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Bill Press is a syndicated columnist, the co-host of CNN's Crossfire, which airs Monday-Friday at 7:30 p.m., and author of the newly-published book Spin This!

Bill Press: Bush and Cheney stonewall on energy

By Bill Press
Tribune Media Services

WASHINGTON (Tribune Media Services) -- A wise man once said: Where you stand depends on where you sit.

Eight years ago, when Republicans sat outside the White House, sunshine was a good thing. Today, with Republicans sitting inside, sunshine is suddenly bad.

Remember? One of President Clinton's first acts in office was to name first lady Hillary Clinton to head a White House task force on health care, with Ira Magaziner as staff director. Hillary and Magaziner began their work by insisting that records of all meetings - whom they met with and what they discussed - be kept secret.

Republicans went ballistic. "It is insulting to Congress and the American people that the government now claims that these records are not available," stormed former Congressman William F. Clinger of Pennsylvania. Congressman Ernest Istook of Oklahoma condemned "attempting to hide from the American people the interests that were involved in promoting the health care plan that the administration is sponsoring."

And Republicans were correct. Hillary Clinton and her task force were meeting with government officials and health care professionals from many organizations for the purpose of crafting health policy for the entire country. The American people had a right to know who was influencing those decisions. The same policy applies to Dick Cheney's White House Task Force on Energy.

Now it's the Republicans' turn to play hide-and-seek. Risking a likely court order from the General Accounting Office, Vice President Cheney refuses to reveal the list of people he consulted last year in shaping the administration's energy policy -- and President Bush backs him up. They have a right to hold secret meetings, they claim, and being forced to release their records is a violation of executive privilege.

In the words of conservative commentator George Will: "How Clintonian."

It's the same baloney Hillary tried to get away with, and didn't. Cheney's meetings were not private conversations with White House staff, which are by nature secret (until staffers write their tell-all books). They were sit-down sessions with energy executives, environmentalists, union leaders and other experts to formulate a national energy policy.

The public has a right to know whom Cheney met with, how many times and what was discussed.

Didn't Bush and Cheney learn anything from Clinton's experience? Insisting on secrecy only fuels suspicion they have something to hide. And, in this case, maybe they do: how much of Bush’s energy policy was dictated by Enron.

Only after Enron's collapse, in fact, did Cheney admit the giant energy company played any role in his deliberations. Now we know they not only played a role, they played a major one. Former Enron Chairman Ken Lay was the only energy executive Cheney met with one-on-one. He held five other meetings with Enron executives; most energy companies were lucky to be included in one.

And, as documented by California Congressman Henry Waxman, 17 of Cheney's final recommendations to Congress were either advocated by Enron or benefited Enron financially. Who says Enron's campaign contributions didn't buy them special access?

Now there's evidence of even more assistance to Enron. Last year, in its own energy plan, the State Department recommended that the U.S. Secretaries of State and Energy intercede with the government of India to support a natural gas plant Enron was trying to build in the country. This provision was missing from the draft State Department report. It was added later, at the same time Cheney's task force was in operation.

Did Enron lobby Cheney for help in India? Did the White House order the State Department to add Enron to its program? And what other special favors did Enron ask and receive?

The only good news is, the White House has few allies in its cover-up campaign.

Republicans Fred Thompson and Christopher Shays have called on Bush and Cheney to open their records. The GAO's demand for public disclosure has been joined by both the Sierra Club and Judicial Watch. And the lastest New Yorlatest/CBS poll showed 67% of the American public believe the White House is partly or mostly lying about its relationship with Enron.

By stonewalling on Enron, Bush and Cheney risk losing all the goodwill they built up in the war against terrorism. Congressman John Dingell offered the best advice: "If they don't have anything to hide, they ought to let it out. If they want to be suspected, they ought to keep on hiding things."





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