No Checks, No Balances -- No Supervision?

By Dan Froomkin
Special to
Monday, June 25, 2007; 1:38 PM

Midway through a massive and momentous Washington Post series on Vice President Cheney, it's clearer than ever that one thing missing from Cheney's worldview is any appreciation for checks and balances -- not just among the three branches of government, but also within his own.

Please go read parts one and two of this important series by Barton Gellman and Jo Becker, then come back. Gellman's narrated photo gallery works as a pithy overview.

Sunday's installment depicts Cheney as the guiding force behind the most radical elements of the Bush presidency. Today's installment describes Cheney's responsibility for the administration's torture policies in particular. Tomorrow's will focus on his influence on economic policy, and Wednesday's will detail his impact on environmental policy.

Gellman and Becker write that "Cheney is not, by nearly every inside account, the shadow president of popular lore." Yet in most decisions Gellman and Becker describe, President Bush's role is essentially to sign whatever Cheney has put in front of him. The series offers ample evidence that within the Bush administration, dissenters from Cheney's views are bullied, marginalized or fired -- with apparently no effective pushback from Bush or any of his other top aides. It's a stunning portrait.

The series is invaluable in providing concrete examples of the enormous and influential role that Cheney has long been suspected of playing in this White House. But given all that's transpired in the last year or so, it seems inconceivable that Cheney still wields as much influence as he once did. What I'm most curious about right now is whether, or how, Cheney's grip is slipping.

Outside the White House, Cheney's credibility is now almost zero, due to his errors of judgment on Iraq and his nearly delusional assertions about the war, as well as the cloud over his own conduct raised by the conviction of his former chief of staff for perjury.

But is his credibility still intact inside the Bush bubble? Is he still the last one to talk to Bush before the president makes a decision? Is the Cheney machine -- a legion of loyalists in key positions throughout government, transmitting information to and orders from the vice president's office -- still functioning effectively?

The Highlights

There are so many highlights, it's nearly impossible to pick just a few. Again, I strongly urge you to go read it yourself.

In Sunday's installment, Gellman and Becker describe a telling encounter between Cheney and former vice president Dan Quayle: "Cheney had just taken the oath of office, and Quayle paid a visit to offer advice from one vice president to another.

"'I said, "Dick, you know, you're going to be doing a lot of this international traveling, you're going to be doing all this political fundraising . . . you'll be going to the funerals," ' Quayle said in an interview earlier this year. 'I mean, this is what vice presidents do. I said, "We've all done it."' '

"Cheney 'got that little smile,' Quayle said, and replied, 'I have a different understanding with the president.'"

As Gellman and Becker write: "Cheney preferred, and Bush approved, a mandate that gave him access to 'every table and every meeting,' making his voice heard in 'whatever area the vice president feels he wants to be active in,' [now chief of staff Joshua] Bolten said.

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