ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
In 2001, President Bush convened a task force to develop a new energy policy. He placed Vice President Cheney at the helm. Ever since, various groups critical of the administration have been trying to gain access to documents that shed light on that energy task force. Vice President Cheney has resisted and the courts have backed him up. So the work of the task force remains largely confidential.
Well now, the Washington Post has come by a list of all the people the group met with and when. Michael Abramowitz is a Post White House correspondent and he joins us now to discuss this story.
Welcome to the program.
Mr. MICHAEL ABRAMOWITZ (White House Correspondent, The Washington Post): Good to be here.
SIEGEL: The list that you have seems to confirm what people have either suspected or, in some cases pieced together, that among the people the task force consulted, oil and gas executives were predominant, no?
Mr. ABRAMOWITZ: That is correct. In many ways, this is a story that is not entirely surprising. Some of the names have leaked out over the years. We've had a general sense of who is on this list. But for a reason of legal principle, the White House and specifically Vice President Cheney have refused to ever give up an actual copy of the people that the task force met with.
SIEGEL: The principle being one take on executive privilege that there should be confidential advice given to the president, or in this case, the vice president?
Mr. ABRAMOWITZ: Exactly, that they should be able to consult with whomever they see fit without having to disclose those consultations with others. And their position was basically litigated, as you suggested, Robert, all the way up to the Supreme Court, which in the end agreed with the vice president.
SIEGEL: So give us some examples of people who seemed to have enjoyed the ear of at least the staff of the task force if not the vice president himself.
Mr. ABRAMOWITZ: Our list shows mostly the people that the task force met with. There were a number of people that the vice president himself met with privately. These include a number of congressmen like Representative Joe Barton and Billy Tauzin of Louisiana, who are in charge of energy policy in Congress. He met with some officials at Sandia National Laboratories. He also met with Ken Lay. That's actually been previously reported. The White - the vice president's office has acknowledged that meeting.
Most of the meetings, though, as you suggest, took place with the staff and these ranged from people in the oil and gas industry, trade associations like the American Petroleum Institute, refining outfits out West. There's a whole range of people about 300 in all.
SIEGEL: Well, the complaint of environmental groups has been that their point of view didn't have a chance to have any influence on energy policy. To what degree were environmental groups heard out by the task force?
Mr. ABRAMOWITZ: Well, it feels like from the reporting that we did for this story that that complaint had some merit. There was one meeting with environmentalists on April 13th, 2001, which was about two months into the work of the task force. And by that time, the task force staff had at least 40-some-odd meetings with a whole range of industry groups, lawmakers, et cetera.
And what we were told for this story is that, at some point, some of the staff realized that it might not look so good if they didn't talk to environmentalists. And so they kind of hastily put together a meeting about two months into the process and invited the Sierra Club and some other people in the environmental world to come and talk to the task force.
By the account of several of those people at that meeting, it was a fairly perfunctory meeting and I think what's quite telling is that at that point, a draft of the report was basically already done. So it doesn't seem that this was particularly strong input into the process.
SIEGEL: Was all the litigation that went to the Supreme Court preoccupied with process, while in substance, what came into office is what came to the energy task force period?
Mr. ABRAMOWITZ: I think that's a very good point, Robert. I think that if they had just released these names quickly after the report was done, these would have been seen as kind of not that controversial, the kinds of names you would expect them to be talking with in a process like that.
There would have been maybe a couple of days of stories with people from liberal groups and environmental groups decrying this. And then in the end, probably this issue would have kind of fizzled away. But it kind of was an early indication of the kind of intense secrecy and the kind of philosophy towards government that Vice President Cheney had, which has kind of followed him throughout the whole term.
SIEGEL: Michael Abramowitz, thank you very much for talking with us today.
Mr. ABRAMOWITZ: Great to be here.
SIEGEL: It's Michael Abramowitz, White House correspondent of the Washington Post.