By MATT APUZZO
The Associated Press
Thursday, October 19, 2006; 10:56 PM
WASHINGTON -- A federal judge has ordered the Bush administration to release information about who visited Vice President Dick Cheney's office and personal residence, an order that could spark a late election-season debate over lobbyists' White House access.
While researching the access lobbyists and others had on the White House, The Washington Post asked in June for two years of White House visitor logs. The Secret Service refused to process the request, which government attorneys called "a fishing expedition into the most sensitive details of the vice presidency."
U.S. District Judge Ricardo M. Urbina said Wednesday that, by the end of next week, the Secret Service must produce the records or at least identity them and justify why they are being withheld.
The Secret Service can still try to withhold the records but, in a written ruling Thursday, Urbina questioned the agency's primary argument _ that the logs are protected by Cheney's right to executive privilege.
Republicans have suffered a spate of bad news lately. Ohio Rep. Bob Ney pleaded guilty in the Jack Abramoff lobbying investigation, Florida Rep. Mark Foley resigned after reports of his sexually explicit Internet conversations with teenage House pages, and the FBI intensified its corruption investigation into Pennsylvania Rep. Curt Weldon.
If Cheney's visitor logs show meetings with lobbyists, releasing them just weeks before Election Day could provide ammunition to Democrats.
"The political price is very high," said L. Sandy Maisel, director of the Goldfarb Center for Public Affairs at Colby College. "Even more than that, Cheney has a vested interest in keeping them out of public eye at a time when people will pay attention to them. After the election, they will pay much less attention."
The newspaper sought logs for anyone visiting Cheney, his legal counsel, chief spokesman and other top aides and advisers.
The Secret Service had no comment on the ruling Thursday. In court documents, government attorneys said releasing the documents would infringe on Cheney's ability to seek advice.
"This case is about protecting the effective functioning of the vice presidency under the Constitution," attorneys wrote.
A lawsuit over similar records revealed last month that Republican activists Grover Norquist and Ralph Reed _ key figures in the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal _ landed more than 100 meetings inside the Bush White House.
The Post cited those records, which were released to the Democratic Party and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, as evidence that the documents should be released.