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Cheney Loses a Round on Disclosure

Judge orders him to surrender papers detailing meetings that led to U.S. energy policy.

November 28, 2002|Richard A. Serrano | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — A federal judge has ruled that Vice President Dick Cheney soon must turn over documents detailing who he met with last year in forming the administration's energy policy -- specifics sought by special-interest groups that contend that the industry heavily influenced plans for more oil and gas drilling and a revived nuclear power program.

U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan, in a ruling made late Tuesday and released Wednesday, gave the vice president two weeks to release the documents or more clearly explain why they should be withheld from public inspection.

Jennifer Millerwise, a spokeswoman for Cheney, said his office would have no comment on the ruling and referred the matter to the Justice Department. Justice officials could not be reached for comment.

The administration is expected to appeal the decision.

The lawsuit was filed by the Sierra Club and Judicial Watch, urging full disclosure over who met with Cheney and how they may have influenced his "super-secretive" energy task force in spring 2001. Both groups called the judge's ruling a significant victory.

David Bookbinder, senior attorney with the Sierra Club, said the decision "brings the American people one step closer to finding out just who the vice president's energy task force met with in drafting its dirty, dangerous energy plan."

He added, "The vice president should take this as a sign that the game is up and come clean."

Soon after the Bush administration took office, Cheney was tapped to convene the National Energy Policy Development Group and search for ways to make the country less dependent on foreign energy sources.

In May 2001, the group released a policy paper advocating more domestic oil and gas drilling and that the nation should look again at doing more with nuclear power.

Environmental groups complained that they were basically shut out of participating in the group's work.

When they asked for an accounting of which large energy companies were involved, Cheney refused to release that information.

The vice president has contended that the executive branch of the government has a right to meet privately with companies and individuals as it sees fit.

The Sierra Club and Judicial Watch, a legal watchdog group, filed suit.

Last month, Sullivan ordered the White House to turn over the documents or produce a detailed explanation about what paperwork it still wanted to withhold from the public.

The administration asked permission from the judge to appeal his order now rather than wait for the lawsuit to be resolved.

But the judge denied that request in Tuesday's order, directing the administration to comply with his October ruling for release of the documents in two weeks.

Cheney and the White House, Sullivan said, "have simply failed to establish the factual and legal predicates justifying" an appeal at this time.

He added that "once again the defendants have misrepresented precedent" in arguing that the work of the energy task force was an extraordinary event that called for executive privilege by the White House.

Bookbinder of the Sierra Club said the energy policy put out by the administration "has serious impacts on the health and safety of American communities. The public deserves to know who drafted that policy."

Larry Klayman, chairman and general counsel for Judicial Watch, added, "The vice president is not above the law and should obey court orders like every other American citizen."

In a separate lawsuit still pending, the General Accounting Office, a congressional watchdog agency, also is asking Cheney to reveal who he met with while the energy policy was taking shape.

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