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G A O Demands Records Cheney*

Cheney Records Demanded

Energy Task Force Papers Eyed by GAO

By Dana Milbank

Washington Post Staff Writer

Thursday, July 19, 2001; Page A01

The investigative arm of Congress yesterday demanded that Vice President Cheney release information on the development of the administration's energy policy, an action that could lead to a rare court showdown between the executive and legislative branches.

The General Accounting Office, alleging that its requests for records of the energy task force Cheney chaired were denied, issued a "demand letter" requiring the vice president to supply the information within 20 days. Of the 31 demand letters the GAO has ever issued to an administration, this is the first to be sent to a president or vice president, the agency said.

The GAO action, sought by Democratic lawmakers suspicious that the administration's energy policy was shaped by industry officials who contributed to President Bush's campaign, represents the first significant probe of the Bush administration after an investigation-plagued Clinton administration.

On Tuesday, Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.) called on the Justice Department to investigate the stock holdings of Bush's senior adviser, Karl Rove. Friday, Democratic congressmen will meet with the GAO to discuss an investigation into the White House's dealings with the Salvation Army over a regulation that would protect religious charities from anti-discrimination laws.

"The Democrats have continued on their course of the politics of personal destruction," said Mary Matalin, a top aide to Cheney and Bush. "They ought to stop wasting taxpayer money on phony investigations and start working on the energy policy we sent to the Hill."

The dispute stems from the private meetings of the administration's energy task force, about which little information was released. The interagency, Cabinet-level task force and its six staff members met with various interests before issuing its report in May, but environmentalists complained that more access was given to energy-industry views. The final proposal included a range of ideas, including greater conservation, but emphasized the need to produce more oil, gas and other forms of energy.

Democratic Reps. John D. Dingell (Mich.) and Waxman, respectively the ranking members of the Energy and Commerce and Government Reform committees, asked the GAO in April to investigate the meetings. The Democratic congressmen said they wanted to know about the access the administration was giving to large donors.

In the GAO letter yesterday to Cheney, Comptroller General David M. Walker said the "request for access to records necessary to do our work has been denied by your office." Walker demanded "full and complete access" to records about the task force's officials and its meetings.

Cheney's office now has 20 days to provide the information, or to provide a statement from the president or the director of the Office of Management and Budget declaring that the information sought is part of a "deliberative process" and releasing it would "impair substantially the operations of the government." If Cheney's office doesn't comply, the GAO can file a civil lawsuit after another 20 days.

Cheney's lawyer had declined to provide much of the information sought, questioning the GAO's authority and suggesting the GAO action would require a majority vote of a committee or a committee chairman's request. Any member of Congress can request a GAO investigation, but the agency gives priority based on members' seniority.

"The White House should simply try telling the truth on the task force's activities and stop hiding information that Congress and the public have a right to see," Waxman said yesterday. "The vice president should tell his office to end this arrogant and unnecessary confrontation with GAO and accept the fact that he and the president are accountable to the Congress and the American people."

The GAO had various discussions with the White House to resolve the matter, including a meeting last week at the Justice Department. Officials familiar with the matter say the White House may be worried about a precedent that would allow the GAO broader access to White House records.

The GAO is also seeking information on the matter from the Energy and Interior departments and the Environmental Protection Agency. Bob Robinson, a senior GAO official, said the agency has had "a very good start" collecting information from those sources. But Robinson, a 28-year GAO veteran, said the standoff with the White House "is more contentious than [ones] I've been involved with in the past. We tried very hard not to reach this position, but we can't negotiate away our basic authority."

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