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Cheney Role in Water Policy Explored

Associated Press
Wednesday, August 1, 2007

The Interior Department's inspector general found no political interference by Vice President Cheney on a key environmental policy in part because investigators were not looking for it, an Interior official told lawmakers yesterday.

A 2004 report by the inspector general found no basis for an assertion 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, the department's deputy inspector general.

"In the end, we don't know what we don't know," Kendall told members of the House Natural Resources Committee at a hearing exploring Cheney's role in the Klamath policy.

The Washington Post reported in June that Cheney arranged for Sue Ellen Wooldridge, a high-ranking Interior official, to brief his staff weekly while the Bush administration was reworking water policy for the drought-plagued 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 by Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.), they did not ask about Cheney, she said.

Democrats contend that Cheney's intervention on the side of farmers who needed water for irrigation contributed to a 2002 die-off of an estimated 77,000 salmon, the largest fish kill ever in the West.

Republicans counter that there is no evidence that Cheney did anything improper and no indication that his actions were to blame for the fish kill.

Cheney declined to appear at the House hearing, and a spokeswoman had no comment.

Wooldridge, who has since left the government, could not be reached yesterday.

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