Saturday, February 10, 2007

The secret of the energy task force records

What's in the records of Vice President Dick Cheney's energy task force?

Vice President Cheney said last month that the White House will "try to accommodate" requests for information from the new Democratic House and Senate chairmen, "when there is a legitimate need for those documents to be presented to the Congress, and they have a legitimate constitutional or statutory reason to have access to them."

"Sometimes requests have been made that clearly fall outside the boundaries," the vice president explained, "clearly trying to get into an area, for example, that is preserved and protected for the president--the president's ability to consult, for example, with people in private without having to publicize or tell the Congress who he's talking to. We took that case on my energy task force, for example, all the way to the Supreme Court and won on a 7-2 decision."

Vice President Cheney was referring to the Supreme Court's 2004 ruling that there is a "paramount necessity of protecting the executive branch from vexatious litigation."

However, litigation is a completely different organism from a congressional subpoena, and if the vice president doesn't know that, he should read Raoul Berger's 1974 book, Executive Privilege: A Constitutional Myth.

President Bush apparently does know it, as you can see in the earlier posts, "Senate Republicans fire the big gun" and "Rep. Heather Wilson pries open the White House."

If the Democrats subpoena the records of the energy task force, how damaging might they be to the administration?

Here at America Wants to Know, where we have been tracking the vice president's every move with a fortune-telling Gypsy woman, a psychic, a petroleum geologist, two dowsers and Lieutenant Columbo, we think we might know.

And if we're right, the Democrats had better be careful what they wish for.

Testimony in the perjury trial of Vice President Cheney's former chief of staff, Lewis "Scooter" Libby, has made it clear that the vice president made an extraordinary effort to prevent news organizations from reporting that he had to have known that the story of Saddam Hussein trying to buy uranium in Niger was baseless, because former ambassador Joe Wilson had been sent to Niger to check it out and had found it to be without foundation.

We also know the vice president made multiple trips to CIA headquarters in the run-up to the Iraq war, visits that can be interpreted as pressure to make the intelligence support the administration's view that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction.

And now we have the report by the acting inspector general of the Pentagon stating that a special Pentagon unit run by Doug Feith -- a team praised by Vice President Cheney as the "best source" for information on Saddam's terrorist connections--criticized the CIA's intelligence and tried to piece together little fragments of intelligence to suggest, falsely, that Saddam had ties to al-Qaeda.

Taken together, these things support the hypothesis that Vice President Dick Cheney wanted Saddam Hussein removed from power and fought tooth and nail to make sure the case he made for an invasion of Iraq was not challenged.

But why? Why was it so important to remove Saddam Hussein from power if he didn't have an active nuclear program, stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons, or an alliance with al-Qaeda?

America Wants to Know would like to pause here to say that we believe the United States has a legitimate national interest in maintaining secure and reliable sources of oil. We understand that secure and reliable oil supplies are vital to the economy of the United States and its allies in Europe and Asia. We are not among those who enjoy the benefits of an advanced and thriving economy, denounce the companies that deliver the oil that makes it possible, and then quiet their cognitive dissonance by overpaying for hybrid cars and harsh lightbulbs.

That said, it would look really bad if there was a statement anywhere in the records of the vice president's energy task force, which met during the first half of 2001, about certain geopolitical factors in the Middle East presenting threats to the security and reliability of oil supplies.

It would look really, really bad if there was a presentation, or even a remark, about how much better things would be if Saddam Hussein was driven from power.

What might have been a routine observation at the time would look today like the start of a pre-meditated plot that was put into action as soon as the September 11th attacks provided a plausible rationale.

Without the September 11th attacks, the plot might have had to wait until Saddam got off a lucky shot and downed a U.S. plane patrolling the no-fly zone.

But thanks to the Global War on Terrorism, the vice president was able to lead a parade of What-If horrors right down Pennsylvania Avenue to the U.S. Capitol and make the argument that anything less than a ground invasion of Iraq would be a congressional permission slip for a nuclear attack on a U.S. city.

That would explain why the vice president was so obsessed with the MSNBC program "Hardball" and its bulldog host, Chris Matthews. Mr. Matthews, who before this is over will have a place in the history books next to Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, would not stop asking questions about the vice president's knowledge that the Niger uranium claim was bogus. (It was in a telephone call to NBC News Washington Bureau Chief Tim Russert to complain about Chris Matthews that Scooter Libby claimed to have first heard that Ambassador Wilson's wife worked for the CIA.)

It would also explain the ferocious secrecy about the energy task force records.

Without question, the Democratic House and Senate committee chairmen have the constitutional authority to see what's in those records. That's because the Constitution gives the Congress the power to impeach the president, the vice president, and all civil officers of the United States. Implicit in the power to impeach is the power to inquire. The executive branch officials who are the subject of the inquiry cannot have an unwritten constitutional privilege against the exercise of a constitutional power that is written in plain English.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said that impeachment is "off the table." If subpoenas go out for those energy task force records, she might find it on the floor.

Copyright 2007

Source note: The late Harvard law professor Raoul Berger is the author of Executive Privilege: A Constitutional Myth (1974, Harvard University Press) and Impeachment: The Constitutional Problems (1974, Harvard University Press)

Editor's note: You might be interested in the earlier post, "Dick Cheney Mystery Theater."