WASHINGTON - Congressional investigators said on Monday that Vice President Dick Cheney had stymied their investigation into his energy task force by refusing to turn over key documents.
The General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress, said it was impossible to tell how much energy companies or industry groups may have influenced the task force's 2001 report because the administration withheld important records.
"The extent to which submissions from any of these stakeholders were solicited, influenced policy deliberations or were incorporated into the final report is not something that we can determine based on the limited information at our disposal," the GAO said.
Administration officials did not account for much of the money spent on the task force and could not remember whether anyone took official notes during the 10 Cabinet-level meetings the group held in 2001, the investigators said.
The report came more than eight months after a federal judge rejected the GAO's demand that the administration turn over task force records.
Cheney spokeswoman Jennifer Millerwise advised critics to put the dispute behind them. "Now that the courts have dismissed the GAO lawsuit and GAO has issued its final report, we hope that everyone will focus as strongly as the administration has on meeting America's energy needs," shesaid.
Instead, the GAO report provoked a new round of complaints from Democrats in Congress.
"This report is a sad chronicle of the efforts of the office of the vice president to hide its activities from the American people," said Michigan Rep. John Dingell, the senior Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
The task force issued a report to President Bush in May, 2001. The administration announced an energy policy shortly afterward, calling for more oil and gas drilling and a revival of nuclear power. The policy bogged down in Congress.
Critics of the administration, including environmentalists and some Democrats in Congress, said they suspected the energy industry had undue influence on the task force.
White House officials argued that the GAO had overstepped its bounds and forcing them to turn over the records would hamper their ability to get "unvarnished" expert advice.
The GAO's final report confirmed that administration officials met with a procession of lobbyists and executives from the energy industry, including coal, nuclear, natural gas and electricity companies. But it did not shed much new light on the task force's deliberations, beyond information already shaken loose by private lawsuits against the administration.
Those suits forced the release of records from agencies such as the Energy Department, but not from the White House.
According to the GAO report, administration officials said no outside groups attended the 10 meetings in Cheney's ceremonial office in the White House complex.
"However, no party provided us with any documentary evidence to support or negate this assertion," the GAO said. "Agency officials could not recollect whether official rosters or minutes were kept at the meetings."
Cheney's office turned over 77 pages of documents relating to money spent on the task force, but all were either irrelevant or useless, the GAO said.
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