Threats by Republicans to cut the General Accounting Office (GAO) budget influenced its decision to abandon a lawsuit against Vice President Dick Cheney, The Hill has learned.
Sources familiar with high-level discussions at the GAO said Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), chairman of the Appropriations Committee, met with GAO Comptroller General David Walker earlier this year and “unambiguously” pressured him to drop the suit or face cuts in his $440 million budget.
The controversy with Cheney came to a head in December after U.S. District Court Judge John Bates, citing separation of powers, ruled that Walker lacked sufficient grounds to compel Cheney to disclose the records of a White House energy task force that he had headed.
Walker had filed the suit against Cheney in February 2002 at the request of House Democrats. This was the first time in its 81-year history that the GAO, acting in its capacity as the investigative arm of Congress, sued the executive branch to obtain withheld information.
I didn't know that the GAO was the investigative arm of Congress. If so, this strikes me as a gross obstruction and an impeachable offense by Cheney.
But that's not our topic today. We will focus instead on the purpose of the lawsuit — to divine what went on in those meetings.
Background: In early 2001, there were six secret meetings between Dick Cheney and Enron CEO Ken Lay or their staff members. Cheney has requested and received a court order to keep the content of the meetings secret.
This is a speculation as to what took place at those meetings.
We know pretty much what went into those conference rooms (Enron’s recommendations) and what came out (federal energy policy in near-total correspondence with Enron’s recommendations).
So what’s the big secret? What could have been discussed over the course of six secret meetings that can’t be released when we all know the outcome?
We present the following items for your perusal and study:
Before he headed Enron, Ken Lay’s professional experience was in natural gas pipelines.
Uzbekistan is estimated to contain 594 million barrels of proven oil reserves, with 171 discovered oil and natural gas fields in the country. With estimated natural gas reserves of 66.2 trillion cubic feet, Uzbekistan is the second largest natural gas producer in the Commonwealth of Independent States (after Russia) and one of the top ten natural gas-producing countries in the world. (US Dept. of Energy)
Thanks to The Smoking Gun, we see that Ken Lay sent a letter to then-governor Bush on April 3, 1997, requesting that he meet Sadyk Safaev, the ambassador of Uzbekistan. (The typed salutation reads "Dear Governor Bush:" which Lay has crossed out and handwritten "George.") Excerpt:
Enron has established an office in Tashkent and we are negotiating a $2 billion joint venture with Neftegas of Uzbekistan and Gazprom of Russia to develop Uzbekistan's natural gas and transport it to markets in Europe, Kazakhstan and Turkey. This project can bring significant economic opportunities to Texas, as well as Uzbekistan. The political benefits to the United States and to Uzbekistan are important to that entire region.
The good Lord didn't see fit to put oil and gas only where there are democratically elected regimes friendly to the United States. Occasionally we have to operate in places where, all things considered, one would not normally choose to go. But, we go where the business is. So, what happens with respect to U.S. commercial policy, how we conduct ourselves as a nation, the kinds of rules and regulations that American firms are expected to abide by and operate under, and how all of that affects our ability to compete overseas is of considerable interest to those of us at Haliburton and Dresser.
In early June (of 1998), I was salmon fishing on the Kola Peninsula up near Murmansk and Archangel where the Soviet northern fleet has been based for years. In an astonishingly short period of time, the world has been so transformed that now a former U.S. secretary of Defense is perfectly free to hop on an airplane, fly over to the former Soviet Union, and spend a week salmon fishing. It is amazing when you think about that transition.
An example that comes immediately to mind has to do with efforts to develop the resources of the former Soviet Union in the Caspian Sea area. It is a region rich in oil and gas. Unfortunately, Iran is sitting right in the middle of the area and the United States has declared unilateral economic sanctions against that country. As a result, American firms are prohibited from dealing with Iran and find themselves cut out of the action, both in terms of opportunities that develop with respect to Iran itself, and also with respect to our ability to gain access to Caspian resources. Iran is not punished by this decision. There are numerous oil and gas development companies from other countries that are now aggressively pursuing opportunities to develop those resources. That development will proceed, but it will happen without American participation. The most striking result of the government’s use of unilateral sanctions in the region is that only American companies are prohibited from operating there.
Circumventing Iran's access to Caspian energy resources is obviously something on which Dick Cheney had spent a great deal of mental energy. He was not alone in his focus on this important region.
A few weeks later on July 30, 1998 (near the crest of the Lewinsky scandal and Ken Starr's impeachment frenzy), we note the following announcement:
Enron wins Trans-Caspian gas pipeline feasibility study.
