behind the growing pressure on Vice President Cheney to release
the names of outsiders that his energy task force consulted as it
crafted the national energy policy? A few reasons have been widely
discussed. On the part of some observers and commentators, it's
a general opposition to excessive government secrecy. For Democratic
representatives like Henry Waxman and John Dingell, it's a desire
to stir up a scandal to hurt the Bush administration. But there's
another, less discussed reason, that's now out in the open: the
Democratic strategy to use the Cheney information to undermine the
White House in upcoming negotiations over energy legislation.
was clear in a letter sent yesterday by four Senate Democrats, including
Joseph Lieberman, chairman of the Government Affairs Committee,
and Carl Levin, chairman of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations,
to the General Accounting Office in support of the GAO's attempts
to force Cheney to release the names of the task force's outside
war continues to go well and we turn to domestic issues, Americans
have the right to know how the administration's energy policy was
developed," the senators wrote. "Soon Congress will begin
to consider legislation that will establish a national energy policy,
but we still have very little information about the makeup and conduct
of the vice president's task force, even though it was established
and run by the executive branch of government and was, by all accounts,
the basis for the president's energy plan."
shape the administration's energy policy?" the senators continued.
"How did participants get invited and what interests did they
represent? What did they recommend? What changes did they request?
The American public deserves answers to these questions."
underscores the concerns of Senate Republicans who believe, in the
words of one Senate GOP leadership aide, that "the Democrats
are going to demagogue the energy bill to discredit us." The
letter also confirms what Cheney's top aides have long maintained:
that Democrats, contrary to what they have said in the past, want
far more than the names of participants in the energy task force.
Rather, Lieberman, Levin, and their colleagues appear to want a
fly-on-the-wall look inside the entire deliberative process of the
vice president's group. Later, they will claim that the White House's
energy product was bought and paid for by Big Energy including
the scandal-ridden Enron.
there are hints that some sort of resolution of the Cheney-GAO showdown
might be in the offing. At a press conference to mark the Senate's
return to the Capitol yesterday, Republicans Don Nickles and Trent
Lott both signaled that Cheney might soon release the task force
information. "I think all of this information will come out
in the very near future," Nickles said. Added Lott: "I
do want to say on that subject that there is important precedent
there, separation of powers and executive privilege. But I think
Vice President Cheney is going to speak to that in the next few
days, and I think that he will respond appropriately."
not clear what that resolution might be. Last night, a Cheney spokeswoman
said the vice president's position has not changed, and during Wednesday's
press briefing, White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said flatly,
"There has been no change in the White House position at all."
seemed to open a door a bit when he was asked what might happen
"if the GAO were to stand down and a congressional committee
were to come forward" and request the information on its own.
"What I have always indicated," Fleischer answered, "is
the administration will always work with Congress and continue to
do so in the vein that is cooperative." Does that mean Cheney
would give up the information if Lieberman and Levin ask for it
directly? Like much else in this story, that is not at all clear.