Commentary: Gore's failure to respond is outrageous, unacceptable

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Sometimes government officials treat the American people like growing mushrooms - keep them in the dark and cover them with manure. And whenever that happens, it is infuriating and inexcusable.

It happens every day in Washington, but one current situation is particularly odorous.

For more than a year at the Center for Public Integrity, we have been attempting to ascertain a relatively simple, straightforward question: What did Vice President Al Gore — who has deep personal and financial ties to Occidental Petroleum — know and when did he know it about the sale of the Elk Hills oil reserve to that company? In The Buying of the President 2000, we first wrote about the deal, initiated by Gore’s “Reinventing Government” project, which tripled Occidental’s domestic oil reserves overnight.

Gore has never been willing to talk to us — or, apparently, anyone else — about it. The Freedom of Information Act does not apply to the White House, so his appointment calendar, phone logs and private memoranda are all unavailable. And for nearly a year, the Department of Energy has stonewalled our requests for information on the Elk Hills bidding process.

Since when is the bidding process for the unprecedented, multibillion-dollar sale of public land secret? That is, simply stated, outrageous and unacceptable. We will get this information eventually, via the courts. But all of that will occur after this election.

The vice president should answer two basic questions. First, how is it that this largest privatization of federal land occurred for the first time in 70 years, in a time of no energy crisis? And to what extent were the vice president or his loyal colleagues in the White House involved in the decision to unload this valuable land to his family’s largest source of wealth, Occidental Petroleum?

It is difficult for the Republicans to raise these questions, of course, because Messrs. George W. Bush and Dick Cheney are both former oil executives, sensitive to such an unusual historic precedence. And reporters have not raised it in part because there is no direct, documentary evidence of official wrongdoing by Mr. Gore.

But the entire situation, however unclear or frustrating, is relevant to the American people. And that is why we have persisted in asking these inconvenient questions, and presented to you whatever information we have gleaned.

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