At the dawn of the Bush administration, Vice President Dick Cheney’s 2001 Energy Task Force was the hot social ticket for leading luminaries of future GOP scandals.
Once a closely-held secret, the Washington Post today publishes the dance card for the task force. Cheney, citing the principle of executive confidentiality, took the public’s right not to know all the way to the Supreme Court when Congress tried to learn the attendance list published today. It comes as no surprise that the list was heavy on energy-industry big shots, including Enron’s Kenneth Lay, who got a private meeting with Cheney on April 17, 2001:
One of the first visitors, on Feb. 14, was James J. Rouse, then vice president of Exxon Mobil and a major donor to the Bush inauguration; a week later, longtime Bush supporter Kenneth L. Lay, then head of Enron Corp., came by for the first of two meetings. On March 5, some of the country’s biggest electric utilities, including Duke Energy and Constellation Energy Group, had an audience with the task force staff.
British Petroleum representatives dropped by on March 22, one of about 20 oil and drilling companies to get meetings. The National Mining Association, the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America and the American Petroleum Institute were among three dozen trade associations that met with Cheney’s staff, the document shows.
The list of participants’ names and when they met with administration officials provides a clearer picture of the task force’s priorities and bolsters previous reports that the review leaned heavily on oil and gas companies and on trade groups — many of them big contributors to the Bush campaign and the Republican Party.
And not just them. The executive director of the task force was Andrew Lundquist — nicknamed “Light Bulb” to President Bush — the former aide to Alaska Sens. Ted Stevens and Frank Murkowski who went on to a lucrative lobbying career representing several of the firms consulted by the task force. Cheney appears to have delegated to him much of the task force’s work:
Back in 2001, Lundquist was the person to see, and the document suggests that he and his colleagues consulted widely with energy company executives and their lobbyists. That was especially true in the early stages of the project, which focused heavily on how to stimulate domestic oil drilling, promote nuclear power and coal, and respond to the Western electricity crisis, which had caused soaring rates and blackouts in California.
Lundquist didn’t just become a high-powered lobbyist. He became a high-powered lobbyist with a high-powered partner: Stephen Griles, the former Interior Department deputy secretary who’s going to prison for lying to Senate investigators about his relationship with Jack Abramoff. Indeed, the organization run by Italia Federici, who served as the conduit between Griles at Interior and Abramoff, was well represented in the task force:
One advocacy group that visited was the Council of Republicans for Environmental Advocacy, founded in 1998 by Grover Norquist and Gale A. Norton, who became Bush’s first interior secretary. Later, the group was run by Italia Federici, who was involved socially [read: romantically] with Steven Griles. Griles, then Norton’s deputy at Interior, was recently sentenced to prison for obstructing a Senate investigation of disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
Post writers Michael Abramowitz and Steven Mutson write that it remains unclear why the famously secretive Cheney fought so hard to keep task force participants out of the public eye. Perhaps Cheney was just being Cheney. But certainly his stonewalling helped to obscure the extent to which lobbyists and industry executives imperceptibly merged with the administration, both in 2001 and after.