December 5, 2005
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 Development
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" before Congress.
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 himself.
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
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
The Post article’s revelations arrive amidst an
ongoing legal struggle 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. However, the environmentalist organization
Sierra Club and the right-wing Judicial Watch have 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, succeeded when a federal judge ruled on October 17,
2002, that the White House must turn over task force documents.
Cheney then appealed to the Supreme Court, which recently agreed
to hear the White House’s challenge against the court ruling.
The Supreme Court hearing will take place some time after February,
and a ruling should be handed down before June.
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 will fully resolve 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 French concerns.
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
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.