The investigative arm of the U.S. Congress has taken the unprecedented step of suing Vice President Dick Cheney over his refusal to provide information about the Bush administration's energy task force.
The investigative arm of Congress is the General Accounting Office, the GAO. For several months now, the GAO has demanded a list of officials from private companies who met with Mr. Cheney in his capacity as chairman of the president's energy policy task force.
Among the company officials who met with the vice president are representatives from the now bankrupt Enron Corporation, a firm that is the focus of several congressional investigations.
The General Accounting Office says it has a right to know who met with the vice president on energy matters and what was discussed.
Mr. Cheney has firmly refused to provide the information, insisting that to do so would compromise the ability of the president and his aides to get the views of people in the private sector.
The battle will now be fought out in federal court and officials on both sides indicate that a negotiated settlement appears unlikely.
Presidential scholar Norman Ornstein at the American Enterprise Institute says Vice President Cheney appears determined to reverse a trend that began in the wake of the Watergate scandal in the mid-1970s. "We have seen an erosion of privacy, an erosion of deliberation, an erosion of executive powers," he said. "It does go back to the Nixon era in little bits and pieces."
But Mr. Ornstein and other analysts say the downside for the vice president is the risk that the public will see his refusal to provide the information as an effort to hide politically damaging revelations involving the Bush administration and the now disgraced Enron Corporation.