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President Bush informs a small group of reporters that he is forming an “energy task force” to draw up a new national energy policy. It will be the first major policy initiative of his presidency. The administration is driven by its concern for “the people who work for a living… who struggle every day to get ahead.” The task force will find ways to meet the rising demand for energy and to avoid the shortfalls causing major power blackouts in California and other areas (see January 23, 2001). He has chosen Vice President Cheney to chair the task force. “Can’t think of a better man to run it than the vice president,” he says. He refuses to take questions, turning aside queries with jokes about the recent Super Bowl. The short press briefing will be virtually the only time the White House tells reporters anything about Cheney’s National Energy Policy Development Group. (Savage 2007, pp. 85-86) Deputy press secretary Scott McClellan will later write that the task force “held a series of meetings with outside interests whose identities were withheld from the public. This created an early impression of an administration prone to secrecy and reinforced the image of the Bush White House as in thrall to corporate interests.” (McClellan 2008, pp. 96)
One of the first officials to meet with Vice President Cheney’s energy task force (the National Energy Policy Development Group—see May 16, 2001) is James Rouse, the vice president of ExxonMobil and a large financial donor to the Bush-Cheney presidential campaign. Several days later, Kenneth Lay, the CEO of Enron, meets with the group. It will not be his last meeting (see April 17, 2001 and After). The names of the various officials, executives, lobbyists, and representatives who meet with the task force will not be released until 2007 (see July 18, 2007). (Abramowitz and Mufson 7/18/2007)
Jack N. Gerard of the National Mining Association (NMA) meets with Andrew Lundquist, the executive director of the Cheney energy task force (the National Energy Policy Development Group—see May 16, 2001), and other staff members. Gerard wants the Bush administration to give the Energy Department the responsibility for promoting technology that would ease global warming, and more importantly, to keep the issue away from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which could issue regulations on greenhouse gas emissions. Gerard and the NMA want voluntary, not mandatory, regulations. The task force adopts the NMA’s request in its policy. The names of the various officials, executives, lobbyists, and representatives who meet with the task force will not be released until 2007 (see July 18, 2007). (Abramowitz and Mufson 7/18/2007)
Ira F. Engelhardt and Fred Palmer, the CEO and vice president of Peabody Energy, meet with Andrew Lundquist, the director of Vice President Cheney’s energy task force (the National Energy Policy Development Group—see May 16, 2001). Also at the meeting are Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham and Bush economic adviser Lawrence Lindsey. Peabody, the world’s largest coal company, is preparing a stock offering. The task force’s coal policy recommendations will directly impact the stock market’s response to Peabody’s IPO. The task force releases its recommendations (see May 16, 2001) less than a week before Peabody releases its stock offering on May 21. In part because the energy policy strongly emphasizes the use of coal, Peabody raises $420 million by going public—$60 million more than stock analysts predicted. Authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein will write, “The task force was, in effect, flogging a stock offering.” (Dubose and Bernstein 2006, pp. 17-18)
Several officials from the nation’s biggest electric utilities, including Duke Energy and Constellation Energy Group, meet with Vice President Cheney’s energy task force (the National Energy Policy Development Group—see May 16, 2001). The names of the various officials, executives, lobbyists, and representatives who meet with the task force will not be released until 2007 (see July 18, 2007). (Abramowitz and Mufson 7/18/2007)
Joseph Kelliher, a top political appointee on Vice President Cheney’s energy task force (see January 29, 2001) e-mails natural gas executive Dana Contratto with the following question: “If you were King or Il Duce, what would you include in a national [energy] policy, especially with respect to natural gas issues?” The e-mail is never intended to become public knowledge. Kelliher will later become President Bush’s appointee to head the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). (Savage 2007, pp. 86)
James Ford, an official with the American Petroleum Institute (API), sends Energy Department official Joseph T. Kelliher copies of the API’s position papers. In that packet is what the Cheney energy task force (the National Energy Policy Development Group—see May 16, 2001) will describe as a “suggested executive order to ensure that energy implications are considered and acted on in rulemakings and executive actions.” In May 2001, President Bush will issue that selfsame executive order (see May 11, 2001). (Abramowitz and Mufson 7/18/2007)
The chairman of oil giant Conoco, Archie Dunham, meets with Vice President Cheney’s energy task force (the National Energy Policy Development Group—see May 16, 2001). In November 2005, ConocoPhillips CEO James Mulva will claim that no one from Conoco ever met with the task force (see November 16, 2005). (Milbank and Blum 11/16/2005)
Officials from British Petroleum, including regional president Bob Malone, meet with Vice President Cheney’s energy task force (the National Energy Policy Development Group—see May 16, 2001). The BP representatives are part of a group of officials from some 20 different oil and drilling companies and organizations to meet with Cheney’s task force in March and April. The other organizations include the National Mining Association, the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America, and the American Petroleum Institute. The names of the various officials, executives, lobbyists, and representatives who meet with the task force will not be released until 2007 (see July 18, 2007). In November 2005, BP America CEO Ross Pillari will testify in a Senate hearing that he does not know about any such meetings (see November 16, 2005). (Milbank and Blum 11/16/2005; Abramowitz and Mufson 7/18/2007)
Representatives of 13 environmentalist groups meet with officials from Vice President Cheney’s energy task force (the National Energy Policy Development Group—see May 16, 2001). Since late January, some 40 task force meetings have been held, all with oil and energy company executives and lobbyists (see Before January 20, 2001, After January 20, 2001, Mid-February, 2001, Mid-February, 2001, March 5, 2001, March 20, 2001, March 21, 2001, March 22, 2001, April 12, 2001. April 17, 2001, and April 17, 2001 and After). Today is the one day where environmental groups are allowed to have any input. Anna Aurilio of the US Public Interest Group will later say, “It was clear to us that they were just being nice to us.” (Notably, the only people ever identified as “lobbyists” by the task force to the press are the representatives from the environmental groups from today’s meeting.) Their input is neither wanted nor used; an initial draft of the task force’s report has already been prepared and President Bush has already been briefed on its contents. The names of the various officials, executives, lobbyists, and representatives who meet with the task force will not be released for six years (see July 18, 2007). Until this meeting, the only environmentalist group to meet with the Cheney task force has been the Council of Republicans for Environmental Advocacy, founded in 1998 by conservative tax activist Grover Norquist and Gale Norton, now the Bush administration’s Secretary of the Interior. That group is now run by Italia Federici, described by the Washington Post as “socially involved” with Norton’s deputy, J. Steven Griles. (Dubose and Bernstein 2006, pp. 18; Abramowitz and Mufson 7/18/2007)
