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Judge Orders White House to Keep Energy Records
Tue Feb 12,11:17 PM ET
By Peter Kaplan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A U.S. federal judge on Tuesday directed the White House to preserve records from meetings of its energy task force, which critics suspect was heavily influenced by Enron Corp. and other major energy companies.
U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan, overseeing a public interest law firm's lawsuit seeking task force details, also admonished government lawyers for not doing enough to back their arguments that specifics of the meetings be kept secret.
"I get the feeling the government's underestimating the seriousness and the importance of this case," Sullivan said during a conference with lawyers from both sides.
The White House task force headed by Vice President Dick Cheney (news - web sites) produced a policy issued last May that called for more oil and gas drilling and a revived nuclear power program.
The General Accounting Office (news - web sites), the investigative arm of Congress, is threatening to file a similar suit seeking records of the task force.
The case before Sullivan was brought by Judicial Watch, a group widely described as conservative after it spent years in court dogging the administration of former President Bill Clinton, a Democrat.
Judicial Watch said Sullivan ordered the preservation of records relating to the task force as part of its lawsuit.
In addition, Sullivan gave the U.S. Justice Department (news - web sites) another two weeks to flesh out its arguments and file another legal brief in the suit. He scheduled arguments in the case for April 9.
Interest in activities of the energy task force has been heightened by the collapse of Enron late last year and speculation about favors the company may have sought in an effort to save itself.
The White House has acknowledged that Cheney or members of the task force met six times last year with Enron representatives.
The Judicial Watch lawsuit alleges that since outsiders had access to the task force, it falls under U.S. law governing federal advisory committees and therefore must publicly disclose its activities.
Government lawyers counter that the task force does not fall under the law because it was composed only of federal employees. They say releasing details of task force meetings last year would put a chill on future presidential deliberation.
They also said the case should be dismissed because the only defendant named in the case, the task force itself, has been dissolved.
Judicial Watch Chairman Larry Klayman said the group will amend its lawsuit by naming Cheney, other members of the energy task force and possibly President Bush (news - web sites).
As part of its own criminal probe of Enron's collapse, the Justice Department on Feb. 1 asked the White House to hold onto documents dealing with Enron. The White House said it would comply with the request, which covered all written notes, letters and computer records related to Enron's financial condition and business interests since Jan. 1, 1999.
-- (even the conservatives @ smell. something rotten at whitehouse), February 13, 2002
Yep, Dubya's gonna keep wagging the dog, probably even attack Iraq or stage another terrorist attack. It won't matter because we're gonna get to the bottom of the Chenron scandal no matter how many distractions they can cook up.
-- lol (firstname.lastname@example.org!), February 13, 2002.