Dick Cheney- Corporate Criminal

Enron Presidency
by Matt Bivens

Ten days after taking office, George Bush and Dick Cheney launched their "energy task force." The meetings were secret, including from Congress, and participants today report they "could not recollect whether official rosters or minutes were kept." Despite such implausible deniability, it's now official that the Cheney-led task force negotiated our future primarily with "petroleum, coal, nuclear, natural gas, electricity industry representatives and lobbyists." That's according to a new report by the non-partisan investigative arm of Congress, the General Accounting Office.

In fact, our energy future was negotiated not primarily, but exclusively, with those industry reps. Environmental groups were given 48 hours notice to develop their recommendations, and emerged from last-minute meetings with low-level functionaries feeling like they'd been deceived and used as window-dressing. Meanwhile, Enron execs met frequently with Vice President Cheney himself, including a 30-minute meeting between Cheney and Enron chief Ken Lay, while Lay's underlings huddled repeatedly with Cheney's underlings.

The General Accounting Office, or GAO, is one of Washington's most respected agencies. (Its miserable website uses frames, however, so I can't provide a link to their 31-page report. You can find it by clicking here, then clicking "GAO Reports," then looking under Aug. 25, 2003.) Journalists and politicians devour the GAO's even-handed audits, which focus on basic who-what-when-where questions, and on whether money was spent as advertised. After the GAO writes up a draft of its findings, it sends it out for comment to relevant agencies; it may then rewrite the report to reflect those comments, or simply include them in full as an appendix.

Dealings with the Bush-Cheney crowd have thrown that collegial formula out the window.

When instructed by Congress to collect answers to the who-what-when-where questions about Cheney's task force, the GAO approached the White House -- and was told to blow. After tense negotiations, the GAO made the historic decision to subpoena the Vice President's Office. Their subpoena, however, was shot down by Judge John Bates, a Bush appointee. As a former deputy of Ken Starr's, Bates had once ordered the Clintons' living quarters tossed in a futile search for a seemingly mythical box of evidence -- he even had federal agents look under Chelsea Clinton's bed for it. Now on the bench, he's discovered an almost-serf-like reverence for imperial "privacy," and in December came to the startling conclusion that the GAO has no right to sue the White House. The GAO talked of an appeal, but then Republican Congressmen told them to lay off or be laid off. So the auditors cried uncle, and then put together the best report they could.

In large part the auditors relied upon records wrested free in other legal actions by private groups, among them the Natural Resources Defense Council -- records that a year ago confirmed in exhaustive detail the Cheney crowd's coziness with big polluters, including Cheney's six separate meetings with Enron execs. (NRDC long ago set up a fascinating web page analyzing and cataloging the task force paperwork, including a great slide show of farcically blacked-out pages and other highlights.)

When the GAO had concluded its draft, it sent it around for comments to relevant agencies. None of them -- not the EPA, not the Energy Department -- would offer a single word in reply. The Office of the Vice President, in the ultimate Washington "&^%$# you," refused to accept or read the draft. The whole experience left David Walker -- the comptroller general of the United States and head of the GAO -- worrying about the end of "a reasonable degree of transparency and an appropriate degree of accountability in government."

Transparency? Accountability? Consider that the auditors couldn't even get the White House to say how much money was spent on this task force charade. Auditors counted $861,250 in taxpayer cash allocated for the Cheney-Enron-Exxon lunch-fests by various agencies. But spending by the White House itself, where nearly all of the meetings and work took place, is apparently top secret. It's probably a couple of million dollars of our money spent -- but it's also, as with every other aspect of this Administration's behavior, apparently none of our business.

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