An official from the oil giant Conoco, along with two officials from the US Oil and Gas Association (USOGA), meet with Vice President Cheney’s energy task force (the National Energy Policy Development Group—see May 16, 2001). In November 2005, ConocoPhillips CEO James Mulva will claim that no one from Conoco ever met with the task force (see November 16, 2005). (Milbank and Blum 11/16/2005)
Royal Dutch/Shell Group chairman Sir Mark Moody Stuart, Shell Oil chairman Steven Miller, and two other officials from those firms meet with Vice President Cheney’s energy task force (the National Energy Policy Development Group—see May 16, 2001). In November 2005, Shell Oil president John Hofmeister will claim that no one from Shell ever met with the task force (see November 16, 2005). (Milbank and Blum 11/16/2005)
Vice President Cheney meets with Enron CEO Kenneth Lay as part of Cheney’s secretive energy task force (the National Energy Policy Development Group—see May 16, 2001). Though Cheney may not know it, Enron is on the verge of collapse, with liabilities far outweighing assets and heavily doctored earnings statements. Enron’s only income generation comes from the unregulated energy markets in California and other Western states (see January 23, 2001). Enron traders are gouging the California markets at an unprecedented pace; as authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein later write, Enron is “taking power plants off-line to create shortages, booking transmission lines for current that never move[s], and shuttling electricity back and forth across state lines to circumvent price controls,” among a plethora of other illegal market manipulations.
Ignoring California's Energy Crisis - Unable to make a profit between buying Enron’s energy at staggering prices and then selling it at regulated rates, one of California’s two largest utility companies has filed for bankruptcy and the other has accepted a government bailout. California is in a calamitous energy crisis. Governor Gray Davis is pleading for rate caps that would help both utility companies and consumers. But price caps are the last thing Lay wants. Once in Cheney’s office, Lay gives Cheney a three-page memo outlining Enron’s recommendations for the administration’s national energy policy Cheney’s group is developing. Prominently featured in the memo is the following recommendation: “The administration should reject any attempt to deregulate wholesale power markets by adopting price caps.” Almost every recommendation in the Lay memo will find its way into the energy task force’s final report. Cheney may not know that Enron is in such dire financial straits, but he does know that energy prices in California have gone from $30 to $300 per megawatthour, with periodic jumps to as high as $1,500. He also knows that Enron’s profits in California, along with other power producers, have gone up 400% to 600%.
Price Caps in Spite of Lay, Cheney - Lay does not get his way; the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission will override Cheney’s arguments and impose price caps on energy traders working in California. The state’s energy prices are brought under control, Enron’s trading schemes—luridly given such sobriquets as “Death Star,” “Fat Boy,” and “Get Shorty”—are brought to an end, and Enron collapses six months later (see December 2, 2001). Cheney will have a measure of revenge by forcing one of Lay’s adversaries on FERC, Curtis Hebert, out of his position (see August 14, 2001).
Avoiding Scrutiny and Oversight - This meeting and others are cleverly designed to avoid legal government oversight. According to the Federal Advisory Committees Act (FACA), the energy task force should be subject to public accountability because private parties—in this case, oil and gas industry executives and lobbyists—are helping shape government policy. Cheney’s legal counsel, David Addington, devises a simple scheme to avoid oversight. When a group of corporate lobbyists come together to create policy, a government official is present. Suddenly, FACA does not apply, and the task force need not provide any information whatsoever to the public. Dubose and Bernstein will later write: “It was bold as [artist] Rene Magritte’s near-photographic representation of a pipe over the inscription ceci n’est pas une pipe—‘this is not a pipe.’ Fifteen oil industry lobbyists meet in the Executive Office Building and one midlevel bureaucrat from the Department of Energy steps into the room—and voila, ceci n’est pas une foule de lobbyists. Because one government employee sat in with every group of lobbyists, a committee of outside advisers was not a committee of outside advisers.” Between Addington’s bureaucratic end-around and Cheney’s chairmanship of the working group giving the entire business the cloak of executive privilege, little information gets out of the group. “The whole thing was designed so that the presence of a government employee at a meeting could keep the Congress out,” a Congressional staff lawyer later says. It also keeps the press at bay. (Dubose and Bernstein 2006, pp. 3-4, 10)
George Skelton, a reporter for the Los Angeles Times, gets an unexpected call asking if he wants to interview Vice President Cheney. Skelton thinks the call might be to lay some groundwork for the 2004 Bush-Cheney re-election campaign. But Cheney wants to talk energy. Skelton is happy to oblige: energy prices are out of control in California. Cheney doesn’t just want to talk energy, though, he wants to talk about how bad an idea price caps are (see April 17, 2001 and After). “Price caps provide short-term relief for politicians,” Cheney says, in an oblique swipe at California’s Democratic governor, Gray Davis. He continues, “But they do nothing to deal with the basic, fundamental problem.” Skelton asks if the administration will support temporary price caps to get California through the immediate crisis period, and Cheney replies: “Six months? Six years? Once politicians can no longer resist the temptation to go with price caps, they usually are unable to muster the courage to end them.… I don’t see that as a possibility.” Cheney goes on: “Frankly, California is looked on by many folks as a classic example of the kinds of problems that arise when you do use price caps.” What Skelton does not know is that Cheney is echoing the recommendations of Enron CEO Kenneth Lay, whose company is primarily responsible for the California energy crisis. (Dubose and Bernstein 2006, pp. 4-5)
