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Suit against Cheney task force dismissed

Lawmakers sought details on contacts with energy industry

Vice President Dick Cheney
Vice President Dick Cheney

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A federal judge Monday dismissed a lawsuit by the investigative arm of Congress seeking the names of those consulted by Vice President Dick Cheney's energy task force in determining the administration's energy policy.

U.S. District Judge John D. Bates said the case filed by Comptroller General David Walker, the head of the General Accounting Office, did not make a "compelling showing" on why the judiciary branch should get involved.

"Plaintiff's failure to produce stronger evidence with respect to historical practice leads unavoidably to the conclusion that he lacks standing to pursue his claim," Bates wrote in his 43-page decision.

Congressional Democrats have called for the Bush administration to reveal the contacts that Cheney's task force had with energy industry leaders, suggesting those executives had undue influence on the energy policy that was released.

The Bush administration refused to provide most of the information sought by Congress, saying it was a matter of privacy -- that the executive branch can consult with outsiders in confidentiality.

Bates noted that Congress hasn't issued a subpoena "to obtain the information" sought by Walker and has "given no expression of support for the pursuit of this action."

The judge also said there is no precedent for the judicial branch to enter into "this inter-branch dispute in light of the weighty separation of powers considerations."

"Such an excursion by the judiciary would be unprecedented and would fly in the face of the restricted role of the federal courts under the Constitution," Bates wrote. "Accordingly, the complaint must be dismissed."

Walker said the GAO is exploring the possibility of an appeal.

"We are very disappointed with the judge's decision," Walker said. "We are in the process of reviewing and analyzing the decision to fully understand the bases for it and its potential implications."

Cheney's energy task force met last year, producing a policy in May 2001 that, among other things, called for more oil and gas drilling and promoting nuclear power.

Walker filed suit in February seeking information on the names of the energy executives consulted by the task force before it drew up its policy. Interest in access to that information grew with the collapse of Enron, and lawmakers sought to determine whether energy companies such as Enron had undue influence on the formation of the Bush administration's energy policy.

The administration, facing political pressure, did release some information on the contacts between the task force and Enron executives.

Democrats voice disappointment

John Dingell, D-Michigan, the ranking Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said he was disappointed with the decision, but not shocked by it.

"It is regrettable, but not surprising, that a newly appointed federal judge chose to look the other way," Dingell said. "Vice President Cheney's cover-up will apparently continue for the foreseeable future unless the Republican Congress demands appropriate disclosure. I'm not holding my breath."

Dingell and Rep. Henry Waxman, D-California, a senior member on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, were the ones who initially sought to obtain the energy task force information. They both backed the GAO suit.

The top aide to Waxman called the decision "atrocious."

"I don't see how it can't be appealed," said Phil Schiliro, Waxman's chief of staff and press secretary. "If the GAO doesn't have standing, no one has to listen to the GAO."

The Justice Department welcomed the judge's ruling.

"The court's decision protects and respects the right of the president to have an independent decision-making process," said Barbara Comstock, chief spokeswoman for the department.

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