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Pressure on Cheney to disclose
William Neikirk . Chicago Tribune . 14 january 2002

WASHINGTON -- As Enron Corp.'s collapse has mushroomed into a major political issue, pressure appears to be growing on Vice President Dick Cheney to fully disclose the Houston company's role in developing President Bush's energy plan last spring.

Cheney, head of the task force that put together the plan, has rebuffed efforts by members of Congress and the General Accounting Office to obtain documents on the deliberations. But sentiment on Capitol Hill and in his own political party is mounting for him for him to change his mind.

"Politically, they [the vice president's office] are going to do this," one prominent Republican consultant said. "They may be stalling this, but ultimately ... they are going to provide that information. They can make it fairly painful by delaying. But the longer you wait, the worse it gets."

The vice president's office did not respond to a query about releasing the information, but the consultant said withholding it in the current climate could raise more suspicions about whether Enron had undue influence in the development of the Bush plan, which emphasized increasing energy supply and modest conservation efforts.

Cheney, like Bush, has extensive ties to the oil industry. He was head of Halliburton Co., an energy services and equipment corporation, before he was named Bush's running mate.

While Cheney has largely remained out of the public eye since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, he could become the center of the storm when the investigations turn to how Enron's political influence may have been reflected in Bush's energy policy.

Another GOP source said Cheney's unwillingness to release the documents and deliberations of the task force clashes with the White House's damage-control efforts.

The White House has disclosed contacts between Enron Chairman Kenneth Lay and two Cabinet officers, Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill and Commerce Secretary Dan Evans, in an effort to get ahead of the story.

Cheney, who earlier said full disclosure of the information would "unconstitutionally interfere" with White House duties, is becoming a notable exception to an apparent White House strategy of putting more information on the record about Enron's contacts.

"The vice president may have to emerge from an undisclosed location soon to face some uncomfortable questions on a well-connected constituent," said Larry Markinson, senior fellow at the Center for Responsive Politics. "We do know that it sounds like Enron had some input in development of the energy policy. But we don't know where, how, what they got and what language got changed."

6 meetings disclosed

Cheney did reveal that he and his energy policy staff met six times with Enron executives and other representatives, including Lay, but added that at no time did they discuss the financial condition of the company that collapsed Dec. 2.

The vice president said he talked with Lay, once for 30 minutes on April 17 to discuss "energy policy matters" and a second time at an American Enterprise Institute forum in Colorado, on June 24, a widely attended event, according to the vice president's counsel, David Addington, in a Jan. 3 letter to Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.).

The vice president's response to queries about Enron is not satisfactory to many members of Congress, most notably Waxman, a member of the Energy and Commerce Committee who has repeatedly pressed for full disclosure of the task force's deliberations. Nor is it satisfactory to the GAO's comptroller general, David Walker, who was unsuccessful in obtaining documents on the task force from the vice president's office.

Walker says he plans to decide within a month whether to file suit to gain access to the task force's records. He had planned to file a suit just before Sept. 11, but put off a decision after the attacks.

`A lot of pressure'

Mark Mellman, a Democratic political consultant, said, "I think that there is going to be a lot of pressure for Cheney to comply with the same kind of pressure that the Clinton administration complied with in responding to requests for information from Congress."

If Walker follows through and takes Cheney to court, Mellman said it could turn into a messy political situation for the vice president as Congress goes ahead with its hearings on Enron and its political ties to the White House.

"I assume he is not going to let it get to that point," Mellman said.

A Democratic leadership aide in the Senate said Congress will consider major energy legislation this year and added that "it would be nice to know how they developed their policy. It hasn't been clear for some time."

Markinson said disclosure of the task force information will be important to investigations as well as consideration of an energy bill.

"We do know because of the disclosure laws Enron made major contributions to political campaigns, specifically to the Bush campaign," he said. "What we don't know is what they got in return, besides just being friends."

There is no evidence, however, that Enron got anything in return for its close relationship with Bush and Cheney, as well as other administration officials with ties to the oil and gas industry.

Cheney was the point man in developing the energy plan and in selling it to the public. The plan served up warnings of an energy crisis facing the country and called for increased oil production, especially in the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge, which Democrats oppose.