- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 8, 2001

The General Accounting Office yesterday said it is "preparing for possible litigation" against the White House for turning over "clearly inadequate" documentation of an energy task force's work.
The White House refused to budge, saying there is no need to disclose the private deliberations of Vice President Richard B. Cheney, who headed the task force, and other participants in meetings about energy policy.
"The administration believes very strongly that it is not a matter of public purview for each and every meeting, for each and every minute of the president and the vice president, each and every day, to be reported publicly," White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer said. "And they stand on that as a matter of principle."
Comptroller General David M. Walker, who heads the GAO, made clear that he considers full disclosure a matter of principle as well.
"This is a very serious matter with significant potential implications for GAO, the Congress and the American people," Mr. Walker said in a written statement.
"It involves several fundamental good-government principles, including the right of the Congress to oversee the executive branch, and the need for transparency and accountability in connection with the development and execution of federal government policies that can affect the lives of every American."
He added: "We are finalizing our discussions with key congressional leaders and are preparing for possible litigation."
Congressional Democrats have complained that Mr. Cheney's energy task force was as secretive as former first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton's health care task force, which held closed-door meetings in 1993. They encouraged the GAO to demand documentation of the energy meetings.
Liberal environmentalists have complained they were excluded from the process of developing a comprehensive energy plan for the administration. They accused Bush administration officials of catering to the gas, oil and nuclear industries because the plan calls for increased energy production.
On Thursday, Mr. Cheney's office turned over what the GAO called "a limited amount of information."
"The information received is clearly inadequate in light of GAO's request," the agency said in a news release.
The administration informed the GAO that there were nine meetings of the energy task force, as well as numerous staff meetings with groups that supplied data. The plan itself subsequently was made public, and President Bush gave a major speech explaining its contents.
"The president has shared those thoughts," Mr. Fleischer said yesterday. "In the case of the energy plan, it has all been revealed. All the recommendations are known. All the recommendations are out.
"The recommendations were made after meeting with a variety of groups, some environmental, some business, some experts," he added. "And that's the manner in which the energy-policy decisions were made."
Although he insisted the administration is hiding "absolutely nothing," Mr. Fleischer emphasized that further details should be kept private.
"A good government is a government that is allowed to have a certain level of deliberations in private, that they're allowed to have a certain level of meetings that take place so that ideas can be developed, that thoughts can be given, ideas can be shared," Mr. Fleischer said.
The White House spokesman went on to accuse the GAO of overstepping its investigative authority by demanding the documentation.
"The GAO must operate strictly under the law that authorizes their investigatory powers," he said. "And in the case of the request for each and every person who met with the vice president in each and every minute of his process on the energy package, that, the administration believes, is not, number one, authorized under the law."
Nor does the Bush administration believe it must turn over documents to congressional investigators interested in another topic the decision-making rationale of Justice Department prosecutors assigned to investigate Democratic fund-raising abuses during the Clinton administration.
The White House Counsel's Office is prepared to invoke executive privilege in an effort to withhold that information from Rep. Dan Burton, Indiana Republican, who is chairman of the House Government Reform Committee.
"The administration is prepared to invoke its authority to protect the confidentiality of important communications involving Justice Department officials in matters pertaining to the previous administration," Mr. Fleischer said.
The standoff puts the Bush administration in an awkward position of trying to discourage further probes of Democrats by Mr. Burton, who was long a thorn in the side of the Clinton administration. Yesterday, the White House went so far as to directly criticize Mr. Burton's efforts.
"I have not exactly heard a number of Democrats on the Hill supporting Congressman Burton in this case, so I think there is some question about whether or not this is another fishing expedition, another investigation that Congress has carried out that's going too far," Mr. Fleischer said.
The Government Reform Committee disagreed.
"It is a pity that the White House spokesman does not recognize that this is a serious policy dispute between two co-equal branches of government," said James Wilson, its chief counsel. "I would be surprised if his views were shared by his colleagues at the White House."


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