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A federal judge on Monday rebuffed congressional efforts to gather information about meetings that Vice President Dick Cheney’s energy task force held with industry executives and lobbyists while formulating the administration’s energy plan. U.S. District Judge John Bates, of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, said the lawsuit filed by Comptroller General David Walker against the vice president was an unprecedented act that raised serious separation-of-powers issues between the executive and legislative branches of government. “No court has ever before granted what the comptroller general seeks,” wrote Bates, an appointee of President Bush. The judge said that the comptroller general, who runs the General Accounting Office, “does not have the personal, concrete and particularized injury required” under the Constitution and that “his complaint must be dismissed.” Courts historically have not stepped in to resolve disputes between the political branches, wrote Bates. “This case, in which neither a House of Congress nor any congressional committee has issued a subpoena for the disputed information or authorized this suit, is not the setting for such unprecedented judicial action,” wrote the judge. The Justice Department said the decision “protects and respects the right of the president to have an independent decision-making process.” Various federal agencies have released 36,000 documents regarding their assistance to the Cheney task force. Democratic Reps. Henry Waxman of California and John Dingell of Michigan requested information in the spring of 2001 about which industry executives and lobbyists the Cheney task force was meeting with in formulating the Bush administration’s energy plan. As the dispute grew, Democratic Sens. Carl Levin of Michigan, Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, Ernest Hollings of South Carolina and Byron Dorgan of North Dakota joined the fight, urging that Cheney disclose data about his industry meetings. The Cheney energy plan called for expanded oil and gas drilling on public land and easing regulatory barriers to building nuclear power plants. Among the proposals: drilling in the Arctic wildlife refuge and possibly reviving nuclear fuel reprocessing, which was abandoned in the 1970s as a nuclear proliferation threat. The GAO, the investigative arm of Congress, argued that its statutory responsibilities give it broad powers to investigate government programs and demand almost all government documents required to help Congress. In courtroom arguments in September, Deputy Solicitor General Paul Clement of the Justice Department said Congress has other ways to seek the information other than relying on the GAO. Congress could subpoena them or seek information through the appropriations process, said Clement. Carter Phillips, an attorney representing the comptroller general, argued that dismissing the case, as Cheney’s attorney asked, would impede the GAO’s ability to do its work. Phillips argued that the president and vice president are not immune from the oversight responsibilities of Congress and noted that the White House had refrained from invoking formal executive privilege to protect the energy task force documents. The suit asked the court to require Cheney to reveal who attended the energy tax force meetings, with whom the task force met to develop its energy recommendations, how it determined whom to invite and how much it cost to develop the policy. A small part of the Cheney task force’s contacts has been revealed — the meetings with the executives of Enron Corp. Cheney’s office released the information last January amid political pressure that was building over the collapse of the nation’s seventh-largest corporation. Enron and its executives have been George W. Bush’s biggest political campaign contributor over the years. Cheney said that Enron representatives met six times with the vice president or his aides about energy policy, including a discussion in mid-October, 1 1/2 months before the company’s collapse. Cheney’s office also said that former Enron Chairman Kenneth Lay met once with Cheney. Details of the discussions were not released. While the Cheney task force’s operations have remained largely a secret, various federal agencies in lawsuits have been forced to release a wide range of information about their industry contacts in assisting the Cheney panel’s efforts. Separately, two private groups are suing the Cheney task force, seeking release of documents about the industry contacts of the now-defunct Cheney panel. It prepared the plan in the early months of Bush’s presidency and released it publicly in May 2001. Copyright 2002 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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