- The Washington Times - Monday, February 4, 2002

Michigan Rep. John Dingell, the ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, once called the Kyoto global warming treaty "the most asinine treaty I've ever seen." Even Kyoto supporters could believe that Mr. Dingell, the senior member of the House, arrived at that conclusion independent of the views of his wife, Deborah, a former high-powered lobbyist of the anti-Kyoto General Motors Corp. who now heads the Washington office of the General Motors Foundation. Moreover, nobody would think of compelling Mr. Dingell to divulge the minute details of any conversations he had with his wife regarding global warming. Yet, Mr. Dingell doesn't hesitate to seek to compel the Bush administration to divulge the minutiae of the meetings held last year by the energy task force chaired by Vice President Dick Cheney.
In April, Mr. Dingell and Rep. Henry Waxman, ranking member of the House Government Reform Committee, demanded that the administration divulge internal notes and minutes of the meetings in which energy policy was devised. Messrs. Dingell and Waxman are convinced that any energy-policy recommendation by the administration that coincides with the views of an energy-producing or energy-trading corporation must be, perforce, tainted.
At the request of Messrs. Dingell and Waxman, the General Accounting Office (GAO), an investigative arm of Congress, entered the fray demanding the same information. The Bush-Cheney administration has refused to provide these details, even after the GAO dropped its comprehensive demands in favor of seeking the list of attendees, the dates and the subjects of all energy task force meetings. Citing the constitutional issue of separation of powers, the White House argues that the GAO has no authority to make such demands of the executive branch. Claiming that the GAO is improperly invading the executive branch's policy deliberations, Mr. Cheney recently asserted, "What's at stake here is the ability of the president and vice president to solicit advice from anybody they want without having to make it public."
Last Wednesday, Comptroller General David Walker, who heads the GAO, announced his intention to file a federal lawsuit to compel the administration to release the information that the GAO has demanded. It would mark the first lawsuit the agency has filed against the White House since the GAO was established 80 years ago.
While the administration insists its stand is based on principle, such a position, it seems, would be more defensible had it been consistent from the beginning. But in January Mr. Cheney's counsel revealed to Mr. Waxman that the task force met six times with representatives of the now-bankrupt Enron Corp. That selective revelation set off a media feeding frenzy that the White House inexplicably encouraged by its day-by-day revelations of administration contacts with Enron officials. The daily drumbeat of the contacts, notwithstanding their ethical harmlessness, set off such a political firestorm that 47 percent of the public, according to a recent USA Today/CNN/Gallup poll, now believe that members of the Bush administration did something either illegal or unethical in the Enron matter.
While the White House did not create this perception problem, it surely has contributed to it. Now, the political problem threatens to overwhelm the issue of principle, which the White House itself complicated with its letter to Mr. Waxman. Even if the White House prevails after a lengthy court battle, it will likely have lost many political battles that would make any eventual legal victory Pyrrhic.

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