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Vice President Cheney's Abuses of Power

Location: Washington, DC

VICE PRESIDENT CHENEY'S ABUSES OF POWER -- (House of Representatives - March 04, 2004)


Mr. INSLEE. Madam Speaker, I thank the gentleman from New Jersey (Mr. Pallone) for yielding. I appreciate him bringing this important matter up for discussion because I think it strikes at the very heart of American democracy, which is a fundamental tenet that people have to trust the system, to have confidence in the ultimate results of what has happened here in Washington, DC.

Unfortunately, due to ignoring some basic tenets that people have to trust the cards and who is dealing the cards before they are going to trust the outcome of the game, people have doubts about what is going on in Washington, DC right now; and my colleague has brought up two reasons why those doubts have been fanned, and those reasons have to do with being centered around this secretive energy task force which has been shielded from public attention, that has been cloaked by secrecy all the way now to the U.S. Supreme Court, which is now involved in a situation which I believe can diminish people's trust, not only in the executive branch in government but in the judicial branch in government. I would like to address those concerns if I can.

First, I want to talk about the judicial branch of government and why I believe right now it is at risk of undergoing some loss of trust in the American people associated with this energy task force situation. Perhaps my colleague has spoken about this already, but let me address what my understanding of the situation is, and what I know about this comes from the newspapers, so I am going to relay what I have read about this situation.

As we know, the Vice President convened a task force to develop the administration policy, official policy of the executive authority of the United States of America, and he asked people to come in secretly and who came in was secret. When they met was secret. What they talked about was secret. What policies were developed as a result of that input was secret. Who got the tax breaks as a result of those discussions is secret. Who got the public subsidies from American taxpayers was secret. What deals were cut to give American taxpayers' money away to multi-million dollar corporations was secret. It was secret then, it is secret now, and apparently the executive branch wants to keep that secret to infinity, to eternity.

Now, this has caused extreme angst and concern of my constituents, and I hear about this problem frequently. So what has happened as a result of that abnormal, unusual, unjustified secrecy is some citizens have challenged that, rightfully so, I believe, in court. At least one significant court, a court of appeals, has ruled that this veil of secrecy should be lifted.

Appropriately, that matter is now pending before the U.S. Supreme Court. The executive branch has appealed. They have the right to appeal that, and we respect their right to appeal that so that the Supreme Court can decide the legal issue, and it is important for the Supreme Court to decide this legal issue, and we have no problem with the executive branch making whatever arguments they believe are appropriate to have this matter dealt with.

However, when it is dealt with, it has to be done in a manner that is consistent with American jurisprudence and consistent with Americans' expectation that the carving in the marble over the Supreme Court is going to be more than a carving because the carving says, "Equal Justice Under Law," and Americans expect equal justice under law; and when they expect equal justice under law, they expect that everyone will be treated equally, that there will not be personal relationships that could possibly influence the decision of the highest court, the bastion of liberty, the single most important court in the world that has been the bastion of preserving our personal individual liberties since the beginning of this country.

Now, I am going to display a little bit of pride in the American judicial system for a minute. I am an old lawyer, a small-town practicing lawyer; and I really, truly believe that the American independent judicial system is one of, if not the principal, the reasons we have personal liberties in America today, because the Supreme Court of the United States historically has been a guardian of personal liberty, has protected the first amendment. It has protected our rights of freedom of speech. It has protected our rights of freedom of religion. It has protected our rights that we enjoy in reality, not just in paper, because you know what? The Soviet Union had the same bill of rights we do. They just did not have the courts to enforce them.

We have a judicial system that is independent, and rightfully, from the political winds that blow, as much as we can make it, so that it will make decisions based on freedom rather than politics. So I believe very strongly in how important a clean, even-handed, fair, independent judiciary is to American democracy; and I believe right now that is at risk, that Americans' trust in that system is at risk.

Now, I will not mention one decision that had a little controversy associated with it at the beginning of this administration. That is history. We do not want to talk about that, but today we have a situation where the Vice President, whose name is attached to this specific litigation, to decide whether or not his secret plan will remain secret, rather his cabal of people he got into the room, who he will not tell us about, will always remain secret and Americans will never know about it. Clearly, he has an interest in the resolution politically and a great sense personally in the resolution of this issue, and I respect the Vice President's right and the executive branch's right to have this matter heard on a fair basis by the U.S. Supreme Court.

But we know that what has happened is in a fairly short time, before this matter will be heard before the U.S. Supreme Court, we are told in press reports that the Vice President of the United States invited one of the nine people, the only nine people in the world that can affect his secret task force or the secrecy of his task force, of only nine people in the world who can help him win his victory to keep this information from the American public, he invited one of them to come down to a duck hunting club in the South, I believe it was Louisiana, invited him, gave him free, I believe, I am told, a flight down on a jet to this duck hunting club where they could hobnob in secrecy for several days, where the American public was not invited into their discussions, where they did whatever people rightfully do in duck blinds across the world, which I respect and admire and am somewhat jealous of, which is great, and we admire collegiality.

