Who is David Addington? The simple answer is that he's Vice President Cheney's former legal counsel and, since the indictment and resignation of Scooter Libby in October, Cheney's chief of staff. But behind the scenes, the polite but implacable Addington has been a chief advocate for the interrogation and surveillance policies that have created a legal crisis for the Bush administration.
Addington, 48, is in many ways Cheney's Cheney. Like his boss, he has exercised immense power without leaving many fingerprints. He operates with a decorous, low-key manner, but colleagues say he can intimidate and sometimes bully opponents. Though working out of the relative obscurity of the vice president's office, he has been able to impose his will on Cabinet secretaries and other senior administration officials. His influence rests on two pillars: his unyielding conviction that the powers of the president cannot be abridged in wartime, and the total support he receives from Cheney.
Addington's relationship with Cheney developed during the 1980s, when the two learned the same hardball lessons about national security. Addington worked as an assistant general counsel at Bill Casey's no-holds-barred CIA from 1981 to '84, where a friend says he loved the culture of "go-go guys with a license to hunt." He got to know Cheney when he moved to Capitol Hill as a staffer for the House intelligence committee and later the Iran-contra committee. "David has seared in his mind the restrictive amendments tying the president's hand in funding the contras," remembers Bruce Fein, a Republican attorney who worked on the Iran-contra committee. Addington moved with Cheney to the Pentagon as his special assistant and later became Defense Department general counsel.
What drives Addington is a belief that the president's wartime powers are, essentially, unfettered, argues Rep. Jane Harman, the ranking Democrat on the House intelligence committee who has attended highly classified briefings with him on detention and surveillance issues. "He believes that in time of war, there is total authority for the president to waive any rules to carry out his objectives. Those views have extremely dangerous implications." Harman's efforts to negotiate compromises with Addington on interrogation issues were rebuffed, she says, by his insistence that "it's dangerous to tie the president's hands in any way."
Friends and former colleagues describe Addington as a man who thrives on his invisibility. He lives in a modest house in Northern Virginia, takes the subway to work, and shuns the parties and perks of office. He usually has the same simple meal every day -- a bowl of gazpacho soup. Though born in Washington, he styles himself as a "rugged Montana man" in the image of his boss, and he has a photo in his office of Cheney shooting a gun.
Addington's role has been the hard man -- the ideological enforcer. Most mornings during the first term, he would join the staff meeting in the White House counsel's office -- and take potshots at anyone he regarded as insufficiently committed to the president's agenda. "It was very surprising if anyone took a position more conservative than David, and this was a very conservative office," recalls one former colleague. "He was the hardest of the hard-core."
A special target of Addington's needling during the first term was John B. Bellinger III, at the time the chief legal adviser to national security adviser Condoleezza Rice. Addington would attack any sign of caution or wariness from Bellinger about proposed policies, breaking in to say, "That's too liberal," or "You're giving away executive power," remembers a colleague. Bellinger is now Rice's legal adviser at the State Department.
Addington's most bruising fights have been with colleagues at the Justice Department and the Pentagon who challenged his views on interrogation of enemy combatants. He pushed Justice's Office of Legal Counsel to prepare a 2002 memo authorizing harsh interrogation methods. When that memo was later withdrawn, Addington was furious. Last year, he successfully blocked the appointment of one critic, Patrick Philbin, as deputy solicitor general, even though Attorney General Alberto Gonzales wanted him in that role. Also last year, Addington was so adamant in resisting the efforts of a Pentagon official named Matthew Waxman to limit interrogation that Waxman eventually quit and is now moving to the State Department.
"David is a fight-to-the-end kind of a guy," says one former colleague. "If you made it clear that you opposed him, he'd go to war with you. David was not an adversary you would want."
Even people who describe themselves as friends of Addington believe that he has damaged President Bush politically by pressing anti-terrorism policies to the legal breaking point. And for many Republicans who bear scars from Addington, his story raises the ultimate question about the Bush White House: Who's in charge here?