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GAO Makes Good on Word, Brings Lawsuit Against White House
The General Accounting Office (GAO) showed Friday that its threats, even those against the White House, are not idle when it filed a long-awaited lawsuit in federal court to obtain administration records associated with the task force that formulated the president’s national energy policy.
“We take this step reluctantly,” said Comptroller General David M. Walker, who noted that this was the first time the GAO had brought legal action against the executive branch to gain access to records. “Nevertheless, given [the] GAO’s responsibility to Congress and the American people, we have no other choice.” The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
The agency’s “repeated attempts to reach a reasonable accommodation on this matter have not been successful. Now that the matter has been submitted to the judicial branch, we are hopeful that the litigation will be resolved expeditiously,” Walker said in a prepared statement.
The White House argues that complying with GAO’s request for documents and other information would encroach on its ability, as well as the ability of future presidents, to obtain private information when pursuing the development of new policies. The Bush administration has made it clear that it is not exerting executive privilege over the sought-after documents.
The complaint, which names Cheney as the defendant, asks the court to declare that the GAO is entitled to all of the records that Walker requested in an Aug. 17 letter to the vice president last year, and to issue an injunction directing Cheney to produce those records for the agency. Cheney chaired the energy task force.
The White House is bracing for a major legal fight. It will be represented in the battle against the GAO by Solicitor General Theodore B. Olson and Robert D. McCallum Jr., the assistant attorney general in charge of the Justice Department’s Civil Division, according to The Washington Post. Olson gained fame when he argued the controversial Florida vote-count case before the Supreme Court, which ultimately handed Bush the presidency.
Ironically, President Bush and OMB Director Mitchell Daniels could have halted the GAO investigation last September, but they failed to invoke their statutory authority by the deadline.
The GAO is seeking, among other things, information on Cheney’s meetings with energy executives during which energy policy was discussed, as well as details on the meetings of the task force staff (whom they met with, how many times, and what was discussed), how Cheney and the task force staff decided who would be invited to meetings, and the direct and indirect costs incurred in developing the national energy policy.
Cheney has argued that the GAO’s authority, while it extends to federal agencies, does not apply to the Offices of the President and Vice President. In its court complaint, the GAO countered that it has reviewed the activities of White House task forces in the past, including President Clinton’s Health Care Task Force in the early 1990s and the White House China Permanent Normal Trade Relations Working Group in 2000.
The GAO began its pursuit of the task force records last May at the request of Reps. Henry Waxman (D-CA) and John Dingell (D-MI). The Enron financial scandal and the upcoming debate on the Senate energy bill has stepped up calls by lawmakers from both parties for the White House to turn over the records. Failure by the White House to comply, most agree, will be politically damaging to Bush.
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