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Cheney: Neither Here Nor There?

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
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?"

A " fact sheet" prepared by the committee describes other instances in which the vice president's office has sought to avoid oversight and accountability. Those efforts include challenging the right of the Government Accountability Office to examine the activities of the Cheney's energy task force and refusing to disclose basic facts about the operations of his office, such as the identity of his staffers and the individuals who visit his residence.

Cheney vs. Global Warming

Tim Dickinson writes in Rolling Stone: "It is no secret that industry-connected appointees within the White House have worked actively to distort the findings of federal climate scientists, playing down the threat of climate change. But a new investigation by Rolling Stone reveals that those distortions were sanctioned at the highest levels of our government, in a policy formulated by the vice president, implemented by the White House Council on Environmental Quality and enforced by none other than Karl Rove. An examination of thousands of pages of internal documents that the White House has been forced to relinquish under the Freedom of Information Act -- as well as interviews with more than a dozen current and former administration scientists and climate-policy officials -- confirms that the White House has implemented an industry-formulated disinformation campaign designed to actively mislead the American public on global warming and to forestall limits on climate polluters.

"'They've got a political clientele that does not want to be regulated,' says Rick Piltz, a former Bush climate official who blew the whistle on White House censorship of global-warming documents in 2005. 'Any honest discussion of the science would stimulate public pressure for a stronger policy. They're not stupid.'

"Bush's do-nothing policy on global warming began almost as soon as he took office. By pursuing a carefully orchestrated policy of delay, the White House has blocked even the most modest reforms and replaced them with token investments in futuristic solutions like hydrogen cars. 'It's a charade,' says Jeremy Symons, who represented the EPA on Cheney's energy task force, the industry-studded group that met in secret to craft the administration's energy policy. 'They have a single-minded determination to do nothing -- while making it look like they are doing something.' . . .

"The CEQ became Cheney's shadow EPA, with industry calling the shots. To head up the council, Cheney installed James Connaughton, a former lobbyist for industrial polluters, who once worked to help General Electric and ARCO skirt responsibility for their Superfund waste sites.

"Industry swiftly took advantage of its new friend in the White House. In a fax sent to the CEQ on February 6th, 2001 - two weeks after Bush took office - ExxonMobil's top lobbyist, Randy Randol, demanded a housecleaning of the scientists in charge of studying global warming. . . .

"Exxon's wish was the CEQ's command. According to an internal e-mail obtained by Rolling Stone, Connaughton's first order of business -- even before his nomination was made public -- was to write his White House colleagues-to-be from his law firm of Sidley and Austin. He echoed Exxon's call that [Rosina] Bierbaum, the acting director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, be 'dealt.' In the end, each of the scientists on Exxon's hit list was replaced."

Fascinating story. A request to Rolling Stone: How about putting those e-mails and documents online?

The End Times

Edward Luce and Andrew Ward write in the Financial Times: "When asked whether he was quitting the Bush administration because it would be good for his political future, Rob Portman, the outgoing budget director, replied: 'It would be good for my mental health.' Although Mr Portman was joking, a growing list of officials have already acted on that impulse.

"At least 20 senior aides have left important posts in the White House, Pentagon or State Department over the past six months, as chaos has deepened in Iraq. 'There's a real sense of fatigue and very little sense of purpose,' said a senior official, who asked not to be named. 'My guess is you're going to see a lot more departures.'

"Mr Portman, who had been Mr Bush's budget director for little more than a year, could hardly have quit at a less convenient time for the administration. His resignation was particularly symbolic because he had taken the job as part of last year's White House shake-up designed to breathe fresh life into Mr Bush's second-term policy agenda."

Luce and Ward write that the administration's efforts have been lackluster in the second term. "It has spent much of its dwindling political capital lobbying for an immigration bill that may never reach the statute books.

"'What is the point of sticking around in an administration that isn't going to accomplish anything significant?' said a former official. Meanwhile, the administration faces a growing cacophony of congressional hearings into its handling of the Iraq war, into its alleged politicisation of the Justice department and into its handling of military tribunals to try alleged terrorist detainees."

David Ignatius asks in his Washington Post opinion column: "[H]ow do Bush and his senior aides hope to keep momentum going for the ship of state in such a difficult period? I put that question to several senior administration officials during the past week, and their answers surprised me -- not because they have a clear plan of action, but because they don't see the Bush presidency in as dire straits as many outsiders do. . . .

"One way to describe the current White House mind-set might be 'muddling through.' Certainly, that seems a fair description of Iraq policy. 'In Bush's view, we are not on the edge of failure or of blindingly visible success,' says [one senior official who sees Bush almost every day.] . . .

