Cheney's Obstinacy

Vice President Dick Cheney and the captured fighters from Afghanistan have one thing in common: They are both in a legal twilight zone.

POWs or not, the jailed fighters will soon face some sort of justice. But perhaps not Mr. Cheney, in his refusal to reveal more information about how a White House task force came up with its energy plan.

The vice president has already said Enron officials were consulted by the task force. But that's not enough for Democrats and Congress's investigative arm, the General Accounting Office. They want details that might show exactly how Enron influenced the Bush plan. The GAO is threatening a lawsuit on the issue.

The politics of this is simple: The pot (or Congress, whose members take money from big donors and leave an open door for their lobbyists) is calling the kettle (Cheney and President Bush, who do the same) black.

Cheney could easily deflate this blowfish of an issue by releasing more details. It's unlikely that would create more of an uproar than the one he's facing now. Enron received no favors from President Bush as it sought federal help during its collapse. And his energy plan still sits before Congress, which can do what it wants with it.

But in not being politically expedient, Cheney raises a point: How open should White House meetings be?

He's trying to draw a line that redefines "executive privilege" for himself as vice president and for such nonsecurity topics as energy and whether caribou will perish in Arctic oil drilling.

Without that privilege, he claims, the president and his staff can't get "unvarnished" advice. With it, his critics say, they can more easily hide the influence of big money.

A cooler debate is needed on this issue than what's possible during the heat of Enron probes in an election year. Perhaps a suit is the best course, so courts can weigh in calmly and the two parties can eventually stop talking past each other.

Cheney's obstinacy isn't singular. Members of Congress wouldn't want to reveal details about meetings with big donors to their campaigns or political parties. Why shouldn't there be as much sunshine on all contacts between lobbyists and policymakers as Democrats are now demanding of Cheney?

Until the power of private money in Washington is curbed with tougher campaign-finance laws (which lobbyists are fighting), suspicions will remain about closed-door meetings.

Congress should adopt rules that exist in many states, requiring disclosure of meetings held by any public officials. These rules have reduced corruption and given citizens a voice.

Enron spread money widely around Washington. Now all of Washington, not just Cheney, must show that such money doesn't close doors to the public's business.

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