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.

Bush Aide Back to Iraq

Two months ago, Meghan O'Sullivan said she would leave her post as the top White House staff member on Iraq to pursue opportunities outside of government. Seems like those opportunities are being put on hold, at least for the summer.

At the request of Bush and Gen. David H. Petraeus, O'Sullivan is headed back to Iraq, where she will be working with U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker for the next several months on helping the Iraqis meet political benchmarks the United States is insisting on to achieve national reconciliation. These include measures to distribute oil revenue throughout the country, hold provincial elections and allow former Baathists back into the government. Bush disclosed the new assignment after meeting with Iraqi President Jalal T alabani at the White House on Thursday.

"Meghan has been a integral part of our team here at the White House," Bush told reporters after the meeting. "She has been in Iraq before. She's going back to serve with Ambassador Crocker, to help the Iraqis -- and to help the embassy help the Iraqis -- meet the benchmarks that the Congress and the president expect to get passed. I want to thank Meghan for her dedicated service to a free Iraq."

O'Sullivan, 37, worked in Iraq as an aide to the first U.S. administrator, Jay Garner, and then for L. Paul Bremer, and she is well acquainted with many of the leading personalities and the byzantine politics of Iraq. That's probably the attraction for Bush and Petraeus, since achieving a stable political settlement in Iraq is as much a challenge for the United States as maintaining security.

O'Sullivan will leave for Iraq this week, and her NSC duties will be taken over by the new "war czar," Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute, who is awaiting Senate confirmation for his posting. Lute is scheduled to appear this week before the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Director of Political Affairs

Bush did not stray far in finding a political affairs director to replace the departed Sara Taylor. On Friday, the White House announced that Jonathan D. Felts would take over the post. Felts, a North Carolina native, served most recently as head of political affairs for Cheney. Earlier, he served as associate director of the White House Office of Political Affairs and as North Carolina executive director of Bush-Cheney '04.

Quote of the Week

Former House speaker and possible 2008 GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich on the current state of the Republican Party, which he said has not been in worse shape since Watergate:

"Let me be clear: 28 percent approval of the president, losing every closely contested Senate seat except one, every one that involved an incumbent -- that's a collapse," Gingrich said in an interview with the New Yorker.

View all comments that have been posted about this article.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company