"One of Bush's top aides muses on the defining paradox of this presidency: How did a man who promised a change of tone in Washington preside over one of the most partisan and divisive periods in the country's history? Bush doesn't conduct feuds or hold personal grudges, this adviser insists. 'The president is polarizing, even though he isn't polar.' Here's where I find a disconnect: Bush's aides seem not to understand how Bush and Cheney's statements have poisoned the water."

Sidney Blumenthal writes for Salon: "In private, Bush administration sub-Cabinet officials who have been instrumental in formulating and sustaining the legal 'war paradigm' acknowledge that their efforts to create a system for detainees separate from due process, criminal justice and law enforcement have failed. One of the key framers of the war paradigm (in which the president in his wartime capacity as commander in chief makes and enforces laws as he sees fit, overriding the constitutional system of checks and balances), who a year ago was arguing vehemently for pushing its boundaries, confesses that he has abandoned his belief in the whole doctrine, though he refuses to say so publicly. If he were to speak up, given his seminal role in formulating the policy and his stature among the Federalist Society cadres that run it, his rejection would have a shattering impact. . . .

"Yet another Bush legal official, even now at the commanding heights of power, admits that the administration's policies are largely discredited. In its defense, he says without a hint of irony or sarcasm, 'Not everything we've done has been illegal.' He adds, 'Not everything has been ultra vires' -- a legal term referring to actions beyond the law."

Salon has published an excerpt from blogger Glenn Greenwald's new book: "A Tragic Legacy: How a Good vs. Evil Mentality Destroyed the Bush Presidency," coming out next week.

Greenwald writes: "[T]he great and tragic irony of the Bush presidency is that its morally convicted foundations have yielded some of the most morally grotesque acts and radical departures from American values in our country's history. The president who insists that he is driven by a clear and compelling moral framework, in which the forces of Good and Evil battle toward a decisive resolution, has done more than almost any American in history to make the world question on which side of that battle this country is fighting. The more convinced President Bush and his followers become of the unchallengeable righteousness of their cause, the fewer limits they recognize. And America's moral standing in the world, and our national character, continue to erode to previously unthinkable depths."

Iraq Watch

John Ward Anderson and Howard Schneider report for The Washington Post today: "Fourteen U.S. soldiers have died in scattered attacks in Iraq over the last two days, including five killed Thursday by a roadside bomb in a northeastern Baghdad neighborhood, the military said in a series of statements."

Mike Drummond and Laith Hammoudi write for McClatchy Newspapers: "Inside a fortified conference room and through the prism of U.S. and Iraqi military officials, a security plan to pacify the country was working on Wednesday. Outside, extremists blew up mosques, lobbed mortars into Baghdad's heavily protected Green Zone and generated a steady drumbeat of violence."

Joshua Partlow and Robin Wright write in The Washington Post about the deepening frustration inside Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's own government.

Glenn Kessler writes in The Washington Post about the possibility that the State Department will soon be forced to order its employees to serve in Iraq.

Torture Watch

Karen DeYoung writes in The Washington Post: "John A. Rizzo, who has spent much of the past five years honing the CIA's interrogation policies, knows how to avoid answering questions under pressure -- at least in public. . . .

"Senators used the rare open hearing of the Select Committee on Intelligence, held to consider Rizzo's confirmation as CIA general counsel, as an opportunity to air concerns about the long-secret CIA detention and interrogation program. What they wanted to know, and asked in a dozen different ways, was whether Rizzo had helped provide a legal rationale for torture. . . .

"Asked if he approved of a Justice Department opinion that only pain resulting in 'organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death' qualified as torture, Rizzo carefully said he 'did not object.' Perhaps it 'did appear overbroad,' he added, 'but I can't say that I had any specific objections to any specific parts of it.'"

Mark Benjamin writes for Salon: "There is growing evidence of high-level coordination between the Central Intelligence Agency and the U.S. military in developing abusive interrogation techniques used on terrorist suspects. After the Sept. 11 attacks, both turned to a small cadre of psychologists linked to the military's secretive Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape program to 'reverse-engineer' techniques originally designed to train U.S. soldiers to resist torture if captured, by exposing them to brutal treatment. . . .

"A previously classified report by the Defense Department's inspector general, made public last month, revealed in vivid detail how the military -- in flat contradiction to previous denials -- used SERE as a basis for interrogating suspected al-Qaida prisoners at Guantánamo Bay, and later in Iraq and Afghanistan. Moreover, the involvement of the CIA, which was secretly granted broad authority by President Bush days after 9/11 to target terrorists worldwide, suggests that both the military and the spy agency were following a policy approved by senior Bush administration officials."

