some unexpected last-minute development, it now appears that the
General Accounting Office will file suit within days against Vice
President Dick Cheney in the dispute over information concerning
outsiders who were consulted by Cheney's energy task force. And
as the clock ticks down, there are new concerns that Cheney has
again misrepresented one of the core issues in the controversy.
The GAO and
the vice president have been engaged in a running argument about
whether the GAO's demand for information includes a demand for notes
and minutes of task-force meetings with outsiders. In a television
appearance in late January, the vice president said the GAO, acting
at the behest of Bush administration antagonist Rep. Henry Waxman,
had indeed demanded notes and minutes of the meetings. Calling Cheney's
statement a "critical and highly material misrepresentation"
of the facts in the case, GAO officials quickly pointed out that
they were specifically not demanding those documents (they
had originally asked for notes and minutes last July, but backed
off from the demand in August).
Counsel Anthony Gamboa reiterated the GAO's position yesterday in
a letter to the editor of the Wall Street Journal. "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," Gamboa wrote. "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."
But last night,
appearing on The Tonight Show, Cheney repeated his charge.
"What's at stake here is whether a member of Congress [Waxman]
can demand that I give him notes of all my meetings and a list of
everybody I met with," Cheney told host Jay Leno. "We
don't think that he has that authority."
It is not clear
exactly what strategy Cheney is pursuing in his public statements
about the case. In highly publicized forums, he has claimed that
the GAO is demanding notes of the task force meetings. But the evidence
seems to support the GAO's position that it is not making that demand.
While Cheney's statements may elicit public approval they
drew enthusiastic applause on The Tonight Show the
vice president might face a more critical audience in court, where
a judge would be able to examine correspondence between the GAO
and Cheney's office over the nature of the GAO's demands. A key
piece of evidence will be an August 17, 2001 letter to Cheney from
GAO chief David Walker, in which Walker wrote:
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
seems clear enough, yet Cheney continues to say that the GAO is
demanding "notes of all my meetings." At this point, it
appears that neither side is in any mood to back down, so the conflict
will most likely not be resolved until it is argued in court.