task force gave greater access to business officials and possibly some contributors to President Bush's campaign. Both the president and vice president are former executives in the oil industry.
"Congress and the American public have the right to know how the administration develops policy in important areas such as energy issues," Mr. Waxman wrote in one of a half-dozen letters demanding that the GAO investigate.
Waxman spokesman Philip Schiliro said yesterday that Mr. Cheney's characterization of the request for information — and his prediction that all of his meetings would be made public — were overblown.
"This is not for the internal deliberations of the vice president and his staff, even though, in the last eight years during the Clinton administration, that kind of information was routinely demanded by Congress and was routinely provided to Congress," Mr. Schiliro said. "We're not asking for that. We're simply asking for who came in to meet with the task force and what [were] the positions they advocated."
In fact, Mr. Waxman often notes in his letters to the GAO that he is asking for nothing more than the information Republicans got during the Clinton term. While the GAO "demand letter" to Mr. Cheney is the first to a vice president, Mr. Schiliro said the matter is all about policy, not politics.
"It's not asking him on an everyday basis, 'Who did you meet with?' I think the vice president said last week we were trying to set up a situation so that he had to ask our permission before he could meet with people. That's patently ridiculous," he said.
But Mary Matalin, assistant to the president and counselor to the vice president, said Democrats are bent on payback for the investigations of Mr. Clinton, impeached on charges of obstruction of justice and lying under oath about his affair with a White House intern.
"This is taxpayer-funded harassment. If they want to know what happened in those meetings, pick up the plan. This is nothing but politics. We have complied with everything that is statutorily under the purview of the GAO. This is not," Mrs. Matalin said.
"That they are about the politics of personal destruction and want issues and not solutions is evidenced by the cascade of these calls for investigations," she said.
Among that "cascade" is a threat this week by Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat and failed vice-presidential candidate, to subpoena Bush Cabinet agencies over their handling of environmental regulations, part of the first congressional committee probe of the Bush administration.
Mr. Waxman and others, including Rep. John D. Dingell, Michigan Democrat and ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, have compared the energy task force headed by Mr. Cheney to another famous panel — the health care task force run by former first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton.
But Mr. Cheney said the two are nothing alike.
"There's a big difference," he said on ABC's "Nightline." "We meet all the time behind closed doors to make economic policy or to make education policy. Now, you may deal with outside groups. They may have points of view they want to represent.
"We heard from a broad variety of folks out there, but they were not in the meetings where we put together the policy and made recommendations to the president. That's the big difference," Mr. Cheney said.
Mrs. Clinton's task force, unlike the energy task force, employed some staff who were not government employees in the deliberating process, Mr. Cheney said. In his case, outsiders were consulted, but only federal employees made government policy.
Mr. Schiliro said that point is "a distinction without a difference."
"The distinction here is, well, somehow these people weren't officially part of the task force. The question is, who were those people and what were the positions that they were recommending so you can evaluate what positions they recommended and see how similar that is to what's in their policy recommendations.
"Because if you officially don't make someone part of the task force, but they have a disproportionate influence as to what goes into it, I don't know what the difference is," Mr. Schiliro said.
The matter appears headed for court, "unless [Mr. Waxman] wants to back off," Mr. Cheney said, "and I think that's perfectly appropriate."
The GAO has issued only 31 demand letters to presidential administrations, but this is the first to sent to a president or vice president, the agency said.
The process is murky at best since the vice president is not an agency, as is usually the case with recipients of demand letters, a senior administration official said yesterday.

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