House Democrats Henry Waxman (D-CA) and John Dingell (D-MI) write to Andrew Lundquist, the executive director of the Cheney energy task force (see January 29, 2001), asking for access to the task force’s records. Waxman and Dingell ask with whom the task force met and what had been said at those meetings. They base their request on the 1972 Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA), an open-government law that states when nongovernment officials, such as energy company officials or lobbyists, help craft public policy, the government must ensure that a balance of viewpoints is represented and such meetings must be open to the press and the public. Two weeks later, Cheney’s chief counsel, David Addington, replies, denying Waxman and Dingell any information. Addington says that FACA does not apply to the task force, and attaches a memo from Lundquist asserting that while nongovernmental officials have been part of the task force’s deliberations, since they were not official members of the task force, their participation does not count. “These meetings… were simply forums to collect individuals views rather than to bring a collective judgment to bear,” Addington writes. Addington then advises the representatives that they need to show “due regard for the constitutional separation of powers,” claims that the White House can assert executive privilege over the task force’s records, and finishes with the assertion that Congress is not even entitled to the information Addington has provided—he has done so, he writes, “as a matter of comity between the executive and legislative branches.” (General Accounting Office 8/25/2003 ; Savage 2007, pp. 87-88)
The General Accounting Office (GAO), the nonpartisan investigative arm of Congress, sends David Addington, the chief counsel to Vice President Cheney, a letter declaring that it intends to review the composition and activities of Cheney’s energy task force (see January 29, 2001). Addington is the one who issued the flat refusal to allow members of Congress to see any of the minutes or documents generated by the task force (see April 19 - May 4, 2001); in response, the members of Congress who requested the information asked GAO chief and comptroller general David Walker for help in investigating the task force. Walker is quite bipartisan, having worked for the Reagan and Bush-Quayle administrations before being appointed to the chairmanship of the GAO by President Clinton. (Savage 2007, pp. 88) Addington will reply to Walker, denying that the GAO has any authority to investigate the task force (see May 16 - 17, 2001). In 2007, author Charlie Savage will call the Cheney-Addington battle with the GAO an early instance of the Bush administration’s fight to claim ever-widening presidential powers at the expense of Congress (see January 21, 2001).
The General Accounting Office (GAO) tries five times to arrange a meeting with David Addington, the chief counsel for Vice President Cheney, regarding the GAO’s request for information about Cheney’s secret energy task force (see January 29, 2001). Addington rebuffs all attempts to meet with GAO officials, and instead sends a letter refusing to comply with the GAO’s request (see May 16 - 17, 2001). On May 17, Addington leaves a voicemail on a GAO telephone saying that he is not authorized to meet with officials to discuss the task force, but that his letter is complete and “self-explanatory.” (General Accounting Office 8/25/2003 )
In response to a General Accounting Office (GAO) demand for information about the energy task force chaired by Vice President Cheney (see May 8, 2001), Cheney’s chief legal adviser, David Addington, rebuffs the GAO, claiming that the agency has no authority under the Constitution to investigate the task force. The task force is a creature of the executive branch, Addington argues, and as an arm of the legislative branch, the GAO cannot “inquire into the exercise of authorities committed to the executive by the Constitution.” The president can keep any such government deliberations entirely secret from Congress and the public, Addington asserts, in order to guarantee the “candor” of the advice he receives. GAO chief David Walker replies to Addington, rejecting his interpretation of the Constitution. Addington will, in the words of author Charlie Savage, “follow… injury with insult,” responding to Walker’s request for information by conceding that Congress might have the right to know about the direct costs incurred by the task force, and sending 77 pages of mundane expense reports (see June 21, 2001). The highlight of those reports: task force chair Andrew Lundquist’s ordering of a pizza on his own credit card. Walker will not be cowed by Addington’s flip rejoinder. (Savage 2007, pp. 88-89)
Vice President Cheney’s top aide, David Addington, begins attending meetings of the Cheney energy task force, further emphasizing the White House’s refusal to cooperate with the General Accounting Office (GAO—see April 19 - May 4, 2001, May 8, 2001, and May 16 - 17, 2001). White House lawyer Bradford Berenson, the legal liaison on the case, is puzzled by the White House’s refusal to cooperate. Most of the information about the task force has already come out in the media, particularly the fact that almost all of the task force’s meetings have been with fossil fuel and nuclear energy corporate executives. But the White House seems willing to weather the controversy in order to keep withholding information from the GAO. In 2007, author Charlie Savage will write, “The long-term payoff was an opportunity to establish a high principle of presidential power: Communications involving the office of the presidency should be secret, whatever a law passed by Congress and signed by some previous president might say.” Addington further enforces the doctrine during the regular morning meetings at the White House counsel’s office, even though he does not work for senior White House counsel Alberto Gonzales. (Savage 2007, pp. 90-91)
The general counsel for the General Accounting Office (GAO) sends a letter to Vice President Cheney’s chief counsel, David Addington, explaining that the GAO believes its attempt to investigate Cheney’s secret energy task force (see January 29, 2001, May 16, 2001, and May 16 - 17, 2001) is right and proper under US law. (General Accounting Office 8/25/2003 )
David Addington, the chief counsel to Vice President Cheney, writes another letter rebuffing the General Accounting Office (GAO)‘s attempt to secure information about Cheney’s secret energy task force (see January 29, 2001 and May 16, 2001). This time, Addington writes that the GAO lacks the authority to obtain the requested information. He reasons that in statute 31 USC 717, which requires the GAO’s chief, the comptroller general, to “evaluate the results of a program or activity the government carries out under existing law,” the words “existing law” do not include the US Constitution. Under statute 31 USC 712, which requires the comptroller general to investigate “all matters related to the receipt, disbursement, and use of public money,” the task force is only required to inform the GAO of financial cost information—hence Addington’s previous letter informing the GAO about the task force’s mundane expenses (see May 16 - 17, 2001 and June 21, 2001). (General Accounting Office 8/25/2003 )
