Judge Orders White House to Turn Over Energy Task Force Documents, Again

In one of several lawsuits brought against the Bush administration for its failure to disclose key documents relating to its energy task force, a federal judge ordered the Bush administration to turn over the documents for the second time; the same ruling was previously made in August, according to the Washington Post. Since the Bush administration failed to comply with the first order, U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan gave its lawyers until November 5 to produce the documents, which include membership rolls and meeting schedules of the National Energy Policy Development Group, chaired by Vice President Dick Cheney. The Sierra Club and Judicial Watch brought the case over a year ago alleging that the administration improperly met with private energy industry officials and largely excluded environmental groups while forming the country's energy policy. The Bush administration is countering with the argument that the separation of powers doctrine protects those documents from outside review, and that handing over the papers might reveal the administration's internal, deliberative process, according to the Washington Post. When informing the court that government attorneys might need more time, Shannen Coffin, a lawyer representing the Bush administration, reportedly admitted to Judge Sullivan that government attorneys had not conducted a document review of the office of the Vice President, a statement that surprised the judge because Coffin was asserting that the documents were privileged while also claiming not to have seen them. Coffin quickly backpedaled and claimed that they had done enough review to know that their arguments were correct, the Post article notes. The General Accounting Office (GAO) -- the investigative arm of Congress -- also filed suit against the Bush Administration for the documents earlier this year, and is still awaiting a decision in its case. In another related case, a D.C. federal district court's February 21 ruling upheld the public’s right to access government information by ordering the Department of Energy (DOE) to hand over documents to the Natural Resources Defense Council that relate to the workings of Cheney’s energy task force. For more, see this previous story in the OMB Watcher.
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