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Cheney defends refusal to hand over energy task force notes

Vice President Dick Cheney says he will not release information on his energy task force to Congress.  

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Emerging from the relatively low public profile he has maintained since the September 11 attacks, Vice President Dick Cheney on Sunday defended his refusal to hand over information to Congress about his closed-door energy task force meetings.

"You just cannot accept that proposition without putting a chill over the ability of the president and vice president to receive unvarnished advice," Cheney told "Fox News Sunday."

Congress' investigative arm, the General Accounting Office, wants information about last year's closed-door meetings -- including the names of energy executives who attended, when and where the meetings were held and how much the sessions cost taxpayers.

The issue is not new, Cheney said. In August, the GAO backed off its request after the Bush administration announced it was prepared to go to court. But the issue has gathered new steam following the controversy surrounding the fall of Enron.

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"Some of the Democrats on the Hill are trying to re-energize this and try to turn it into some kind of political debate with respect to Enron," Cheney said.

Enron, once a giant energy corporation, collapsed last month in the biggest bankruptcy filing in U.S. history amid accusations of mishandling funds and shredding documents. Enron and its former accounting firm, Arthur Andersen, are under congressional investigation. The Justice Department also has launched a criminal probe of the Houston, Texas-based corporation.

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

The administration has said that Cheney or his energy task force aides met with Enron executives six times last year and that Enron's financial situation was never discussed during those sessions.

In June, the vice president spoke to an Indian political opposition leader about the issue of a multimillion dollar debt that India owed Enron, administration officials said. The conversation was brief, and no one at the energy company had asked Cheney to raise the issue, they said.

Court battle a possibility

GAO Comptroller General David Walker said he plans to sue Cheney if the vice president does not agree to provide the requested information.

"This is about the right of the Congress to oversee the executive branch, the right of the GAO to assist Congress," Walker said. "Our concern is that never before have we had a situation where an administration has refused to provide this kind of information, whether it be a Democratic or Republican administration."

A senior White House aide said the administration is equally prepared to go to court and does not expect the GAO to prevail.

Cheney said the GAO is out of its jurisdiction.

"I'm, as part of the office of the president and the vice president of the United States, I'm a constitutional officer, and the authority of the GAO does not extend in that case to my office," Cheney said.

Handing over details of the energy task force meeting would "further weaken the presidency," he warned.

"Time after time, administrations have traded away the authority of the president to do his job," Cheney said. "We're not going to do that in this administration. The president's bound and determined to defend those principles and to pass on this office, his and mine, to future generations in better shape than we found it."

But Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-South Dakota, said Sunday that unless the administration revealed what went on behind closed doors with Cheney's task force there would be "a lot of doubt" about what transpired.

"The American people have a right to know what the facts are," Daschle told CBS' "Face the Nation." He said the issue likely would have to be resolved in court, calling that an "appropriate measure to be taken."

DNC questions Reed's hiring

The Democratic National Committee said it was considering filing a complaint against the Bush administration with the Federal Election Commission.

Reed denied reports that Bush adviser Karl Rove engineered his hiring by Enron.  

The DNC said senior Bush adviser Karl Rove arranged to have Enron hire key Republican strategist Ralph Reed in 1997 while Bush was considering a run for president.

The DNC said Enron's hiring of Reed might have been an illegal corporate contribution to the Bush campaign. Under federal election laws, a campaign for federal office may not accept contributions or "anything of value" from a corporation unless given through a political action committee. Campaigns must disclose all contributions to the FEC.

Reed, former head of the Christian Coalition and now chairman of the Georgia Republican Party, said he had checked with the Enron executive who hired him and the executive said he had never spoken with Rove about Reed's hiring. (Full story)

OMB orders review of Enron ties

The White House Office of Management and Budget on Friday ordered all government agencies that have contacts with Enron or Arthur Andersen to review those agreements to determine if the companies are performing their duties.

The review affects about 100 contracts valued at more than $60 million in the last fiscal year.

OMB Director Mitch Daniels cited "recent press reports [highlighting] potential irregularities" -- including document shredding and manipulative accounting practices -- and asked the General Services Administration to launch its review "on behalf of all federal agencies doing business" with the two companies.

Ex-Enron exec committed suicide

The Harris County, Texas, medical examiner ruled Saturday that former Enron executive J. Clifford Baxter died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head, as was suspected.

Congressional investigators intended to interview Baxter and had the impression from his attorney that he would cooperate, according to a congressional source.

Police found Baxter dead in his 2002 Mercedes Benz early Friday, along with a .38-caliber revolver registered to Baxter and a suicide note, the contents of which they did not disclose. There were no signs of foul play, investigator Pam Johnson said. (Full story)

Enron close to naming new CEO

Enron edged closer Saturday to replacing Kenneth Lay, who resigned Wednesday as the corporation's chairman and CEO, narrowing the list of candidates to two semifinalists, a source familiar with the search said.

The front-runner is Stephen Cooper, a corporate turnaround specialist with the New York-based consulting firm Zolfo Cooper, the source said. The other candidate is a male executive, but no other details were immediately available.


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