Pursuant to his letter to the General Accounting Office (GAO—see June 7, 2001), David Addington, the chief counsel for Vice President Cheney, sends the GAO 77 pages of financial information relating to Cheney’s secret energy task force. The documents cover little more than mundane expenses by the task force, including a pizza bought by task force chief Andrew Lundquist. The GAO will characterize the documents as “virtually impossible to analyze, as they consisted, for example, of pages with dollar amounts but no indication of the nature or the purpose of the expenditure. Nor did the materials reflect any apparent expenses in connection with the work of the six assigned [task force] staff.” (General Accounting Office 8/25/2003 ; Savage 2007, pp. 88-89)
The conservative government watchdog organization Judicial Watch sends a letter to Vice President Dick Cheney demanding to see the records of his secret energy task force (see January 29, 2001 and May 16, 2001). Chris Farrell, the organization’s director of investigations and research, saw a May 2001 Newsweek article about the task force. Farrell later says he was struck by the similarities between Cheney’s energy task force and the 1994 health care task force chaired by then-First Lady Hillary Clinton. “The government can’t operate in secret,” Farrell will later say. “They are answerable to the people. There are appropriate times for secrecy on military and intelligence matters, but the notion that national policy on a matter like energy or health care can be developed in secret is offensive and counter to the Constitution.” Farrell, along with Judicial Watch chairman Larry Klayman and president Thomas Fitton, agreed that the task force violates core conservative principles, and made the decision to challenge Cheney’s office. Their letter notes that the rules governing the task force are clear: if the executive branch chooses to solicit outside advice while writing policy, then the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) is triggered, requiring the government to make the details of those meetings public (the same argument made by the General Accounting Office—see May 8, 2001). “Judicial Watch respectfully requests that, in light of the questionable legal and ethical practices, negative publicity, and public outrage surrounding Hillary Rodham Clinton’s 1994 national health-care policy development group, you direct the [energy task force] to abide by the FACA. [Such openness] will instill public trust and confidence in the operations of the [task force] and insure that the national policy is formulated, discussed, and acted upon in a manner consistent with the best traditions of our Constitutional Republic.” (Savage 2007, pp. 91-92) Cheney’s office will refuse the request (see July 5, 2001). In return, Judicial Watch will sue for the documents’ release (see July 14, 2001).
David Addington, the chief counsel to Vice President Cheney, refuses to accept any more communications from the General Accounting Office (GAO) regarding the GAO’s attempt to learn about the doings of Cheney’s secret energy task force (see January 29, 2001 and May 16, 2001). Addington directs GAO officials to contact a lawyer at the Department of Justice with any further inquiries. (General Accounting Office 8/25/2003 )
David Addington, the chief counsel for Vice President Dick Cheney, writes a three-sentence letter to the government oversight organization Judicial Watch, rejecting its request for the records of Cheney’s secret energy task force (see June 25, 2001). Addington uses the same argument he used to reject the General Accounting Office’s request for records of the task force (see June 7, 2001): since open-government laws do not apply to the task force, in his opinion, there will be “no disclosure of the materials you requested.” Judicial Watch will file a lawsuit demanding the task force’s records be made available to the public (see July 14, 2001). (Savage 2007, pp. 92)
The conservative government watchdog organization Judicial Watch files a lawsuit demanding the release of documents pertaining to Vice President Cheney’s energy task force (see January 29, 2001 and May 16, 2001). Judicial Watch had requested that Cheney voluntarily turn over the records, a request his office denied (see July 5, 2001). (Savage 2007, pp. 92)
The General Accounting Office, repeatedly rebuffed by Vice President Cheney’s office in its attempt to secure information about Cheney’s secret energy task force (see May 8, 2001, May 10-17, 2001, May 16 - 17, 2001, June 7, 2001, June 21, 2001, and July 3, 2001), sends a letter written by its head, Comptroller General David Walker, to Cheney. Walker notes the repeated rebuffs from Cheney’s chief counsel, David Addington, and others in his office, and once again lays out his request for information regarding the task force’s participants, minutes of meetings, and other relevant information. When Walker follows up his letter with a phone call to Cheney on July 30, Cheney will fail to take the call. (General Accounting Office 8/25/2003 )
ABC reporter Ted Koppel asks Vice President Dick Cheney about meetings with his “pals” from the oil and energy industries (see January 29, 2001 and April 17, 2001 and After). Koppel is referring to the attempts by Congress to be given the names of the participants in Cheney’s energy task force meetings. Cheney says: “I think it’s going to have to be resolved in court, and I think that’s probably appropriate. I think, in fact, that this is the first time the GAO [Government Accountability Office] has ever issued a so-called demand letter to a president/vice president. I’m a duly elected constitutional officer. The idea that any member of Congress can demand from me a list of everybody I meet with and what they say strikes me as—as inappropriate, and not in keeping with the Constitution.” Authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein will later write, “The vice president was deftly turning a request for records into a constitutional struggle between the legislative and executive branches.” Representative Henry Waxman (D-CA), who issued the original requests before turning them over to the GAO, will put his demands for information on hold because of the 9/11 attacks and the war in Afghanistan, but the case will indeed end up in court (see February 22, 2002). (Dubose and Bernstein 2006, pp. 11-12)
The General Accounting Office (GAO)‘s chief, David Walker, backs down from his initial request for all pertinent documents and records of Vice President Cheney’s energy task force (see May 8, 2001). Instead, Walker modifies his request to ask for just the names of the lobbyists at the task force meetings, the dates of the meetings, the general topic(s) of discussion, and the cost of the meetings. Cheney will also refuse this request, and will escalate his rhetorical war against Walker and the GAO in defense of “executive privilege” (see July 26, 2001 and August 2, 2001). (General Accounting Office 8/25/2003 ; Savage 2007, pp. 92-93)
Vice President Cheney’s chief counsel, David Addington, responds to the General Accounting Office (GAO)‘s offer to scale back its request for information regarding Cheney’s energy task force (see July 31, 2001) with another blanket refusal. Addington again asserts that the GAO has no authority to make such a request (see June 7, 2001). (General Accounting Office 8/25/2003 )
