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Friday February 22 6:55 PM ET

GAO Sues Cheney Over Task Force

By JESSE J. HOLLAND, Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) - The General Accounting Office (news - web sites) sued Vice President Cheney Friday to obtain a list of officials from Enron and other companies who met with President Bush (news - web sites)'s energy task force.

The White House said it was ready to fight in court.

``Despite its efforts to reach a reasonable accommodation, GAO has been denied access to information it has a statutory right to obtain,'' the congressional agency said in its first suit ever against a president's administration or officials.

The agency said it had no choice but to seek help from the U.S. District Court in Washington.

Bush has refused to hand over the documents, saying to do so would encroach on his ability to get outside views.

The White House reacted Friday by maintaining its argument that the GAO overstepped its authority by asking the vice president for information on the task force.

``We have been ready to fight for this important principle since last August, when the GAO first indicated they were going to file a lawsuit,'' said White House spokesman Scott McClellan. ``We look forward to the matter being reviewed by the courts.''

The GAO, Congress's investigative unit, says oversight of energy policy and investigation of Enron, a Houston-based energy trading company, are ``important institutional prerogatives'' of Congress. Enron was the largest single corporate benefactor of Bush's political career.

The dispute began last April but gained political traction once Enron, entered into bankruptcy on Dec. 2.

The lawsuit names only Cheney as defendant, but both as vice president and as chairman of the task force.

Solicitor General Theodore Olson, who supervises government appellate work for the administration, and Associate Attorney General Jay Stephens, head of the Justice Department (news - web sites)'s civil division, will lead the administration's fight against the GAO suit, the White House said Thursday.

The GAO hired Washington law firm Sidley Austin Brown & Wood to represent it in the suit.

The lawsuit is the GAO's first against part of the federal government to get documents it wants.

The GAO has forced a showdown with the executive branch in disputes over gathering information just four other times in the past 21 years. In two of those instances, the incumbent administration supplied the information.

In the other two, the administration filed certification letters saying turning over the information could ``substantially impair'' government operations. That letter keeps the information private.

The White House and the GAO have not tried to negotiated a settlement since Comptroller General David Walker on Jan. 30 said he would go forward with the lawsuit.

GAO officials say they are not seeking notes, minutes, transcripts or records of meetings from the vice president or the energy task force. Instead, Walker offered in July to scale back the request to only names of people involved and the subject and cost of each meeting, GAO officials said.

The White House said it would challenge GAO's ability to seek the information, saying the law specifies that the agency's purpose is to investigate the expenditure and disbursement of public money.

The White House has provided the agency information relating to direct and indirect costs of the energy task force, the official said.

``We believe that is the extent of the scope of authority of GAO to access information from the vice president's offices,'' the official said. ``If the GAO wants any additional information, they have to look elsewhere.''

-- (impeach the crooked bastard @ then. fry him), February 22, 2002

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