Joseph L. Galloway writes in his McClatchy Newspapers opinion column: "It's long past time for Congress to reopen the matter of who's really responsible for Abu Ghraib and let the chips fall where they may -- even if that means they pile up around the retirement home of a former secretary of defense or the gates of the White House itself."

Justice Watch

Dan Eggen writes in The Washington Post: "Deputy Attorney General Paul J. McNulty plans to tell House Judiciary Committee members that his earlier testimony, understating the White House role in the firings of U.S. attorneys, was not the result of anyone trying to purposely mislead Congress."

Well, then, what was it the result of?

Eggen notes: "Many lawmakers from both parties believe that McNulty has been scapegoated by Gonzales and his inner circle." (See my May 15 column.)

Carol D. Leonnig writes in The Washington Post about Bradley Schlozman's tenure as acting assistant attorney general for civil rights.

"Schlozman has acknowledged in sworn congressional testimony that he had boasted of hiring Republicans and conservatives, but he denied taking improper actions against the division's career officials. That account was challenged by six officials in the division who said in interviews that they either overhead him making brazen political remarks about career employees or witnessed him making personnel decisions with apparent political motivation."

For instance, Schlozman ordered three widely-respected minority women career lawyers to be transferred out of their jobs two years ago after reportedly telling a colleague his goal was to "make room for some good Americans."

Libby Watch

The Associated Press reports: "Two of the three judges considering whether to delay former White House aide I. Lewis 'Scooter' Libby's prison sentence were Republican appointees.

"Libby's request was assigned to Judges David B. Sentelle, Karen Lecraft Henderson and David Tatel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Sentelle was put on the bench by President Reagan, Henderson by the first President Bush and Tatel by President Clinton."

Libby's defense team on Tuesday asked the Circuit Court to overrule District Court Judge Reggie Walton's decision that Libby should not be allowed to remain free pending appeal.

The three-judge panel (entirely by coincidence, I am assured by the court) is made of the exact same judges who, as Christy Hardin Smith notes on the Firedoglake blog, ordered journalists Matt Cooper and Judith Miller to testify in the Libby case.

Among Sentelle's claims to fame: He headed a panel that dismissed the original Whitewater counsel, Robert Fiske, and appointed Kenneth Starr instead; he and other Republicans reversed the convictions of Oliver L. North and John M. Poindexter in the Iran-contra scandal; he named his daughter Reagan after the president who appointed him to the bench.

One tea-leaf to read: The panel rejected a friend-of-the-court brief from 12 constitutional lawyers that the defense had sought to introduce.

Bush's Third Veto

Maura Reynolds writes in the Los Angeles Times: "President Bush on Wednesday vetoed legislation that would have allowed the use of federal funds to support embryonic stem cell research, the second consecutive year he has blocked such a bill.

"Proponents say embryonic stem cells -- which can turn into cells for many different kinds of human tissue -- offer the best chance of treating or curing many debilitating or fatal diseases.

"But opponents, like Bush, argue that research on the cells, which can be derived from human embryos created during in-vitro fertilization treatments, effectively destroys a human life."

Sheryl Gay Stolberg writes in the New York Times: "The veto, only the third of Mr. Bush's presidency, puts him at odds not only with the majority of voters, according to polls, but also with many members of his own political party. Republicans sent him a similar measure last year when they controlled Congress. But even with considerable support from the Republican minority this year, Democrats concede they do not have enough votes for a veto override. . . .

"Mr. Bush issued an executive order intended to encourage scientists to pursue other forms of stem cell research that he does not deem unethical. But that research is already going on, and the plan provides no new money.

"Advocates for embryonic stem cell research called the new plan a ploy to distract from Mr. Bush's opposition to the studies."

Edward Epstein writes in the San Francisco Chronicle that "even as Bush digs in on his position that taxpayers shouldn't be asked to pay for the destruction of human life in the form of days-old embryos, bipartisan proponents of embryonic stem cell research pledged to force Congress to vote on the issue again and again -- until they get a veto-proof two-thirds majority in both houses of Congress or until Bush leaves office."

Ken Herman writes for the Cox News Service that despite the widespread public opposition to his position, "Bush's actions drew enthusiastic support from about 300 guests in the East Room for the announcement. Included were members of National Right to Life, the Family Research Council, Concerned Women for America and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops."

The decision also put White House spokesman Tony Snow into a spinning tizzy at his daily briefing.

