An official White House document recently acquired by the Washington
Post puts the lie to testimony given by executives of five leading oil firms
on November 9 before a joint meeting of the Senate Energy and Commerce committees
regarding their collaboration in 2001 with Vice President Dick Cheney’s
“energy task force,” officially known as the National Energy Policy
Even before the hearings, the oil bosses had been offered a blank check to
lie by Republican Commerce Committee Chairman Ted Stevens of Alaska. Stevens,
in a transparent attempt to spare the executives possible charges of perjury,
waived the normal procedure of swearing in witnesses before congressional committees.
The hearings were ostensibly called to discuss the suspiciously rapid increase
in oil prices in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, but Stevens’s maneuver
suggests that he expected the matter of Cheney’s task force might arise.
Nonetheless, the executives have placed themselves in potential legal jeopardy
through their apparently false testimony. According to US Code, it is illegal
to make “any materially false, fictitious or fraudulent statement or representation”
During the hearing, Democratic Senator Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey asked
the executives, “Did your company or any representatives in your companies
participate in Vice President Cheney’s energy task force in 2001—the
meeting?” Lee R. Raymond of Exxon Mobil, David J. O’Reilly of Chevron
and James J. Mulva of ConocoPhillips responded in the negative, while Ross Pillari
of BP America and John Hofmeister of Shell Oil pleaded ignorance.
The document acquired by the Washington Post, which is based on Secret Service
data of those admitted to the White House, directly contradicts this testimony.
Meetings occurred among top oil executives and task force director Andrew Lundquist
along with Cheney’s personal aide, Karen Y. Knutson, and possibly Cheney
As the Post reports, “According to the White House document, Rouse [former
Exxon vice president] met with task force staff members on Feb. 14, 2001. On
March 21, they met with Archie Dunham, who was chairman of Conoco. On April
12, according to the document, task force staff members met with Conoco official
Huffman and two officials from the US Oil and Gas Association, Wayne Gibbens
and Alby Modiano.
“On April 17, task force staff members met with Royal Dutch/Shell Group’s
chairman, Sir Mark Moody-Stuart, Shell Oil chairman Steven Miller and two others.
On March 22, staff members met with BP regional president Bob Malone, chief
economist Peter Davies and company employees Graham Barr and Deb Beaubien.”
Confronted with documentation that such meetings in fact took place, the oil
executives and the vice president have remained obstinate. Only one former executive
who met the task force, Allan Huffman, previously CEO of Conoco, confirmed that
he attended such a meeting in 2001. Spokesmen representing the current CEOs
stood by their apparently false testimony given to the joint Energy and Commerce
committee hearing. Cheney’s office refused to comment.
After its creation in 2001, Cheney shrouded his energy task force in secrecy
and refused to turn over relevant transcripts to the Congress’s Government
Accountability Office (GAO) under the bogus and utterly cynical claim that any
public scrutiny of White House documents would constitute an attack on the independence
of the executive branch. It had long been assumed, although never proven, that
the task force’s policy recommendations—many of which have subsequently
become law—had been either suggested or actually written by the largest
oil firms. Environmentalist groups protested that they and other concerned parties
were barred from participation.
The Post article’s revelations arrive after a protracted legal struggle
failed to force the release of White House documents related to the energy task
force. The GAO dropped its lawsuit against the White House over the affair in
2003 after losing a court case in 2002. The environmentalist organization Sierra
Club and the right-wing Judicial Watch carried forward a joint lawsuit that
began in 2001, alleging that Cheney maintained improper contact with the oil
industry in the drafting of the task force’s reports. The suit, which
demanded that the records be released, was appealed to the Supreme Court, which
on June 24, 2004, reversed a lower court ruling ordering Cheney to release the
If released, task force papers will no doubt demonstrate conclusively that
the largest oil executives played a dominant role in crafting Bush’s energy
policy. That would come as no surprise to any serious observer, and would demonstrate
once again the degree to which the federal government has become a pliant tool
wielded directly by powerful corporate interests for their own benefit. Yet,
even if especially egregious, such pandering to big business does not necessarily
imply a formal illegality, and in any case would be in keeping with longstanding
Washington tradition. So why have Cheney and the White House for so long refused
to release documentation of the meetings? And why would the oil executives care
if it were revealed they were present at task force meetings—so much so
that they provided apparently false testimony before Congress on the matter?
Only the release of the documents would have fully resolved these questions.
But one possible explanation relates directly to the immediate source of the
crisis that threatens to consume the Bush administration: the war in Iraq.
In fact, the Bush administration’s energy policy was not based
only on the dismantling of corporate regulations and the loosening of restrictions
on oil exploration in the United States. It had an even more important foreign
component: the plan to invade and colonize Iraq, and then privatize and expropriate
its enormous oil wealth for the direct benefit of American oil concerns and
US capitalism as a whole.
It has been long-since established that in 2001, Cheney’s task force
discussed Iraq’s oil. In 2003, Judicial Watch gained access to Commerce
Department papers that had been produced by the task force. Found among the
documents, according to a July 18, 2003, Associated Press report, were “a
detailed map of Iraq’s oil fields, terminals and pipelines as well as
a list entitled ‘Foreign Suitors of Iraqi Oilfield Contracts.’ ”
Among the specifically listed “foreign suitors” were Russian and
It is more than plausible that during White House meetings, oil executives
discussed such a “hypothetical” invasion of the defenseless country.
The oil companies stood to benefit enormously, and there is no reason to believe
that these powerful and well-connected men were unaware that the Bush administration
and its coterie of neo-liberal strategists had placed the invasion of Iraq as
a top priority. Indeed, the plan to invade Iraq was well known and publicly
discussed among the Washington elite for years.
Revelations that the White House in 2001—two years before the invasion
of Iraq and months before 9/11—invited oil executives to contribute planning
toward the division of Iraq’s oil wealth would take on an explosive character
under conditions in which all the official justifications—especially WMD—have
been conclusively debunked as crude fabrications, and the war itself spirals
uncontrollably toward ever-greater disaster. It would also explain why Cheney
and the White House remain so intent on preventing any public accounting of
what went on during the energy task force’s meetings, and why the oil
executives would attempt to deny their very presence.