By Michael Abramowitz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 27, 2007
Vice President Cheney's office offered its first public written explanation yesterday for its refusal to comply with an executive order regulating the handling of classified material, arguing that the order makes clear that the vice president is not subject to the oversight system it creates for federal agencies.
In a letter to Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), Cheney Chief of Staff David S. Addington wrote that the order treats the vice president the same as the president and distinguishes them both from "agencies" subject to the oversight provisions of the executive order.
Addington did not cite specific language in the executive order supporting this view, and a Cheney spokeswoman could not point to such language last night. But spokeswoman Lee Anne McBride said the intent of the order, as expressed by White House officials in recent days, was "not for the VP to be separated from the president on this reporting requirement."
Addington did not repeat a separate argument that has been previously advanced by Cheney's office: that it is not strictly an executive branch agency but also shares legislative functions because the vice president presides over the Senate. That argument has drawn ridicule in recent days from Democrats and on late-night television.
Addington suggested in his letter that it was not necessary to rehash that dispute. "Given that the executive order treats the Vice President like the President rather than like an 'agency,' " he wrote, "it is not necessary in these circumstances to address the subject of any alternative reasoning, based on the law and the legislative functions of the vice presidency. . . ."
The controversy arises from the revelation last week, by Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.), that the vice president's office has not cooperated since 2003 with officials at the National Archives and Records Administration, who are charged with policing executive branch compliance with rules protecting classified information. In a letter to Cheney, Waxman wrote that the vice president's office had not responded to letters from the National Archives contesting its legal position.
Cheney's aides have not filed reports on their possession of classified data and blocked an inspection of their office by officials at the National Archives, according to documents released last week by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which Waxman chairs.
Addington's legal argument yesterday has previously been rejected by the director of the Archives' Information Security Oversight Office, J. William Leonard. In a letter to Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales in January, Leonard noted that the 2003 executive order includes only one explicit reference to the Office of the Vice President.
"This sole explicit reference for the purpose of exempting the OVP from a provision of the Order supports an interpretation that the rest of the Order does apply," Leonard wrote. "Otherwise there would be no need for an exemption."
Kerry rejected Addington's arguments. "This legalistic response raises more questions than it purports to answer," the senator said in a statement. "I . . . ask again for the Vice President's office to plainly answer the question of whether he considers himself outside the realm of agency scrutiny."