Cheney's Mystery Visitors

By Michael A. Fletcher
Monday, June 4, 2007

So you thought that maybe, just maybe, Vice President Cheney was mellowing in his controversial campaign to reestablish executive powers and prerogatives that he feels had been eroded since Watergate. Okay, so you didn't think that. And you were right not to.

A Sept. 13, 2006, letter from Cheney's counsel, Shannen W. Coffin, to the Secret Service that surfaced last week made clear that Cheney intends to exercise "exclusive control" of the logs showing who is visiting him or his staff at the White House compound or at the vice presidential residence at the Naval Observatory.

In the letter, Coffin reiterated Cheney's position that the vice president's office should be the sole keeper of the visitor logs and the Secret Service should not. Other administrations have relinquished the records in the face of congressional investigations.

But the Bush administration's policy puts the visitor records out of reach of the Freedom of Information Act and off-limits to reporters and interest groups trying to determine who is meeting with the vice president or his staff.

The logs instead are classified as presidential records and would be available only to researchers once the administration has receded into history. The private group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) has filed suit seeking the logs to determine the influence of religious conservatives.

"What is the vice president's office trying to avoid making public?" asked Anne Weisman, CREW's chief counsel.

The White House calls its position a matter of principle, saying in a court declaration that it is aimed at preserving "the effective functioning of the vice presidency under the Constitution." To release the information, it says, would "impinge on the ability of the OVP to gather information in confidence."

Countered Weismann: "I think they really are taking this to a new extreme in terms of their unwillingness to reveal any of the inner workings of the White House and what goes on when, after all, they are doing the people's business."

Korea Comparisons

Should Americans be bracing themselves for a half-century military presence in Iraq? Will it take that long to plant and secure the flag of democracy in the heart of the Middle East? The Bush administration isn't saying precisely, but top officials raised some eyebrows and plenty of fears last week by comparing the situation in Iraq to that in Korea, where U.S. forces have been stationed since the Korean War's hostilities ended in 1953 (the war, technically, continues).

First, White House spokesman Tony Snow said President Bush has cited the Korea analogy in projecting the future U.S. role in Iraq. Without some buffering presence, Bush and other top officials worry, the Shiite-Sunni violence now raging in Iraq, coupled with Iran's nuclear ambitions, could envelop the Middle East, triggering widespread sectarian violence and unleashing a deadly arms race between Sunni and Shiite nations.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates seconded that notion late last week, saying that a "protracted" U.S. presence is necessary in Iraq. Despite the public clamor for U.S. troops to leave Iraq, Gates warned that the United States will not withdraw from Iraq as it did from Vietnam "lock, stock and barrel."

The speculation did not sit well with Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.). He called the comparison between Korea and "the endless civil war in Iraq" another sign of the administration's "failed policy" in Iraq.

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