Vice President Cheney sends a letter to Congressional leaders demanding that they order the General Accounting Office (GAO)‘s chief, David Walker, to immediately withdraw his request for records pertaining to Cheney’s secret energy task force (see July 18, 2001). Walker has already scaled back his initial request (see July 31, 2001), but Cheney asserts that even the limited information Walker is requesting would violate “the confidentiality of communications among a president, a vice president, the president’s other senior advisers, and others.” Cheney also rails against “actions undertaken by an agent of the Congress, the comptroller general [Walker], which exceeded his lawful authority and which if given effect, would unconstitutionally interfere with the functioning of the executive branch.” (Savage 2007, pp. 93) The GAO notes that Cheney’s letter does not cite the specific information requested by the GAO, as required by law. (General Accounting Office 8/25/2003 )
The General Accounting Office (GAO)‘s chief, Comptroller General David Walker, issues a report detailing the history of the GAO’s request for information regarding Vice President Cheney’s secret energy task force, and reiterating its request (see July 31, 2001). The report is sent to President Bush, Cheney, Congress, the attorney general, and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). It reads in part: “In communications with the vice president’s counsel… we offered to eliminate our earlier request for minutes and notes and for the information presented by members of the public. Even though we are legally entitled to this information, as a matter of comity, we are scaling back the records we are requesting to exclude these two items of information.… The GAO as an institution, and the comptroller general as an officer of the legislative branch, assist the Congress in exercising its responsibilities under the Constitution to oversee, investigate, and legislate. In order to help members of Congress carry out their role and evaluate the process used to develop the National Energy Policy, GAO needs selected factual and non-deliberative records that the vice president, as chair of the NEPDG [National Energy Policy Development Group, the formal name for Cheney’s task force], or others representing the Group, are in a position to provide GAO. The records we are requesting will assist the review of how the NEPDG spent public funds, how it carried out its activities, and whether applicable law was followed.” (David Walker 8/17/2001 ; York 2/20/2002)
Vice President Cheney’s office responds to repeated requests by the General Accounting Office (GAO) for information about Cheney’s secret energy task force (see August 17, 2001) by sending it a list of the task force’s office support staff, and nothing more. The GAO now considers itself empowered by law to file a lawsuit seeking the requested information, and the next day will issue a statement to that effect. (General Accounting Office 8/25/2003 )
Vice President Dick Cheney continues to battle the General Accounting Office (GAO)‘s request for the records of his energy task force (see January 29, 2001 and April 17, 2001 and After) in the broadcast media (see July 26, 2001). On Fox News, he reiterates his insistence that he will not turn over any records from the task force unless compelled to do so by the courts, and says indignantly, “They’ve demanded of me that I give Henry Waxman [the California Democratic representative who originated the demand for task force records] a list of everybody I met with, of everything that was discussed, any advice that was revealed, notes and memos of these meetings.” Cheney is lying. The GAO only asked for the minutes from the meetings and the names of the participants (see July 31, 2001 and February 22, 2002), and soon the GAO will scale back its request to nothing more than the names and schedules of the participants and the meetings, not the contents of the meetings themselves. Four years later, when the court case has long been settled in Cheney’s favor (see February 7, 2003), Cheney will still mischaracterize the issue as an improper demand from Congress for an executive branch official to disclose the contents of private conversations and meetings, and therefore destroy “the ability of the president and the vice president to receive unvarnished advice.” Former Justice Department official Bruce Fein will call the argument “bogus, specious, [and] absurd.” (Dubose and Bernstein 2006, pp. 12-13) GAO officials call Cheney’s statement a “critical and highly material misrepresentation” of the facts. (York 2/20/2002)
Senator Carl Levin (D-MI), the chairman of the investigations subcommittee of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, and fellow senators Byron Dorgan (D-ND), Ernest Hollings (D-SC), and Joseph Lieberman (D-CT) ask the General Accounting Office (GAO) to evaluate the process by which the Bush administration’s energy policy has been developed (see May 16, 2001). The senators’ request is apparently in support of the GAO’s long-blocked investigation of Vice President Cheney’s energy task force (see January 29, 2001). (General Accounting Office 8/25/2003 )
Anthony Gamboa, the general counsel for the General Accounting Office (GAO), reiterates the GAO’s modification of its original request for documents and records pertaining to Vice President Cheney’s energy task force (see January 29, 2001 and May 16, 2001). In a letter to the editor of the Wall Street Journal, Gamboa writes: “The GAO long ago dropped its request for the minutes and notes of the vice president’s meetings with people outside the government, as well as requests for any materials those individuals have given to Mr. Cheney (see July 31, 2001). The GAO simply seeks the names of those he met in his capacity as head of the energy policy task force, when and where he met them, the subject matter of the meetings, and an explanation of the costs incurred.” Cheney responds during an appearance on the late-night talk show The Tonight Show. He explains his continued refusal to cooperate with the GAO: “What’s at stake here is whether a member of Congress [Henry Waxman (D-CA), whom Cheney has accused the GAO of working for] can demand that I give him notes of all my meetings and a list of everybody I met with. We don’t think that he has that authority.” (York 2/20/2002) The GAO’s chief, Comptroller General David Walker, will later call Cheney’s statements “disinformation.” (Savage 2007, pp. 100)
The conservative government watchdog group Judicial Watch releases documents recently turned over by the US Commerce Department through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. The documents show some of the activities of the secretive energy task force chaired by Vice President Dick Cheney (the National Energy Policy Development Group—see May 16, 2001). Cheney and the White House successfully blocked Congress from learning even the most basic information about the task force’s activities (see February 22, 2002). The Commerce Department documents include maps of Iraqi oil fields and oil infrastructure, and other charts showing Iraqi oil and gas projects, and a document entitled “Foreign Suitors for Iraqi Oilfield Contracts.” Other maps and documents show detailed information about oil fields and infrastructure in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. All of the documents are dated March 2001. Judicial Watch has sought these documents under FOIA since April 2001, and only secured them after a federal judge ordered their release in March 2002. (The Judicial Watch lawsuit was consolidated with a similar suit from