Enron has won a tender for the right to prepare a feasibility study for Trans-Caspian gas pipeline from Satlik to Ceyhan via Baku. The special adviser to the US president and the secretary of state for the New Independent States, Richard Morningstar, said that this is the second major step to facilitate the trans-Caspian project since the signing of the agreement on the provision of a $ 750,000 grant to prepare the feasibility study. The agreement signed by the US government, the US Agency for Commerce and Development and the government of Turkmenia was the result of Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov's first official visit to the US last April. Since then, the tender commission considered proposals submitted by about 10 companies, Turkmen Minister of Oil and Gas Industry and Mineral Resources Redzhedbai Arazov said. According to preliminary data, the trans-Caspian gas pipeline will run from the gas deposit Satlik through which the Central Asia-Centre gas main runs. The total length of the new pipeline will be more than 1,700 km to Ceyhan.
Fast forward to March 2001. The Supreme Court has put George W. Bush into office, and in the first two months of the new administration Dick Cheney has already held his six secret energy policy meetings.
Brzezinski is not the only one to see US global military dominance as imperative: according to Steven Mufson in the Washington Post, in March 2001 President Bush "immersed himself" in Robert Kaplan's book Eastward to Tartary, which paints the Caspian region as "a realm haunted by the specter of conflict over Caspian pipelines" and other tensions. Bush invited Kaplan to the White House and met with him for nearly an hour. National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice and other top officials also attended. After the meeting, Kaplan gave his impression of Bush's view of the world: "The world is a bad place with a lot of bad people who can do us harm and the most important moral commitment for America is to preserve its power." Kaplan himself, in an article written before September 11, "predicted that international law would play a smaller role in conflicts as wars became increasingly unconventional and undeclared." "[I]n facing adversaries unconcerned with civilian casualties," he argued, "our moral values. . . represent our worst vulnerabilities" (ellipsis in original).
Bush’s one known meeting with a foreign policy public intellectual was with Robert Kaplan, author of The Coming Anarchy and more recently Eastward to Tartary. Bush, Condoleeza Rice, and Andrew Card met Kaplan alone for more than an hour on the same day that Bush had summit meetings with Japan Prime Minister Mori and Ariel Sharon. Bush takes foreign policy seriously, and reportedly told Kaplan to "relax…we are all realists here." George Bush — who won the presidency in a contested election — could not win the U.S. public to support him on any domestic policy achievements, not even a massive tax cut. He has been prepared for conflict since he entered office, and conflict — tragically enough — is the one route that this presidency had to get Bush’s poll numbers to rise. It is interesting that Bush’s economic team, in contrast to Clinton’s, appears second rate and has little regular access to him. On days that Bush expresses concern about the economy and argues for a capital gains tax cut, Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill appears in the paper stating that recovery is around the corner. Bush is consumed by foreign policy and wants to remove the notion that the Bush family was bested by Hussein. In contrast to Nixon and Kissinger who were realists during a time of perceived American decline, Bush sees himself as a realist in a time of unparalleled American ascension and power.
To get to those Caspian resources, we've already established that Iran isn't going to work out. Are there any alternatives?
Two months later in May 2001, a grant of $43 million was announced by U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell to be given to the Taliban in Afghanistan, ostensibly for drought relief. Accounts and commentary on this grant were provided by The New York Times, ABC News, and even the Cato Institute.
Four months later we experienced the pivotal events of September 11, 2001.
Now we must return to our original topic: the secret energy policy meetings. It is unlikely that Enron’s policy recommendations caused any controversy at all in a White House that was already oil-friendly at every level. The likeliest case is that Enron’s requests immediately received the rubber stamp of tacit approval in Meeting #1, and that the remainder of the meetings focused on larger energy-producing strategies in the absence of Iranian cooperation — namely, access to the Caspian region via Afghanistan.
In post-9/11 America, it would appear criminally negligent if the vice president and Ken Lay, the now-disgraced CEO of Enron, spent the early part of the same year discussing negotiations with the Taliban or alternative strategies such as military invasion, assassinations, or a coup. This ultimate vulgarity is what is being hidden from our view.
This is the only plausible exlanation as to why the content of the meetings would be kept secret.
In the weeks following 9/11/01, the administration announced its desire to drill for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve. The announcement felt not only opportunistic, but strangely incongruous in a time of national crisis. It was probably just an oilman’s kneejerk response to the apparent souring of a Taliban-appeasement plan, or an intentional distraction from the real, more sinister plan.
There is, of course, a very easy way for the administration to refute these speculations. Release the information from the meetings — exactly what the lawsuit called for.
Forget the GAO lawsuit. Dick Cheney must be impeached.
For further reading: We have written so often on Enron that a listing of relevant posts would be difficult. If you're really interested, try adding "+skimble" to your Google searches (the plus sign is important). Then, when you get the results page, click on "More results from skimble.blogspot.com" and you will get a nice clean page of relevant posts. (Example: "cheney lay +skimble" gets you this page, after you've clicked on "More results.")