We admire people enjoying each other's company, but we cannot allow Americans to doubt the integrity of the United States Supreme Court, and when a Vice President of the United States, whose name is attached to the very litigation that we are associated with, whose political fate is somewhat tied up ultimately in the outcome of this litigation, who has the entire country focusing on the energy policy rightfully of this country, that is going to be decided by his duck hunting buddy, Americans are not wholly confident about that situation.

We have a concept in the law called "an appearance of fairness," and I do not mean any personal disrespect for the particular Justice involved here. I do not mean to demean his stature in any way, but under the circumstances of this case, it is not up to the standards of the American judicial system to have that situation exist while one of the nine people involved, where there is no further appeal, this is not just the district court where you can say well if the one district court makes a mistake later on, some appellate judge is going to clean it up. There is no more cleaning up after the U.S. Supreme Court. This is it.

That is why I believe that it was a mistake of significant order for the Vice President of the United States to invite someone who will be deciding his case on this vacation shortly before this decision is going to be decided, and I can tell you that this has not helped restore the integrity and maintain the integrity of the U.S. Supreme Court on the high levels of expectations that we should have, and this is not a personal issue. It is a matter of integrity of the American judicial system.

Now, this is all tied up and it kind of flows from the concept of secrecy. I mean, what we found is that in public life openness and sunshine is the antivirus agent and the best antivirus agent for things that are not healthy in American democracy; and what the Vice President has found is his insistence of not allowing public disclosure of this information has resulted in this controversy, which is most unfortunate.

We have legitimate policy disagreements with this administration, about energy policy. We believe that the administration's energy policy is a tremendous energy policy for 2 centuries ago, in that it was very successful in handing out tremendous special interest breaks to large corporations, many in the fossil fuel business, that are not sufficiently visionary to deal with what we need to really break our addiction to Saudi Arabian oil, to stop global warming, and to grow new jobs in this country.

[Time: 16:00]

And we have a better policy, we believe.

But before we get to the policy, this administration needs to come clean with the American people about what type of back-door, closed-room dealing went on to create this proposal by them. And this administration should not infect the judicial system. The executive branch here should not infect the judicial system here by carrying this secret policy all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and thereby reducing not only the respect for the executive branch but for the judicial branch as well.

I think at this point it would be well advised for the Supreme Court to consider this as a court, not as an individual judge or justice to resolve what its policies should be. I have heard the justification by the particular justice involved here. He has suggested that social interaction of one nature or another is to be expected in Washington, D.C. People are going to bump into each other at charity banquets, receptions and galas, and he is entirely correct. Those things will happen and they are expected, and I have never heard that anybody would gripe if this particular justice would have bumped into the Vice President at the former Members of Congress reception I was at the other night. I do not think anybody would have been raising a hue and cry about that issue.

The fact of the matter here is that we are talking about a very visible, important, and national public policy decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, and the gentleman who is the very person whose conduct is in question in this litigation spent several days, with very few other people, in a duck blind in Louisiana before this major national decision will be made by this sitting justice, based on discussions he has had with this Vice President, with no public disclosure whatsoever. And I am here to say that is wrong.

Republicans believe that is wrong, Independents believe that is wrong, Democrats believe that is wrong, and most importantly those who believe in the integrity of the American judicial system believe that is wrong. And I am one of them. I walk by the U.S. Supreme Court every day on my way to work. It is a beautiful white building. And the reason it is beautiful is it has maintained the trust of the American people that they will get a fair deal ultimately in the U.S. Supreme Court. The minute that they cannot believe that we have got big problems in American democracy.

I am encouraging the executive to rethink this entire secrecy policy and the U.S. Supreme Court to consider it as well, and I appreciate the gentleman bringing this to our attention.


Mr. INSLEE. And let me say why I think this is so important. This is not important to Democrats, this is important to all Americans, Republicans, Independents, Green Party, you name it. Again, the reason is this is the people's House, the House of Representatives. We like to believe we do a good, and we do a good job some of the time at least, when we win our battles anyway, but we have to understand that the way people set up this country is that they had a peculiar genius and they understood to protect individual liberty they were going to need a separate entity that could stand alone and could even stand against sometimes very passionate emotional issues for individual liberty. That in our system of justice has been, I believe, a major tenet of the success of American democracy.

Brown vs. Board of Education came from the Supreme Court. It did not come from the House of Representatives. The protection of people's civil liberties and their religious expression came from the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court has enforced the Bill of Rights in a lot of ways. And unless the Supreme Court remains inviolate and enjoys the popular support of the American people to understand they are going to get a fair shake, then those individual liberties are in danger.

So I think this is much bigger than the energy task force. Although this is important, the issue of secrecy, but what is more important is the basic trust of the American people in that white marble building there that I believe is at risk in this very, very high profile decision. That is why I believe the Supreme Court should make a decision as a group on this, not as individual justices, because they as a group have a stake in this particular controversy.

Again, I do not blame the Supreme Court. I think this was a mistake by the Vice President to initiate this controversy both in the secrecy aspect of it and the effort to have these out of court contacts with the person who will be deciding the case. So we hope that those things are remedied.

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