the Natural Resources Defense Council.) Why the government waited over a year to release the documents, even after a court order compelling them to do so, is unclear. “These documents show the importance of the Energy Task Force and why its operations should be open to the public,” says Judicial Watch’s Tom Fitton. “This was not about national security. This was about an undersecretary talking to a lobbyist.” (Judicial Watch 7/17/2003; Judicial Watch 7/17/2003; Dubose and Bernstein 2006, pp. 14-15) Authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein call the Iraqi oil field documents “stunning,” and ask: “Why were the vice president and a group of oilmen poring over maps of Iraq long before there was any pretext to invade the country? Iraq’s oil was technically embargoed and under UN control—why make plans for divvying up oil reserves?” Dubose and Bernstein believe that Cheney may have been planning for US control of Iraq long before the Bush administration’s public push for war with that nation. Fitton is not so sure, but says worriedly: “We don’t know because we weren’t given the context. We have no way of knowing what they were deliberating.” (Dubose and Bernstein 2006, pp. 14-15) Judicial Watch, with other public interest groups such as the Sierra Club, will continue to seek information about the Cheney task force (see December 15, 2003 and April 27, 2004).
The US Supreme Court agrees to hear Vice President Cheney’s appeal of a lower court ruling that found he must reveal documents pertaining to his 2001 energy task force (the National Energy Policy Development Group—see January 29, 2001 and May 16, 2001). Cheney lost the case, filed by the conservative government watchdog group Judicial Watch and the environmentalist organization the Sierra Club, in two lower courts, and has ramrodded the case into the Supreme Court with unusual alacrity—filing the Supreme Court appeal even before the appeals court had finished the case. Cheney’s lawyers from the Justice Department will argue that because of the Constitutional provision of separation of powers, the executive branch can and should keep all such information secret if it so chooses. Judicial Watch and the Sierra Club insist that because energy executives and lobbyists were involved in the task force policy deliberations, federal law mandates that lists of participants and details of the meetings should be made public. Over a year ago, District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan ruled that the White House should either turn over the documents or provide a detailed list of the documents it was withholding, and explain why. The White House has done neither, and instead appealed the decision. The US Court of Appeals refused to overturn Sullivan’s decision and ruled that Cheney had no legal standing to refuse the judicial order. Cheney disagreed, and appealed to the Supreme Court. The Court will hear arguments in the spring of 2004 (see April 27, 2004). Thousands of documents concerning the task force from the Department of Energy, the Environmental Protection Agency, and other federal agencies have already been turned over (see July 17, 2003), but no White House documents have been released. The Sierra Club has accused the Bush administration of trying to delay release of the information until after the November 2004 presidential elections. (Cornwell 12/15/2003)
The Supreme Court convenes to hear arguments in Vice President Cheney’s appeal of a judicial order to reveal information about his secret energy task force (see December 15, 2003). Justice Antonin Scalia has recently returned from a duck hunting trip with Cheney; though critics demand he recuse himself to avoid charges of conflict of interest, Scalia refuses. The plaintiffs, conservative watchdog organization Judicial Watch and progressive environmental group Sierra Club, are heavily represented in the courtroom, and friends and supporters jam the courthouse steps. Solicitor General Theodore Olson, arguing for the government, posits that the White House enjoys a “constitutional immunity” that protects the executive branch from all requests for information unless the president himself is under criminal investigation. If the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) forces the president to make public any advice he or other White House officials have received, or even to make that information available to a judge (see August 2, 2002), FACA itself is unconstitutional, Olsen argues. “This is a case about separation of powers,” he says. Neither Congress nor the judiciary can force the president or his officials to disclose information to a judge, not even on a very limited basis to determine whether a lawsuit can proceed—a process called discovery. “We are submitting that the discovery itself violates the Constitution,” Olson asserts. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is taken aback by the sweep of his claim, which, if accepted, would gut the ability of the courts to review any civil lawsuit involving the executive branch. “All discovery?” she asks. “Yes,” Olson replies. Throughout the questioning, most of the justices seem sympathetic to the administration’s general constitutional concerns, but uncomfortable with siding entirely with the White House’s sweeping claims of inherent legal immunity from scrutiny. (Savage 2007, pp. 166-167) The oral arguments will continue for weeks (see April 27, 2004).
The Supreme Court hears oral arguments for and against the release of records pertaining to Vice President Cheney’s energy task force (the National Energy Policy Development Group—see May 16, 2001). The case is Cheney v. US District Court for the District of Columbia (03-0475) (see December 15, 2003). Two public interest groups, the environmentalist Sierra Club and the conservative government watchdog organization Judicial Watch, have joined to argue for the release of the records, saying that because the task force deliberations included energy industry executives and lobbyists, the task force is subject to the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA), which requires disclosure of the work of advisory groups that include non-federal employees. Bush administration lawyers, spearheaded by Solicitor General Theodore Olson, argue that releasing those records would violate the concept of “separation of powers.” The administration also argues that releasing the records, most pertinently the meetings between Cheney, his aides, and officials from energy corporations and lobbying firms, would damage the White House’s ability to receive candid advice. “This case is about the separation of powers and the president’s discretion to receive the opinions of subordinates,” Olson tells the court; Olson has resisted submitting task force documents even to the Court, saying that even that so-called “discovery” process would violate the Constitutional separation of powers. Lawyers for the Sierra Club and Judicial Watch argue that Cheney’s contacts with industry executives and lobbyists were improper while he was developing government policy that benefited their businesses. They are demanding to know whether energy lobbyists helped shape the government’s long-term energy policies. Lower courts agreed with Judicial Watch and the Sierra Club, and Cheney, with the Justice Department, has successfully ramrodded the case into the Supreme Court with unprecedented speed.
