GAO Threatens Legal Action to Gain Cheney's Records

The General Accounting Office warned last week that it is prepared to go to the mat to obtain information from Vice President Dick Cheney related to the workings of the Cabinet-level task force on energy policy, even if it means filing a civil lawsuit.

While it would prefer to "resolve this matter in a reasonable and timely manner," the GAO "if necessary, [is] prepared to issue a formal report on this matter to Congress, the president and other executive branch officials to obtain the information we are seeking." The agency said this should serve as a "preface" to a "possible suit by the GAO," the investigatory arm of Congress.

This would be the first time that the GAO would be forced to resort to legal action against the White House or other executive branch officials to compel production of information and records.

President Bush and the directors of the Office of Management and Budget, however, have the power to abort the GAO inquiry simply by sending a "certification" letter to the agency, a GAO spokesman said.

The warning comes only days after Cheney, in a letter to the GAO, refused to turn over the information being sought as part of an investigation into whether the closed task force meetings violated the sunshine laws and the "letter and spirit" of the Federal Advisory Committee Act. Cheney chaired the Cabinet-member task force, which produced President Bush's national energy policy.

The GAO "firmly believes that it has clear statutory authority to perform this review, and to obtain the information we are seeking," it said in a prepared statement last Monday. Contrary to comments made by the vice president, "we are not interested in obtaining his daily schedule or reviewing communications involving the president, the vice president, the president's senior advisers and others...We are simply asking for facts that the vice president, as chair of the National Energy Policy Development Group, or others representing the group, would be in a position to provide to the GAO."

GAO Comptroller General David M. Walker said he attempted to speak with Cheney about the issue two weeks ago, but was unsuccessful.

The GAO launched the investigation in April at the urging of Reps. Henry Waxman (D-CA) and John Dingell (D-MI), who voiced concerns about the conduct, operations and funding of the energy task force. The request for the probe was prompted by news reports that the task force had met privately with large campaign contributors, such as Enron Corp. Chairman Kenneth Lay, to formulate the president's energy policy.

David Addington, counsel to Cheney, repeatedly has denied the GAO access to records and information, questioning the legality and appropriateness of its investigation.

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