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Monday, 28 January, 2002, 15:57 GMT
Cheney resists Enron probe
A sign outside Enron's headquarters
Mr Cheney says Enron did not buy favours
US Vice President Dick Cheney has vowed to use the courts to prevent the release of documents relating to the formulation of government energy policy.

The papers are being demanded by the General Accounting Office (GAO), the investigative arm of the US Congress, as part of an investigation into the political influence of collapsed energy firm Enron.

Mr Cheney said that the GAO was overstepping its authority, and that he had a right to keep policy documents confidential.

Enron, which went bankrupt in early December, is accused of having used its close links with senior politicians as a means to influence policy in its favour.

Mr Cheney is the latest in a string of government officials politicians to have come under the scrutiny of Congress, which is launching at least 10 investigations into Enron over the next few weeks.

Under the influence?

At the heart of the GAO-Cheney row is the notion that Enron influenced President George W Bush's energy plan, which removed some of the environmental safeguards that restricted the oil and gas industry during the Clinton administration.

US Vice President Dick Cheney
The government has a right to secrecy, Mr Cheney says
The Bush plan opened some public land to drilling - most controversially the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge - and offered tax incentives to energy firms.

The GAO now wants Mr Cheney to disclose the content of meetings between Enron and government officials during the formulation and implementation of the plan.

Enron, like many other large energy firms, welcomed the Bush administration's policy.

Robust defence

In remarks on US TV over the weekend, Mr Cheney defended official secrecy on a number of counts.

"Now, the fact is, Enron didn't get any special deals," Mr Cheney said on ABC.

"Enron's been treated appropriately by this administration."

To Fox News, Mr Cheney argued that confidentiality was sometimes unavoidable.

"What we've told GAO we won't do is make it impossible for me or future vice presidents to ever have a conversation in confidence with anybody without having, ultimately, to tell a member of Congress what we talked about," he said.

"Can you imagine an FDR or Teddy Roosevelt, in the midst of a grave national crisis... trading away a very important fundamental principle of the presidency?"

Court battle looms

Now that Mr Cheney has expressed his willingness to stand firm, the stage is set for a confrontation between the GAO and the White House.

The GAO, which was asking for the documents even before Enron's collapse, has stepped up its campaign in recent weeks.

Its head, David Walker, said on Sunday that it was "highly likely" that the office would take legal action against Mr Cheney.

US Vice President Dick Cheney
"We talk to all kinds of people, some of them made public what they did, that's fine"
Steve Weiss of the Center for Responsive Politics
"The White House is entitled to meet with whomever it wants"
See also:

28 Jan 02 | UK Politics
Labour challenged over Enron links
14 Jan 02 | Business
Audit giants called to account
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