Justices Question Breadth of Requests - Justice Antonin Scalia, who refused to recuse himself from deliberations after accompanying Cheney on a duck-hunting trip in January, is one of the justices most favoring the government’s case. But even more moderate justices such as Stephen Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg question whether the information request is too broad and inclusive. As for the White House, it argues that neither the courts nor Congress have any right to make any inquiries into the decisions of federal agencies and officials. Sierra Club lawyer David Bookbinder says the White House appears to have violated laws supporting open government: “What the panel said to energy executives was: Help us decide what the energy policy should be. A line has been crossed because the process should have been transparent. The panel was inordinately influenced by the energy industry.” Cheney has said that the executive branch must defend itself against the “continual encroachment by Congress.” The White House has already turned over some 40,000 documents from the task force after a lower court ruling compelled it to do so (see July 17, 2003), but the lawsuit before the Supreme Court says that another 100,000 potentially relevant documents and files remain secret. (Curry 4/26/2004; Greenhouse 4/28/2004; Mears 6/24/2004)
Cheney 'Beyond the Reach of the Law?' - In a legal analysis of the case, former Nixon White House counsel John Dean calls the case “extraordinary,” and notes that Cheney “contends that he is, in essence, beyond the reach of the law. It began as a set of rather pedestrian discovery matters in two consolidated civil lawsuits. Now, however, because of Cheney’s stance, it could be a landmark Constitutional decision.” Dean sees the case as an opportunity for Cheney, with the assistance of Olson and Scalia, “to expand executive powers.” (Dean 3/26/2004)
Case Sent Back to Lower Court - The Court will vote to send the case back to the District of Columbia Appeals Court for further adjudication (see June 24, 2004). That court will rule in Cheney’s favor (see May 10, 2005).
The Supreme Court rules in the case of Cheney v. US District Court for the District of Columbia (03-0475), in which two organizations, Judicial Watch and the Sierra Club, are attempting to force the White House to reveal information about the secret deliberations of Vice President Cheney’s energy task force (see April 27, 2004). Neither side gets what it asks for in the 7-2 ruling, as the Court sends the case back to the US Court of Appeals for further adjudication, with an order for that court to take a second look at its ruling that Cheney must allow a judge to review the task force documents (see August 2, 2002). Five justices—Stephen Breyer, Anthony Kennedy, Sandra Day O’Connor, Chief Justice William Rehnquist, and John Paul Stevens—vote to send the case back to the appeals court. Two justices, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and David Souter, vote to send the case all the way back to the original trial court, concurring with the majority. The Court’s two most conservative justices, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, vote to resolve the matter entirely in Cheney’s favor. Judge Anthony Kennedy, writing for the majority, instructs the appeals court—and all other courts who might subsequently hear such a case—to use a legal standard far more aligned with the executive branch’s claim of immunity from disclosure. Courts must afford “presidential confidentiality the greatest protection consistent with the fair administration of justice,” Kennedy writes, to protect the executive branch from being sued. Former Nixon White House counsel John Dean will later write that the Court may have avoided making a firm ruling because it did not want to wrangle with the issue of separation of powers, and the privilege of executive branch secrecy, in an election year. While most media and court observers call the decision a “punt” of little import, at least one, former Justice Department official Shannen Coffin, sees it differently. In a column for the National Review, Coffin celebrates the ruling, writing that due to “the vice president’s resolute assertion that he and the president should have the right to receive in confidence the advice necessary to the performance of their duties,” the White House has won a “major victory” in expanding its power to keep its procedures secret, regardless of the appeals court’s eventual ruling (see May 10, 2005). (Coffin 6/25/2004; Dean 7/2/2004; Savage 2007, pp. 167-168) The appeals court will agree with Thomas and Scalia, and rule in Cheney’s favor (see May 10, 2005).
