- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 31, 2002

The General Accounting Office said yesterday it will file an unprecedented lawsuit against the White House to force the release of information that helped shape the Bush administration's energy policy.
The suit will be filed in two weeks in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The delay allows for the General Accounting Office's lawyers "to get up to speed," and "get it right rather than get it quick," Comptroller General David M. Walker said in an interview.
Mr. Walker said he is frustrated with "a number of misstatements from the White House that are materially different from the facts."
The delay gives the administration time to reassess its withholding of information, and one of two actions could occur to avoid court proceedings: President Bush could officially invoke executive privilege, or the General Accounting Office (GAO) and the administration could agree on reasonable accommodations in dealing with the information being sought.
A White House spokesman said "there's no need to exert the privilege" because it expects a court would rule the GAO is acting beyond its authority.
Mr. Walker is demanding that Vice President Richard B. Cheney release the names of individuals and government employees who met to discuss the formation of the administration's energy policy, as well as dates, locations and the subject of each meeting.
The White House claims that the GAO is also demanding minutes of each meeting, but Mr. Walker produced a letter informing the administration in August he was rescinding that request.
Mr. Walker also took issue with the administration's suggestion his agency backed off its investigation in August because there was insufficient evidence. He said the timeline of the investigation came too close to the September 11 terrorist attacks, and it "would have been imprudent and inappropriate to divert attention from the more immediate challenges" the administration faced.
The White House says the suit is frivolous and maintains the GAO is a statutory agency created by Congress and does not have authority over the executive branch.
Mr. Cheney, who presided over official meetings that may have included officials from the now-bankrupt Enron Corp., said the disclosure would weaken his and the president's ability to obtain and keep privileged information.
"The president will stand strong on principle, fighting for his right and the right of all future presidents to receive advice without it being turned into a virtual news release," said Ari Fleischer, White House spokesman.
The White House will prevail in this case because "principle is on our side," Mr. Fleischer said.
The GAO is acting in response to requests by Democratic Reps. Henry A. Waxman of California and John D. Dingell of Michigan who want to know what influence Enron had in crafting energy policy.
Mr. Waxman said the administration has left the GAO with no alternative but a court challenge.
"We're not asking for confidential conversations between the vice president and the staff," Mr. Waxman said. "The advice the administration might seek from those who work within the administration is important to protect. But the recommendations they get from lobbyists and special interests groups, many of which have given big campaign contributions, the advice they've given is something that the American people are entitled to know about."
But Republicans accused Mr. Waxman of hypocrisy, pointing out that he loaned seven of his staffers to first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton's task force on health care in 1993 while he was receiving more than $305,000 in campaign donations from the health care industry.
Mr. Dingell also loaned staff to Mrs. Clinton's task force while receiving $166,000 from the health care industry, according to Federal Election Commission records. The Democrats' potential conflict of interest was reported at the time in all, staffers working on the task force also worked for congressional Democrats who had received at least $4.6 million in donations from the health care industry in the previous four years.
"The Democrats' hypocrisy is so evident," a House Republican leadership aide said.
But some Republicans on Capitol Hill said the White House should make the information public.
"They're taking a one-day story and drawing it out into a long-term affair," said one senior House Republican aide.

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