Investigators not told about Cheney contact, official says
MATTHEW DALY Capital Press
(AP) - The Interior Department's inspector general did not
find political interference by Vice President Dick Cheney on a
key environmental policy in part because investigators were
not looking for it, an Interior official said Tuesday.
A 2004 report by the inspector general found no basis for a
claim by Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry that
White House political advisers interfered in developing water
policy in the Klamath River Basin in California and Oregon.
But investigators did not ask about Cheney - and no Interior
employee volunteered information about him, said Mary Kendall,
deputy Interior inspector general.
A former high-ranking Interior official, Sue Ellen Wooldridge,
told The Washington Post that Cheney contacted her on a
regular basis in 2001 and 2002, when the Bush administration
was reworking water policy for the water-starved basin.
Wooldridge, who oversaw Klamath policy, never told
investigators about her contacts with Cheney, Kendall said.
And because investigators were focusing on White House
political adviser Karl Rove - who was singled out in the
Democratic complaint - they did not ask about Cheney, Kendall
"In the end, we don't know what we don't know," she told
members of the House Natural Resources Committee at a hearing
exploring Cheney's role in the Klamath.
Democrats charge that Cheney - by intervening on the side of
farmers who needed water for irrigation - contributed to a
2002 die-off of about 70,000 salmon, the largest adult salmon
kill in the history of the West.
Republicans counter that there is no evidence that Cheney did
anything improper, nor that his actions were to blame for the
Cheney declined to appear at Tuesday's hearing, and a
spokeswoman had no comment.
Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., told Kendall he was "perplexed by
the notion that maybe Dick Cheney did something in the
background that you didn't spot."
In the 2004 report, Inspector General Earl Devaney said he
"found no evidence of political influence affecting the
decisions pertaining to water in the Klamath Project. The
individuals at the working-levels denied feeling pressured at
Walden called the report "pretty comprehensive." If Cheney had
exerted undue influence, the inspector general was likely to
have noticed, Walden and other Republicans said.
"I take that (report) to mean they didn't feel pressure from
Karl Rove, Vice President Cheney, the president, the pope or
anyone else," said Rep. John Doolittle, R-Calif.
But Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., the panel's chairman, said
Cheney has a history of acting in secret, and said
Wooldridge's comments to the Post contradicted her statements
to Interior Department investigators.
Wooldridge, who has since left government, could not be
reached Tuesday. She told the Post in a June 27 article that
Cheney "was coming from the perspective that the farmers had
to be able to farm - that was his concern. The fact that the
vice president was interested meant that everyone paid
Rahall said he was concerned that Wooldridge - who resigned in
January amid news reports she purchased a vacation home with
former Interior Deputy Secretary J. Steven Griles and a
ConocoPhillips lobbyist - did not reveal her contacts with
Cheney to the inspector general's office. Wooldridge recently
married Griles, who pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice
in the Jack Abramoff influence-peddling scandal.
"If she spoke to the press and not to the inspector general,
that sends a bad signal that there was a fear of
repercussions," Rahall said.
While Wooldridge is now a private citizen, Rahall said he was
considering whether to force her to testify to the Resources
panel about her dealings with Cheney. "These activities
occurred while she was at the (Interior) department," he said,
adding that her resignation should not be an excuse to avoid
appearing before his committee.
Meanwhile, Michael Kelly, a biologist who worked on Klamath
issues for the National Marine Fisheries Service, told the
committee that "someone at a higher level" instructed his team
of scientists to endorse a plan to divert water to Klamath
farmers, regardless of the consequences to salmon and other
The agency's decision in early 2002 - months before the fish
kill - "was no accident," Kelly said. "Someone at a higher
level than the regional NMFS office was responsible for
forcing the illegal action."
Kelly, who has since quit the federal agency, has filed a
whistle-blower claim alleging that political concerns trumped
science in the Klamath decision.
Greg Walden's testimony to the committee at bottom of