The Cone of Silence
19 August 2001
George W. Bush: "Chief Cheney, wait a second. Isn't this meeting with the oil company executives top secret?"
Dick Cheney: "Yes. Haliburton gave me $20 million in stock. It might look bad."
Bush: "Well then, in that case we should use the 'Cone of Silence'!"
Cheney: "Oh Dubya, every time we use the 'Cone of Silence' some Democrat on Capitol Hill accuses us of trying to hide something! Couldn't we just claim Executive Privilege?"
Bush: "We can't rely on the Supreme Court pulling our bacon out of the fire again, Chief. That Executive Privilege dog won't hunt. Chief, you know what they did to Dick Nixon."
Cheney: "Fine, I'll burn the minutes to the meeting."
Bush: "Ashes can be re-assembled, Chief!"
Cheney: "Alright then, I'll eat the minutes!"
Bush: "They could operate on you under the guise of another heart problem and get it back, Chief!"
Cheney: "Very well, Dubya, the Cone of Silence."
Dick Cheney looks and acts like Thaddeus, the Chief of CONTROL, and Dubya looks and acts like Maxwell Smart. We are seven months into the new Bush administration and it is looking more and more like a sitcom from 30 years ago. I keep hoping the administration will Get Smart. I am still waiting.
The latest insanity revolves around Vice President Dick Cheney's decision to decline to turn over documents sought by Congress in an inquiry into how the Bush administration's energy policy was formed. The GAO wants to know the names of private-sector advisors who attended meetings of the National Energy Policy Development Group (a task force overseen by Cheney); information about staffers who attended; and how much money was spent. The request for documents was made at the behest of congressional Democrats. Comptroller General David Walker, a Republican, made the formal request. The task force has been criticized for its closed-door meetings with industry officials as it developed the administration's energy policy.
Cheney claims that the request for meeting records of the task force "would unconstitutionally interfere with the functioning of the executive branch." Does a Republican complaining about congressional oversight and inquiry of the Executive Branch after the witch-hunts into Bill Clinton's sex life strike anyone as ironic? Well, I do admire Mr. Cheney's chutzpah.
It appears that Vice President Cheney wants Congress and American citizens to accept at face value his claims that the task force "produced a balanced, comprehensive, environmentally-friendly energy policy." To borrow a phrase from Ronald Reagan, I would prefer that my representatives "trust but verify." A Boston Globe editorial said it well: "Lobbyists are required to register and report the money they spend influencing legislation; it is hard to see why corporate executives should be able to eliminate the middleman and directly lobby the vice president without similar disclosure."
Of course Cheney consulted with the oil companies on energy policy. I would consult with oil companies. I would also consult with environmental interests and other credible sources with views contrary to corporate power companies. Did Cheney? A task force is not a grand jury. Cheney's desire to hide not only the records, but also the process and identity of the participants is not conservative. It is autocratic.
Despite its appearances, this administration is nothing to laugh at.
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