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GAO Will Announce They Intend to Go Forward With Lawsuit Against White House

Aired January 30, 2002 - 10:01   ET


BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: First to Washington and Jonathan Karl with an update on a story surrounded and related to the Enron matter. Now movement from Congress.

Jonathan, what do we have?

JONATHAN KARL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We have a development here. The General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of the Congress, will announce today, according to congressional sources, will announce this afternoon that they intend to go forward with their lawsuit against the White House, unprecedented move up here, lawsuit against the White House, demanding that the White House turn over information related to Vice President Dick Cheney's task force on energy policy. This has been a dispute going on since last year of the General Accounting Office wanted information about who exactly was advising the vice president on energy policy, and the White House has been saying this is a matter of confidential advice that the president needs to make policy, not something the GAO has a right to.

Well now, the General Accounting Office will pursue this in court, federal district court here in Washington. That's the word from congressional sources up here, Bill, so another racheting up of the showdown of this issue over Cheney task force.

HEMMER: Jonathan, we want to go the White House in a moment. First, Dick Cheney was on the airwaves this past weekend, and with John King as well. He had said prior to the attacks of September 11th that the GAO had wanted to sue him on a similar matter and backed away. He said they had a bad argument. What more do we know about that, and is that argument still holding up in this matter?

KARL: Well, this is something that Cheney has been butting heads with, for Congress with, for some time. There was a related controversy up here earlier last year, when a committee up here in Congress, Joe Lieberman's Government Affairs Committee, wanted information on who was advising the White House on the question of environmental policy, and they did come to a situation where Joe Lieberman had to threaten to issue subpoenas on that, but then everybody backed down. The committee was able to have its investigators come to the White House and look over the information.

But there has been no really movement toward any compromise on this issue up here. This is one the White House has held very firm, and the GAO had held equally firm, as evidence by this news today that they plan to go forward with a lawsuit against White House, something that they simply have never done before.

And by the way, Bill, David Walker, who is the head of GAO, was a Republican nominee to that position. He now calls himself a political independent. But this is somebody the Republicans in Congress chose for that post.

HEMMER: All right, Jonathan, thanks.

Down to the White House right now. A senior administration official telling CNN yesterday that if indeed the GAO wants to pursue this lawsuit, in his words -- quote -- "bring it on."

John King talking to the vice president earlier this week.

Any reaction thus far yet, John?

JOHN KING, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Reaction this morning here at the White House, Bill, and I can tell you, the president himself spoke those words, "bring it on," in a meeting at the white house we are told by senior White House officials. We are also told at the private closed leadership breakfast, president had the bipartisan group down, Republicans and Democratic leaders. He brought this up. He said he thought a lawsuit would be not only unprecedented, but without legal merit, and we are told the president looked the congressional leaders in the eye, and said, if the GAO, which is a wing of the Congress, sues -- quote -- "it better get some pretty good lawyers."

So at the White House here, they are stealing to take this fight to court. They say they would prefer it not go that way. But they say the GAO is unwilling to compromise, and they reject flatly here the Democratic assertions that this is evidence the White House has something to hide in those energy task force deliberations, and in making that case, they say not only does the president and vice president have the right to private discussions when it comes to energy policy, but they also note that this administration is fighting with Republicans in the Congress who still want documents from the Clinton administration about Janet Reno's deliberations, the campaign finance investigations.

This Republican white house telling the Congress, it can't have those records either, that a president, a vice president and key cabinet members must be able to have private discussions when it comes to debating policy.

HEMMER: Got it.

Also in the State of the Union Address last night, Enron was not mentioned by name, but it was referred to. What can we portend looking down the road to make sure that folks are not laid out high and dry again, as so many were in Houston, Texas.

KING: You heard the president last night in his State of the Union Address, Bill, address a number of issues. He did not specifically use the words "Enron," but he did say it was time for Congress and the administration to get together to work on pension reforms, 401(k) reforms, other disclosure laws that makes corporate America disclose more about its finances, to prevent anyone putting company stock in its 401(k)s or any other retirement plans from losing their life savings in a similar situation like this.

On that front, the White House also objecting, several Democratic strategists circulating a memo in advance of the president's State of the Union, suggesting that down the road, they believe Enron will become a powerful issue for Democrats. The White House objecting to that, saying Democrats are trying to play politics with this.

On the State of the Union, it is the morning after. And here at White House, aides are making clear that the president did not necessarily mean military action when he talked so tough last night about North Korea, about Iran and about Iraq, but they also made clear that yes, as the war in Afghanistan continues, the president is looking to potential future fronts on the war on terrorism. Diplomacy will be one tool. Obviously, the financial war waged against Al Qaeda could be waged against other terrorist organizations.

But they say the president knew what he was doing, knew that he was raising the bar when he looked out to the American people, certainly knowing a world-wide audience listening as well, and saying this administration was watching North Korea, Iran and Iraq very closely.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: States hike these and their terrorist allies constitute an abscess of evil arming to threaten the peace of the world. By seeking weapons of mass destruction, these regimes pose a grave and growing danger. They can provide these arms to terrorists, giving them the means to match their hatred. They can attack our allies, or attempt to blackmail the United States. In any of these cases, the price of indifference would be catastrophic.


KING: So much of the speech, a reminder of how much things have changed in the year plus one week since George W. Bush became president of the United States. When he took office, the government was running a surplus. Now the government is back running deficit spending. The president blames that on the war and cost of homeland security here in the United States.

Some Democrats of course say they think the Bush tax cut passed last year has something to do with it as well. It certainly, in their view, in the Democrats' view, made the deficit spending worse. The president trying to explain this to the American people last night, saying in the short term what he considers a national crisis, yes, the government will run some deficits.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BUSH: Our budget will run a deficit small and short term so long as Congress restrains spending and acts in a fiscally responsible manner.


BUSH: We have clear priorities. And we must act at home with the same purpose and resolve we have shown overseas. We will prevail in the war, and we will defeat this recession.


KING: The president's speech well received in Congress, well received in you look at the public opinion polling, but certainly, when it comes to issue of the economy, there are some disagreements with the Democrats in the Congress. That will play out in this congressional election year. And as we started to show, obviously the political debate over Enron is intensifying. It is certainly a business scandal. Some believe political questions as well. And this whole fight over the records of Bush administration energy task force has added juice, if you will, because some of the meetings were with Enron officials.

The White House saying if they have to go to court, it will go to court, and again, to quite the president, he says if the GAO wants it sue -- quote -- "bring it on" -- Bill.

HEMMER: Thank you.




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