Judge Orders Cheney to Explain Task Force Secrecy

Judge Orders Cheney to Explain Task Force Secrecy
(2002-02-01)
By Susan Cornwell
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A federal judge has ordered Vice President Dick Cheney's energy task force to explain the constitutional argument behind its refusal to release details of its meetings, a group suing for the records said on Friday.

The White House has acknowledged that representatives of failed energy-trading giant Enron Corp. were among industry experts the task force met with last year while it was formulating the Bush administration's energy policy.
But the administration has refused to release other details of the task force's operation, such as the names of people it consulted, saying this would harm the president's constitutional right to get candid advice.

U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan on Thursday ordered the energy task force to explain this argument by next Tuesday as part of a case brought by Judicial Watch, a public interest law firm.

Judicial Watch filed suit last July against the National Energy Policy Development Group that was chaired by Cheney, demanding the administration release records on who the task force met and when, and minutes of the meetings held.
"This order shows the court is taking our case very seriously," Larry Klayman, chairman and general counsel of the group, told Reuters.
There was no immediate reaction from the White House.

GAO ALSO INTENDS TO SUE
The General Accounting Office, Congress' investigative arm, said this week it also would file a lawsuit for energy task force records, setting up a possible constitutional clash between the executive and legislative branches before the third branch of government, the courts.

But the GAO has scaled back its demands and is no longer seeking minutes of the task force meetings. Judicial Watch, arguing for transparency in government, has maintained its demand for minutes and notes.
Sullivan, in an order handed down on Thursday and released by Judicial Watch, said the task force's lawyers had provided "insufficient guidance to the court to analyze the constitutional concerns implicated by potential discovery in this case."

Accordingly, he ordered that by close of business Tuesday the task force lawyers should file a brief explaining "in what way would allowing limited discovery into the ... specific types of information and documents violate Article II of the United States Constitution." Article II states the president's powers.

Sullivan asked Judicial Watch to respond to the administration's arguments by Feb. 8. A hearing in the case is scheduled for Feb. 12.
Judicial Watch is widely described as a conservative watchdog group, and it dogged the administration of former President Bill Clinton in court for years.

Two environmental groups are also seeking the Cheney energy task force records in court. The Natural Resources Defense Council filed suit against the Energy Department in December, and the Sierra Club filed a lawsuit last week.

http://www.publicbroadcasting.net/wbur/news.newsmain?action=article&ARTICLE_ID=325144

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