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Transcript: Bill Moyers Interviews Larry Klayman


BILL MOYERS: We had a reminder this week in the role courts play in how democracy works and for whom. Faithful viewers of this program know that from our very first broadcast 18 months ago, we've been following the fight over the public's right to know which corporate executives and lobbyists helped Vice President Cheney write the administration's energy plan. The plan calls for opening public lands for oil and gas drilling, greater reliance on nuclear power and many other steps backed by industry.

The White House has fought tooth and nail to keep from disclosing exactly who came to advise them on this plan. This week the Federal Court of Appeals in the District of Columbia upheld a lower court's order that the Vice President release that information or give very good and detailed reasons why not. Larry Klayman is here to discuss the court's decision.

He's the founder and chairman of Judicial Watch, a conservative watchdog group that along with the Sierra Club, the big environmental organization, filed lawsuits demanding that Vice President Cheney release his records. Welcome back to NOW.

KLAYMAN: Bill. Good to see you.

MOYERS: Why was this decision so important to you?

KLAYMAN: It's a huge decision, because it really sets a precedent. It lays a marker down for the Bush-Cheney administration that they have to be more open. That they don't… they shouldn't practice this policy of secrecy. And in fact as a conservative organization that believes that the individual should have rights, that wants lesser government, the Bush administration should, being conservative as well, so it claims, welcome this decision.

Because you want the people to know what's going on. That's how you develop confidence. And the administration's gonna need that going forward, particularly over some of the uncertainty about the intelligence in the war of Iraq and things like that.

MOYERS: Exactly what did the court decide this week?

KLAYMAN: The court said, number one, that you can't take an appeal before the case is over. And the administration obviously knew that. They were just trying to delay things.

MOYERS: What do you mean? I don't understand that.

KLAYMAN: In other words, the Bush administration had already lost in this case about three or four times. They were…

MOYERS: In the lower court?

KLAYMAN: In the lower court. And there were orders saying, "You have to produce these documents about how you formulated energy policy inside your task force at the White House." But despite those decisions, the Bush administration disobeyed those decisions and decided to go up to the higher court.

MOYERS: Will the White House take this to the Supreme Court?

KLAYMAN: They may try to do that. I think they'd be ill advised to do that. I think what they should do right now, Bill, is just to roll with the punch. And say, "Let's disclose the documents that aren't legitimately privileged. Let's come out with it right now."

And it's in their advantage to do that because of some of the questions that have arisen about whether or not the administration was being totally candid going into the war of Iraq. Let's have a new open policy. And I think it'll help the Republican party and help Bush if he does it.

MOYERS: The administration's energy bill is being debated even as we speak in Congress. Is there an effort on the part of the administration to keep this legal fight… to postpone this legal fight, delay it as long as possible, until what you're trying to find out about how that energy plan was put together is moot?

KLAYMAN: Certainly, Bill. Look, we're already three years into this administration. We just got a ruling from the D.C. appellate court to start turning over the documents. They've almost run it out beyond the year 2004.

That delay was effectively used not just by this Bush administration, but by the prior administration. And they learn from each other. They perfect the technique. And they also believe that if they can stretch it out long enough, the public will lose interest. It'll… the attention span'll be less.

MOYERS: The White House claims that you and the Sierra Club are private groups and that you simply are not entitled to access to inside information about what was going on at the White House. You're private groups.

KLAYMAN: If you're a conservative, you believe that the individual, the citizen, has rights. That's the fundamental principle of being a conservative. That the government is not all-powerful and is not like Big Brother and gets to hide things from you and make decisions for you.

So I don't understand the White House's policy. They would be well advised to change it. And it would be good for them politically to change it because they're creating a terrible impression with the American people that there's something there that's being hidden.

Were there energy executives behind closed doors offering up contributions for special deals? Now we know we uncovered one document in the… at the Energy Department. Not inside the bowels of the White House. And that document was from Chevron.

And it said, "We'd like you to relax the restrictions on doing business with the terrorist state of Libya." That was right before 9/11. Now are those the kinds of things that administration doesn't want the American to see? The American people to see? Let's be out with it. And let's debate it.

MOYERS: Do you think the administration, as has been charged by some Democrats and others, some media… do you think the administration is stonewalling the investigation into what happened on 9/11?

KLAYMAN: I do. And it's exactly the same thing that's occurring right now. The 9/11 commission, which is composed of various recycled politicians and others. I wish they aren't politicians, but let's take it as it is.

The 9/11 commission is being denied access to documents. It's being denied access to talking to certain people. We're already almost two years after 9/11. We're on the outer edges of perhaps another terrorist attack. Osama bin Laden works at two year intervals.

We know that. We represent some active FBI agents and retired FBI agents. That's what they believe. And we need to know what we didn't do correctly up to 9/11 to make sure it doesn't happen again. And unless you have full disclosure to this commission, how can you do it?

The secrecy that led up to 9/11 was due to politicians not talking about how we hadn't protected our populace from Osama bin Laden and others.

Now, we've got to peel off that secrecy to correct the situation. And this Homeland Security Department, that's just like rearranging the chairs on the Titanic. In fact, maybe it was put together in one department to further secrecy.

MOYERS: The decision this week was two to one for you. The two votes were Democratic appointees to the appellate court. The one vote against you was a Republican appointed by George Bush's father. Does this say anything to you about the importance of making sure that the judiciary is always balanced?

KLAYMAN: I just came back from Paris. As the French would say, "Quelle coincidence." You know I can go into court and I can predict with unbelievable certainty, Bill, just based on the political affiliations of judges how they're gonna vote before I even make my argument.

And here I had two Democrat judges voting for me here. Voting for Larry Klayman, a conservative. And the conservative judge really stretching things. I mean he really went way out on a limb and said, "This act, this Federal Advisory Committee Act, where we're seeking these documents is unconstitutional."

And the arguments which he relied upon where not even in the briefs of the Bush administration. He was stretching. He was doing the administration a favor. And that does tell you something about the judiciary. That we need non-political, non-biased judges who follow the law, and it shouldn't matter whether you're a conservative or a liberal. When you go in the court, you should get an honest decision.

MOYERS: Do you think our courts are becoming too political, too polarized?

KLAYMAN: They are. And Democrats and Republicans are both responsible for that. The Democrats had their maneuvers to delay judges when the Republicans wanted them. That's happening now and the Republicans did the same thing during the Clinton administration.

And we need good judges. But we need honest people in the bench. I'm talking intellectually honest, who don't do things because of their political ideology. The law is the law.

MOYERS: When do you think you will actually get your hands on some of these documents?

KLAYMAN: Very soon. You'll start seeing these documents coming out in the latter part of this year.

And they may show no wrongdoing by the Bush administration. We've never presumed that there were… there were illegal acts. But we need to have full disclosure. Because energy policy is so much tied to the war in terrorism that it's even a matter of national security that the American people know what's going on.

MOYERS: When you get your hands on those documents, will you come back and tell us what you've found?

KLAYMAN: I'll be happy to.

MOYERS: Larry Klayman, Judicial Watch. Thank you for being with us on NOW.

KLAYMAN: You're welcome. Thank you.

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