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When Anonymity Fails, Be Nasty, Brutish and Short

David Addington, left, under subpoena, and John Yoo, back by popular demand.
David Addington, left, under subpoena, and John Yoo, back by popular demand. (By Melina Mara -- The Washington Post)

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By Dana Milbank
Friday, June 27, 2008

Throughout the Bush presidency, he toiled in secrecy deep within the White House, a mysterious and feared presence who never stepped into the sunlight of public disclosure.

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Until yesterday.

There he sat, hunched and scowling, at the witness table in front of the House Judiciary Committee: the bearded, burly form of the chief of staff and alter ego to the vice president -- Cheney's Cheney, if you will -- and the man most responsible for building President Bush's notion of an imperial presidency.

David Addington was there under subpoena. And he wasn't happy about it.

Could the president ever be justified in breaking the law? "I'm not going to answer a legal opinion on every imaginable set of facts any human being could think of," Addington growled. Did he consult Congress when interpreting torture laws? "That's irrelevant," he barked. Would it be legal to torture a detainee's child? "I'm not here to render legal advice to your committee," he snarled. "You do have attorneys of your own."

He had the grace of Gollum as he quarreled with his questioners. In response to one of the chairman's questions, he neither looked up nor spoke before finishing a note he was writing to himself. When Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) questioned his failure to remember conversations about interrogation techniques, he only looked at her and asked: "Is there a question pending, ma'am?" Finally, at the end of the hearing, Addington was asked whether he would meet privately to discuss classified matters. "You have my number," he said. "If you issue a subpoena, we'll go through this again."

Think of Addington as the id of the Bush White House. Though his hidden hand is often merely suspected -- in signing statements, torture policy and other brazen assertions of executive power -- Addington's unbridled hostility was live and unfiltered yesterday.

He sat slouched in his chair, scratching his mustache, as Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), chairman of the Constitution subcommittee, warned about "the unaccountable monarchy" before offering Addington five minutes to make an opening statement. Addington spoke for a minute and 12 seconds -- most of which was devoted to correcting two errors in Nadler's introduction.

"Is that the entirety of your statement?" the chairman asked.

"Yes, thank you," Addington replied. "I'm ready to answer your questions."

He sure was. When John Conyers (D-Mich.) inquired about Addington's pet legal concept, a "unitary executive theory" that confers extreme powers on the president, Addington dished out disdain.

"I frankly don't know what you mean by unitary theory," Addington replied.


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