- The Washington Times - Friday, March 1, 2002

ASSOCIATED PRESS
Two federal judges ruled against the Bush administration yesterday in the White House's efforts to shield the records of an energy task force headed by Vice President Richard B. Cheney.
U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan said, "I assume the government is stalling" in one case, and U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman scoffed at the administration's argument that another case should be thrown out of court. Both lawsuits were filed by Judicial Watch, a conservative watchdog group.
The White House is trying to avoid having to identify business executives and lobbyists with whom the Cheney task force met as the administration formulated its energy plan a year ago.
The judges' comments follow criticism of the Bush administration by a third judge, U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler, who said the Energy Department is moving at a "glacial pace" in a lawsuit filed by an environmental group to produce documents on Mr. Cheney's task force.
Judge Kessler ordered the department to release documents starting March 25. Documents the department withholds must be identified individually in a list to be made public by April 25, which would set the stage for a next round in the court battle.
At a court hearing yesterday, Justice Department lawyer Dan Bensing said Judge Friedman should dismiss the Judicial Watch lawsuit seeking documents from all federal agencies that were members of Mr. Cheney's task force. Mr. Bensing said Judicial Watch should have waited 12 more days before suing.
"So what. … This is just gamesmanship," Judge Friedman replied. Nine months later, he said, the Bush administration's Cabinet agencies have turned over almost no documents and are withholding tens of thousands of pages from public scrutiny.
In another court session, Judge Sullivan reluctantly gave the government seven additional days to file written arguments on why the Cheney task force should be allowed to withhold all documents. The government had asked for 17 extra days. Judge Sullivan's brief extension means that he could rule as early as the second week of April on releasing material.
A fourth lawsuit also is pending for the task force records, the case filed last week by the General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress.


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