In an 8-0 ruling, the District of Columbia Court of Appeals dismisses a lawsuit by the Sierra Club and Judicial Watch asking that the court require information to be disclosed from Vice President Cheney’s energy task force from 2001 (the National Energy Policy Development Group—see May 16, 2001). The US Supreme Court sent the case back to the appeals court (see April 27, 2004 and June 24, 2004). The appeals court ignores reports from the Government Accountability Office finding that energy executives and lobbyists took part in the task force deliberations (see After January 20, 2001, Mid-February, 2001, March 21, 2001, March 22, 2001, April 12, 2001, and April 17, 2001), and accepts the government’s contentions that the executive branch should not be forced to disclose information about its workings to either the legislative or judicial branches. Because no evidence was submitted that showed the energy executives or lobbyists cast votes or exercised veto power over task force decisions, the court rules, the task force is not obligated to comply with federal laws mandating that such governmental working groups reveal details of their deliberations. The executives and lobbyists are essentially no different than staff aides, the court finds. Cheney’s energy task force was not an advisory committee, and therefore “the government owed the plaintiffs no duty, let alone a clear and indisputable or compelling one,” says the court’s opinion. The court applies the Supreme Court’s standard of law as recommended in the case, a standard far more favorable to the executive branch than any previously applied in the case. Several of the appellate judges will later say that they took the Court ruling to mean that the judiciary should not be involved in a legal struggle with the executive branch. The ruling allows Cheney to keep the task force documents secret, and says that the task force is not bound by the Federal Advisory Committees Act (FACA). (Associated Press 5/10/2005; Savage 2007, pp. 176)
'Double Blow' - David Bookbinder, a lawyer for the Sierra Club, says, “The decision is not going to be helpful in assuring open and accountable government.” (Sierra Club 5/15/2005) He says the ruling is a double blow: “As a policy matter, we see the Bush administration has succeeded in its efforts to keep secret how industry crafted the administration’s energy policy. As a legal matter, it’s a defeat for efforts to have open government and for the public to know how their elected officials are conducting business.” Judicial Watch official Chris Farrell will later say the ruling leaves the open-government laws “a hollow shell.” (Savage 2007, pp. 176) The New York Times calls the decision “regrettable,” and observes, “The Bush administration hardly needs encouragement to deny public access to vital government information.” (New York Times 5/15/2005)
Rejected Judicial Precedent - In 2007, author and reporter Charlie Savage will write: “The decision relied entirely upon the assertion of two Cheney aides that the lobbyists had not cast any votes, a claim no judge ever verified by looking at the records. The court’s ruling also dismissed arguments that ‘influential participation’ by outsiders made them de facto members of the task force whether or not they cast votes, rejecting the standard the courts had applied to the 1994 Clinton health care task force.” (Savage 2007, pp. 176)
Congress passes the Energy Policy Act (EPA) of 2005. The EPA is the product of the secret Cheney energy task force (see January 29, 2001 and May 16, 2001). The act provides $14.5 billion in tax breaks for corporate energy providers, primarily oil, coal, and nuclear power companies. It contains an array of odd and obscure provisions helping industrialists, many generated by the lobbyists and corporate executives who helped craft the bill (see May 10, 2005). It does nothing to discourage consumption by raising fuel efficiency standards, and does little to address the sharply rising price of oil. What it does, primarily, is give huge financial and regulatory breaks to the energy industry. (Savage 2007, pp. 360)
A White House document shows that oil company executives lied in recent Senate hearings when they denied meeting with Vice President Cheney’s energy task force (the National Energy Policy Development Group—see May 16, 2001) in 2001. The document, obtained by the Washington Post, shows that officials from ExxonMobil, Conoco (before it merged with Phillips), Shell Oil, and British Petroleum met with the task force (see March 22, 2001). Last week, the CEOs of ExxonMobil, Chevron, and ConocoPhillips denied participating in the task force’s deliberations. Shell Oil’s CEO said his company did not participate “to my knowledge,” and the chief of BP America said he did not know. Though Chevron is not named in the White House document, that firm and others “gave detailed energy policy recommendations” to the task force, according to the Government Accountability Office. Cheney also met separately with John Browne, BP’s chief executive, in a meeting not included in the document. Environmentalists have long stated that they were almost entirely shut out of the deliberations, while corporate interests were heavily represented (see April 4, 2001). The Supreme Court ruled in 2004 that the government could keep the records of the task force secret (see June 24, 2004). Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) says, “The White House went to great lengths to keep these meetings secret, and now oil executives may be lying to Congress about their role in the Cheney task force.” Since the oil executives were not under oath—a decision by Senate Commerce Committee chairman Ted Stevens (R-AK) protested by committee Democrats—they cannot be charged with perjury. However, they can be fined or imprisoned for up to five years for making “any materially false, fictitious or fraudulent statement or representation” to Congress. After the Washington Post releases the document, former Conoco manager Alan Huffman confirms, “We met [with the task force] in the Executive Office Building, if I remember correctly.” A ConocoPhillips spokesman says that CEO James Mulva had been unaware of the meetings when he testified at the hearing. ExxonMobil says it stands by CEO Lee Raymond’s denials; James Rouse, an Exxon official named in the document (see Mid-February, 2001), denies meeting with the task force, calling the document “inaccurate.” (Milbank and Blum 11/16/2005)
The White House finally releases a list of officials and organizations who met with Vice President Cheney’s energy task force (the National Energy Policy Development Group—see May 16, 2001) in 2001. Cheney and the White House have successfully battled for six years to keep virtually all details of the task force secret (see May 10, 2005), and many other documents and files pertaining to the task force remain secret. The list of participants confirms what many have always suspected—that oil, gas, and energy executives and lobbyists were virtually the only ones to have any input in the task force’s policy deliberations. Many of the participants were also heavy donors to the Bush-Cheney campaign, and to the Republican Party in general.
Secrecy - Some participants say they were never sure why the White House fought so hard to keep the information about the task force secret. “I never knew why they fought so hard to keep it secret,” says Charles A. Samuels, a lawyer for the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers. “I am sure the vast majority of the meetings were very policy-oriented meetings—exactly what should take place.” Others say that their meetings with the task force were routine.
API Input - American Petroleum Institute president Red Cavaney says that when he met with the task force, he and his fellow API officials discussed position papers the organization had given to the Bush-Cheney campaign and to newly elected members of Congress. “We’re in the business of routinely providing advocacy materials,” Cavaney says. “Speaking for myself, I had zero hand in authoring or sitting with anyone from that task force and changing anything.” But Cavaney is seriously downplaying API’s influence (see March 20, 2001).
"Ridiculous" - Representative Henry Waxman (D-CA), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, who has been a driving force behind the effort to reveal the inner workings of the task force to the public, says it is it is “ridiculous” that it has taken six years to see who attended the meetings. He describes the energy task force as an early indicator of “how secretively Vice President Cheney wanted to act.” As to the makeup of the participants, Waxman is not surprised to see the dominance of energy industry groups in the meetings. “Six years later, we see we lost an opportunity to become less dependent on importing oil, on using fossil fuels, which have been a threat to our national security and the well-being of the planet,” he says. Climate expert David Hawkins of the Natural Resources Defense Council says: “Cheney had his finger on a critical issue. He just pushed it in the wrong direction.” (Abramowitz and Mufson 7/18/2007)
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