Asked about Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton's charge that "[t]his is just one example of how the president puts ideology before science," Snow responded: "This actually is the President putting science before ideology. There are many people who believe that you have to force taxpayers into making a choice of destroying a human life -- destroying an embryo in order to proceed with embryonic stem cell research. That would be an ideological position.

"What the President is taking is a scientific position that says, no, fortunately, if you've been looking at the literature, there appear to be a couple of recent papers that indicate that you don't have to make that very difficult moral choice."

The 'Real' Bush

Syndicated columnist Robert D. Novak writes: "On May 31, President Bush met for 35 minutes in the private living quarters of the White House with Cardinal Joseph Zen, the Roman Catholic archbishop of Hong Kong, in an event that was not announced and did not appear on his official schedule. Their meeting did not please the State Department, elements of the Catholic hierarchy and certainly not the Chinese government. But it signifies what George W. Bush is really about."

Blair Watch

Robin Wright writes in The Washington Post: "The Bush administration is laying the groundwork for an announcement of Tony Blair's appointment as a special Middle East envoy for Palestinian governance and economic issues after he steps down as Britain's prime minister, following two months of behind-the-scenes negotiations, according to U.S. officials."

Helene Cooper writes in the New York Times: "Mr. Bush has spoken to Mr. Blair about the proposal, and discussed it Tuesday with the Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert, Israeli and Bush administration officials said. Senior Israeli officials said Mr. Olmert was also very keen on the idea.

"But British officials said Mr. Blair had not yet decided if he would take on the task, and bristled that public comments from the Bush administration were premature."

Signing Statements Watch

Carl Hulse writes in the New York Times: "Lawmakers say they plan to dig deeper into the Bush administration's use of bill-signing statements as ways to circumvent Congressional intent. . . .

"'Federal law is not some buffet line where the president can pick parts of some laws to follow and others to reject,' said Senator Robert C. Byrd, Democrat of West Virginia and chairman of the Appropriations Committee."

E-Mails Watch

I wrote in Tuesday's column that new evidence establishes that White House political adviser Karl Rove and many of his colleagues used Republican National Committee e-mail accounts for official business -- even though White House policy is clear that doing so is a violation of the Presidential Records Act.

The Sacramento Bee editorial board writes: "The situation reveals, once again, how the Bush administration has blurred the line between official government business and political campaign activity to the point that the two have become indistinguishable. Every White House coordinates policy activities and political activities. But the Bush administration has gone off the scale in building a massive White House structure to ensure that partisan politics drives policy. . . .

"The dual roles of Rove & Co. have given us the worst of both worlds -- political operatives engaging in campaign activities on government time and high-level, government-paid staffers hiding behind political e-mail accounts to evade scrutiny of how their political aims factored in government agencies' work.

"And what do Rove and the Bush White House have to show for it in either policy accomplishments or electoral gains? Precious little. But they do leave behind a legacy of undermining the integrity of government."

No Pictures -- Or Else!

Ken Herman blogs for Cox News Service about the secrecy surrounding the planned reopening next week of the renovated White House briefing room.

"[P]hotos of the refurbished digs in the West Wing have been placed off limits by White House officials concerned about security. Some photographers -- nosy types that they are -- have snapped a photo or two when the doors were opened.

"This is bad, says the White House, which has embargoed publication of any photos of the new briefing room until July 9, which is sort of the official grand opening.

"Here's today's e-mail of warning from White House aide Josh Deckard:

"'Press are NOT allowed to photograph the brief room during this transition-they aren't even supposed to be in there. Press took pictures this morning and got very rude w/ the workers when they asked them to stop. Please make sure those pictures don't run. If anyone breaks this rule from here on out they will lose their pass.'"

Picnic Watch

The Wonkette blog reports: "Congress joined the Bush Administration for a nice little barbecue on the South Lawn [Tuesday] night. The theme was Mardi Gras, so everybody could enjoy memories of New Orleans being destroyed by the Bush Administration and then pretty much left in that same condition years later.

"Famous NOLA chef Paul Prudhomme catered the picnic and New Orleans jazz band Kermit Ruffins and the Barbeque Swingers played Dixieland.

"And then Bush told the black musicians to clean up after the politicians."

From the transcript:

"THE PRESIDENT: Kermit Ruffins and the Barbeque Swingers, right out of New Orleans, Louisiana. (Applause.)

"MR. RUFFINS: Thank you. Thanks for having us. We're glad to be here.

"THE PRESIDENT: Proud you're here. Thanks for coming. You all enjoy yourself. Make sure you pick up all the trash after it's over. (Laughter.)"

Cartoon Watch

Steve Sack on stem cells; Stuart Carlson on Iraq as South Korea.

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