Cheney: Neither Here Nor There?

By Dan Froomkin
Special to
Thursday, June 21, 2007; 1:36 PM

The House Oversight Committee is demanding that Vice President Cheney explain himself. Is his office part of the executive branch? Part of the legislative branch? Or is Cheney suggesting that as far as federal rules are concerned, his office essentially doesn't exist?

The issue at hand is Cheney's insistence that his office is exempt from an executive order issued by President Bush in 2003 requiring all federal agencies or "any other entity within the executive branch that comes into the possession of classified information" to report annually on its activities regarding the classification, safeguarding and declassification of national security information.

As Mark Silva reported in the Chicago Tribune in April 2006, Cheney's office maintains that its dual executive and legislative duties (the vice president also serves as president of the Senate) make it uniquely exempt from such rules.

Henry Waxman, the Democratic chairman of the Oversight Committee, begs to differ, and wrote a letter to Cheney this morning saying so.

"Your office may have the worst record in the executive branch for safeguarding classified information," Waxman wrote, noting the recent conviction of former vice presidential chief of staff I Lewis "Scooter" Libby for obstructing justice by lying about his role in disclosing the identity of covert CIA agent Valerie Plame.

"Given this record, serious questions can be raised about both the legality and the advisability of exempting your office from the rules that apply to all other executive branch officials."

The committee explained the background in a news release this morning: "As described in a letter from Chairman Waxman to the Vice President, the National Archives protested the Vice President's position in letters written in June 2006 and August 2006. When these letters were ignored, the National Archives wrote to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales in January 2007 to seek a resolution of the impasse. The Vice President's staff responded by seeking to abolish the agency within the Archives that is responsible for implementing the President's executive order."

In the letter to Cheney, Waxman wrote: "To help the Committee understand your perspective on these matters, I ask that you provide written answers and documents in response to the following questions:

"(1) What is the basis for your view that the Office of the Vice President is not bound by Executive Order 12958?

"(2) In the absence of compliance with Executive Order 12958, what steps has the Office of the Vice President taken to ensure that classified information is adequately safeguarded within your office? . . .

"(3) Is it the official position of the Office of the Vice President that your office exists in neither the executive nor legislative branch of government? . . .

"(4) Has the Office of the Vice President sought to retaliate against the National Archives for asserting authority to conduct inspections in or require reporting by the Office of the Vice President?"

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