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The Wednesday Wall January 22, 2003

Posted by worldspectacle in Uncategorized.
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Watergate classic, from Gary Trudeau

Today’s brick: GAO V. CHENEY IS BIG-TIME STALLING

by John Dean, a FindLaw columnist and former Counsel to the President of the United States.

“Vice President Dick Cheney has thrown down the gauntlet. He has refused to give the General Accounting Office the very limited information they have requested about the work of his energy task force. (GAO, created in 1921 during the Harding Administration, has from its inception been an independent and nonpartisan agency of the Congress, charged with studying the programs and expenditures of the federal government.)

“Cheney says he is refusing to provide information to the Congress as a matter of principle. He told the Today Show that he wants to “protect the ability of the president and the vice president to get unvarnished advice from any source we want.” That sounds all too familiar to me. I worked for Richard Nixon.

“In fact, not since Richard Nixon stiffed the Congress during Watergate has a White House so openly, and arrogantly, defied Congress’s investigative authority. Nor has any activity by the Bush Administration more strongly suggested they are hiding the incriminating information about their relationship with the now-moribund Enron, or other heavy-hitting campaign contributors from the energy business…

“It is difficult for anyone familiar with GAO’s history, which has long included investigations of both Republican and Democratic administrations, to look upon Cheney’s challenge as anything but a stalling tactic. Given the fact the President has not also invoked executive privilege, I cannot but wonder if the stall strategy is this: First, the Administration will fight the lawsuit over GAO’s authority; second, when the Administration loses that suit (as it likely will), the Administration will mount another fight over executive privilege. That should get them past the 2004 presidential election.

“Much of the Watergate cover-up actually involved stalling – delaying everything until the last minute, and then looking for a way to delay further. The goal was to push the potential problems past the elections, which we did. Everyone who is familiar with the ways of Washington scandals will understand the stalling strategy. Among its other virtues, delay creates an opportunity for an intervening event to change the dynamic of an unfolding scandal…

“As someone who knows a White House cover-up from first-hand experience, I must say that if the Vice President forces the Comptroller to file his lawsuit, it will certainly appear that a cover-up is in the works. Whether the cover-up relates to Enron, or to his Energy Group’s relationship with Halliburton (the energy company he ran before running for his present office), or to a dubious relationship with some other contributor that has received some benefit, or all of the above, I cannot say. But something is amiss….

“But maybe there is another explanation. It has occurred to me that Cheney may know something about the Supreme Court that the rest of don’t. Ultimately, the issues of the GAO lawsuit will have to be resolved by the Supreme Court – although the suit will begin in the lower federal courts and take time to work its way up (thus playing into the stalling strategy that could push all of this past the 2004 election).

“For the Vice President to prevail would only require the support of the same five conservative justices who put the Vice President in his current job with their ruling in Bush v. Gore. But should these justices decide to hold in favor of Cheney in the GAO lawsuit, and thus neuter the Congress’s authority to investigate the Executive Branch, the ramifications will be much more serious and far-reaching than the results of their aberrant holding in Bush v. Gore – which they themselves limited even as they handed it down.

“Osama bin Laden himself could not concoct a more hurtful blow to our democracy. For the Court to resolve the case against GAO (and the Congress) and in favor of the Vice President would diminish the role of Congress as drastically as a reversal of Marbury v. Madison would diminish the judiciary’s role.

“If Vice President Cheney were to prevail in such a suit, the high Court will have decided that Congressional oversight of the Executive Branch is limited to only what the President and Vice President are willing to permit. This would be an awesome realignment of power in Washington.

“Before Bush v. Gore, I would have said such a ruling would be impossible. Today, all I can say is it is a time for vigilance. This lawsuit, should it proceed, calls for close watching.

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Note from Miss Monica: Round 1 went to Vice President Cheney. On December 9, 2002, District Court Judge John Bates held that the Comptroller General lacked standing [did not have the right or authority] to sue the Vice President to obtain records of the White House energy task force, in that it has only an �institutional interest� in enforcing its right to information. The GAO is considering an appeal. (Click on GAO v. Cheney link).

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Miss Monica welcomes your feedback.

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