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WASHINGTON PLAYS GOTCHA WITH OIL COMPANY EXECS

Bob Tippee
Editor

Gotcha.

It's a game they play in Washington, DC.

Someone in the public spotlight says something that seems to conflict with something he or she said at some other time and possibly in some other context.

Whoever notices the discrepancy and hollers "Gotcha!" first wins a candy bar.

Well, not exactly. What really happens is that hearings are held, investigations are launched, and scandals are reported. That's usually all there is to it.

The game gets a lot of attention in the US Capital. Elsewhere, people shake their heads at the sickening pettiness of it all.

Five oil company executives who were summoned to a Senate joint committee hearing on oil prices Nov. 9 now find themselves in the game.

At the hearing, Sen. Frank L. Lautenberg (D-NJ) asked if the executives or representatives of their companies participated in Vice-President Dick Cheney's energy task force in 2001. Four answered no, and the fifth said he wasn't with his company at the time.

A week later the Washington Post reported on a document indicating the executives or representatives of their companies did meet with the Cheney task force. Gotcha!

Leaders of one of the committees followed up with requests for clarification. The executives have supplied written statements essentially confirming what they said in the hearing, some pointing out that contact between industry representatives and government officials is nothing extraordinary (OGJ Online, Dec. 1, 2005).

Lautenberg has requested an investigation by the Justice Department of possible violations of the federal "false statements" statute. He has accused Senate Republicans of trying to "protect Big Oil." He has issued a legal analysis of the question whether someone can be said to have participated on a task force without having been an official member. (Yes, he concludes).

One hates to disrupt politicians at play, but the US faces real energy problems. Whether or not someone took part in Cheney's energy task force, member or not, is not one of them.

Lautenberg's witch hunt, like the tawdry hearing from which it emerged, does nothing to fortify confidence in the ability of Congress to deal with energy.

(Online Dec. 2, 2005; author's e-mail: bobt@ogjonline.com)


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