- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 23, 2002

The Justice Department has asked a federal court to dismiss an "unprecedented" General Accounting Office lawsuit against Vice President Richard B. Cheney seeking the release of White House energy task force records.
"In order to protect the president's exercise of his exclusive executive powers, the Justice Department filed a motion to dismiss the unprecedented lawsuit brought by the General Accounting Office to improperly inject itself and the courts into the president's exercise of his powers," spokeswoman Barbara Comstock said yesterday.
"The president has the constitutional right to obtain confidential advice from close advisers and to recommend legislation to Congress," Mrs. Comstock said.
In February, the GAO sued Mr. Cheney over the release of White House energy task force records, a disclosure the Bush administration vowed to fight in order to preserve the privacy of deliberations.
It was the first time the GAO had filed suit against a federal official in connection with a records-access issue, and agency officials said at the time they did so "reluctantly."
But, they said, the GAO had "no other choice" because of its responsibility to Congress and the American people.
"Our repeated attempts to reach a reasonable accommodation on this matter have not been successful," the agency said at the time.
The 25-page lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, argued that Mr. Cheney should follow the precedent set by former first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, who was forced to turn over records of her health care task force.
White House officials countered that Mrs. Clinton's task force was made up largely of nongovernmental employees, making them subject to stricter disclosure laws.
The energy task force, which was chaired by Mr. Cheney, was made up of federal officials, although they did consult with private individuals.
The dispute began in April 2000, when two Democratic congressmen, Reps. Henry A. Waxman of California and John D. Dingell of Michigan, requested an investigation into the energy task force. The White House argued that under federal law, such probes can be initiated only by congressional committees, Congress itself or the GAO's comptroller general, not individual members of Congress.
The GAO lawsuit said the agency had repeatedly narrowed its request for information "in the interest of comity and out of respect for the vice president." But the agency still wants the names of those who attended task force meetings, as well as the names of outsiders who were consulted.
The GAO also wants to know how the vice president decided who would attend the meetings. Finally, the agency wants an accounting of the costs associated with development of the administration's energy policy.
Mrs. Comstock said that the National Energy Policy Development Group's information-gathering and policy-developing activities fall within the president's exclusive responsibilities and outside the investigative authority of Congress.
"The GAO is a creation of Congress, and has limited power to investigate the government's financial transactions and to review the results of certain government programs to ensure they achieve their congressionally stated objectives," she said.
Mrs. Comstock also said that the GAO's assertion of virtually unlimited authority to investigate the executive branch would "revolutionize and violate the separation of powers doctrine that has made our nation's government so strong."
In its motion, filed late Tuesday, the Justice Department said the GAO did not have the legal standing to bring the lawsuit and that the agency had failed to state a claim on which relief could be granted. The motion asks the court to dismiss the lawsuit.
The matter is pending.


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