GAO to sue White House over Cheney energy talks

The General Accounting Office has decided to sue the White House for access to documents from President Bush's energy task force, a Senate source told the Associated Press today. A decision had been expected from GAO Comptroller General David Walker all week.

GAO wants to force Vice President Dick Cheney, who ran the task force, to turn over documents on the meetings held last year with business executives as the Bush administration crafted a new national energy policy. Some of the meetings included officials from the now-collapsed Enron Corp., the Houston-based energy broker with deep ties to Bush.

"We have been notified that they will be announcing their decision today and that their decision is that they will be moving forward," said the Senate source.

It would be the first time in GAO's 80-year existence that it sued the executive branch. The lawsuit would be filed in the U.S. District Court in Washington.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported today that Kenneth Lay, then the chairman of Enron, gave Cheney a three-page document last April detailing the company's arguments against price caps or other measures to stabilize electricity prices in California. The newspaper said some of the positions in the memo were included in Cheney's energy plan.

The White House today was still in no mood for compromise. "We look forward to defending an important constitutional principle," said White House spokeswoman Clare Buchan.

The president and the vice president have the right "to receive good, unvarnished advice necessary for decision-making," she said. "We believe we have a very strong case which will prevail."

Indicating the administration does not expect GAO to actually file the suit immediately, a White House official questioned the strength of GAO's case.

"If they had a good, strong case, why will it take several weeks before they actually back it up?" the official said.

Although lawyers for the White House and the agency had continued talks this week, Cheney said Sunday the dispute "probably will get resolved in court."

In resisting GAO, Cheney insists that providing the list of industry executives would harm his ability to receive advice in the future and that the congressional investigators are overstepping their bounds. GAO, as a congressional agency, insists it has the authority to request the information. Any GAO lawsuit would be highly controversial on Capitol Hill.

The agency's investigation began after Democrats requested April 19 that GAO investigate the conduct, operations and funding of the Cheney energy task force. Some Republicans had threatened Tuesday to try to block the suit.

"I think it may come to that," said Senate Judiciary ranking member Orrin Hatch, R-Utah. House Majority Leader Armey said he and House Speaker Hastert planned to "talk to the agency."

Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., said he was researching to see whether GAO would be overstepping its authority by taking on the administration.