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Bush will withhold task force documents

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush on Monday defended his administration's decision to withhold documents from Congress about its closed-door energy task force meetings.

And, Bush said, the collapse of Enron Corp. is a business issue, not a political one.

The General Accounting Office -- the investigative arm of Congress -- has asked for information on last year's energy task force meetings, including the names of energy industry executives who participated, as well as when and where the meetings were held.

Vice President Dick Cheney, who headed the task force, on Sunday defended his refusal to deny the GAO the information.

In backing up Cheney, Bush said it was important the administration preserve the ability to consult people on a variety of issues.

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"In order for me to be able to get good, sound opinions, those who offer me opinions, or offer the vice president opinions, must know that every word they say is not going to be put into the public record," Bush said Monday afternoon, speaking with reporters during an appearance with Afghanistan interim leader Hamid Karzai.

"And so I view the GAO like the vice president does -- it's an encroachment on the executive branch's ability to conduct business," Bush said.

The president said the position was meant not only to protect his administration but also to preserve the executive powers of future presidents.

"We're not going to let the ability for us to discuss matters between ourselves to become eroded," Bush said.

"It's not only important for us -- for this administration -- this is an important principle for future administrations."

The issue is not a new one. Last August, the GAO backed off its request for the information after the administration announced it was prepared to go to court.

The issue gathered new momentum following Enron's collapse, which is under investigation by several government agencies, including the Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission, and several congressional committees.

Enron, the Texas-based energy giant, filed the largest corporate bankruptcy in U.S. history late last year. Its executives were among the most generous contributors to Bush's presidential campaign. They contributed to other politicians as well, both Republicans and Democrats.

The administration has said that Cheney or his task force aides met with Enron executives six times last year.

Some Democrats in Congress have suggested that Enron benefited from its ties with senior Bush administration officials. They are pressing for information on contacts between the company and the administration.

Last week, two leading Democrats in Congress -- Rep. Henry Waxman of California, and Rep. John Dingell of Michigan -- asked the GAO to file suit to force the release of the White House documents. Waxman and Dingell have been seeking information on the energy task force since last spring.

On Friday, GAO Comptroller General David Walker said he would sue Cheney if the vice president did not provide the requested information.

On Monday, Bush said the administration's critics were playing politics with the issue.

"There are some on Capitol Hill who want to politicize this issue. This is not a political issue. It is a business issue that this nation must deal with," Bush said.

"You know, Enron made contributions to a lot of people around Washington, D.C. And if they came to this administration looking for help, they didn't find any."


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