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Energy Records Fight Could Get Nasty

Is the vice president about to come to loggerheads with the General Accounting Office over the unpublished records of President Bush's energy task force? The task force, which reportedly leaned heavily toward industry insiders, provided over a hundred proposals to increase the nation's energy stocks.

Democrats in Congress believed the task force listened mostly to the president's and vice-president's friends in the energy industry. They want check on that suspicion by checking the records of the task force. The White House has denied that they were influenced by corporate interests.

"We want to know how that task force operated, who they met with," said Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif.

When the vice president's office refused to play ball, Democrats asked the GAO to investigate, and Comptroller-General David Walker sent Dick Cheney a letter demanding "full and complete access" to the records. The vice president responded with a letter saying Walker's "conduct would unconstitutionally interfere with the functioning of the executive branch."

The comptroller-general is now an independent, reports CBS News Correspondent Bill Plante, and was once a Republican. He said Monday he would continue to attempt to resolve the matter and didn't rule out suing the administration.

If the demand for the records goes to court, the White House could still stop the process cold by saying release of the information would substantially impair government operations. That, however, could cut against the Bush administration politically.

"The logic of (Cheney's) letter is the same as that Richard Nixon gave during the Watergate investigation," said Fred Greenstein, a professor of politics at Princeton University.

"The logic was that the separation of the branches of government would be threatened and that consultations between executive branch members would be impeded," Greenstein said. "This is executive privilege"

George Brownstein, a political analyst and Nixon author, said Cheney "makes all of the same executive privilege arguments, demanding privacy for the executive branch."

The documents at issue involve a decision by the administration to reconsider regulations on the amount of arsenic allowed in drinking water, toxic chemical pollution by mining companies and a requirement barring development of nearly 60 million acres of federal forests.

Cheney aide Mary Matalin said the White House has already supplied all of the documents it is legally compelled to turn over.

"The National Energy Policy Development Group produced a balanced, comprehensive, environmentally friendly energy policy in remarkably short time," Matalin said. "The House of Representatives just passed much of that plan along bipartisan lines."

Jeff Nelligan, a spokesman for Walker, declined to comment on the letter Friday.

"We simply haven't had time to review the letter," he said.

Waxman said Cheney should "simply try telling the truth ... and stop hidig information that Congress and the public have a right to see."

Environmental groups, which have criticized the Bush administration, said Cheney was working to hide Bush's strong ties to corporate energy.

"What is the vice president afraid of?" said Dan Becker, an energy analyst at the Sierra Club. "Is he afraid that the American people will understand that he talked to the wrong people and created a one-sided energy program because he only spoke to the energy industry?"

©MMI, CBS Worldwide Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report

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