The White House was negotiating with the General Accounting Office up to the time last Friday that the investigative agency signed off on the final legal documents sent to the U.S. District Courthouse in Washington, D.C. demanding that the office of Vice President Dick Cheney hand over notes and papers from his National Energy Policy Development Group.
“The negotiations went nowhere,” says a White House domestic policy aide. “The problem was Mary.” The reference is to Mary Matalin, a key adviser to Cheney and wife of Democratic operative James Carville. According to several White House sources, Matalin so angered GAO investigators during several early negotiating sessions that the GAO even declined to meet at all.
“She was so aggressive about the White House position,” says a GAO staffer who assisted in preparing the lawsuit, “it was hard to tell if they were serious about negotiating, or if they were just trying to make us out to be the bad guys.”
Several Cheney aides, according to the GAO source, seemed willing to allow limited GAO access to some documents related to the energy meetings. “We’re not sold that there is that much more to be found given what we’ve seen in the press,” says the GAO staffer. “Maybe there is, but the way some in the White House were acting, you’d think we were looking to get at the Nixon tapes. It was just odd.”
Matalin has been on the point in the administration’s fight with the GAO, insisting that principle is on the side of the White House in refusing to hand over energy task force records. Disclosure of names and conversations from many of those meetings, the White House says, would impede its ability to obtain candid advice from outside experts.
“We hope she’s right on this,” says another White House aide. “If it blows up in our faces, it will be the first major embarrassment for the administration.”
Matalin’s hiring was a controversial one for the administration. Many conservatives objected to it, in part because of her marriage to Carville. But her longtime ties to the Bush family won out.
California Sen. Barbara Boxer was promising reporters a hot scoop last Friday about Enron’s relationship with the Bush administration, only to end up look like the girl who cried wolf.
For several days Boxer and her staff had promising Hill reporters documents from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission that would have documented meetings and contacts between FERC members and Enron from August 2000 through June 2001.
“They said the documents would show that those contacts spiked after the Clinton administration left office,” says one financial reporter covering Capitol Hill. “They thought it was going to be a smoking gun, and really oversold it.”
In fact, the meeting logs indicated almost the exact opposite of what Boxer had been selling. While Enron meetings did continue with the Bush administration, Clinton-appointed staff and commissioners were wined and dined much more heavily before the Bush people came in. And even then, it appears the FERC actions were above board. “When they went out with lobbyists, the FERC folks picked up their part of the bill,” says the reporter.
Boxer is investigating whether Enron’s relationship with the Bush administration exacerbated the California energy cost crisis. “We certainly didn’t get what we were expecting,” says a Boxer staffer. “We were misled by someone we’ve been talking to inside FERC. They led us to believe we’d get something a bit different from what we ended up having to release.”
The aide says Boxer was convinced that current FERC chairman Pat Wood III, a Bush appointee, would have had a schedule “rife with Enron contacts. But it didn’t work out that way. There were more meetings with consumers and consumer advocates. We’re kind of embarrassed about all of this.”
Not Boxer, though. Her immediate reaction was to go back and demand still more records, until staff persuaded her to stop the insanity.
Former President Bill Clinton isn’t hanging with the A-list stars anymore. According to a source in his New York office, Clinton was set to travel to Los Angeles and hold over there for a night last week before flying on to Australia. He asked aides to set up a lunch and dinner with Steven Spielberg and Warren Beatty respectively. Both sent word that they were otherwise occupied. Clinton apparently reached out to several other supposed Hollywood friends, including Rob Reiner, but none could free themselves up for a mid-week nosh with the former Prez. Instead, Clinton dined out with comedian Chris Tucker and musician Kenny G.
“Clinton likes Kenny because he belongs to a nice golf course and can get him into most of the better courses in L.A.,” says the Clinton staffer. “Tucker has been hanging with the President since we opened the offices in Harlem. It’s a newer friendship, perhaps because Tucker always seems to have women around him.”