Will Justice Go After Cheney?

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Thursday, January 3, 2008; 12:46 PM

How high will the newly-launched criminal investigation into the CIA's destruction of interrogation tapes go? And will it eventually target Vice President Cheney?

Cheney has been the administration's central figure on all things related to torture. It was Cheney who pushed so hard for "flexibility" in interrogations of terrorist suspects. Former secretary of state Colin Powell's chief of staff, Lawrence Wilkerson, has long argued that it is "clear that the Office of the Vice President bears responsibility for creating an environment conducive to the acts of torture and murder committed by U.S. forces in the war on terror."

In the weeks proceeding the November 2005 destruction of the torture tapes, Cheney was pulling out all the stops in a failed lobbying effort to get fellow Republicans on the Hill to exempt the CIA from a proposed torture ban. Cheney's arm-twisting was so unseemly that a Washington Post editorial dubbed him the "Vice President for Torture." (When the law passed, Cheney's office authored a " signing statement" for Bush, in which he reserved the right to ignore it.)

So it should have come as no surprise when the New York Times reported last month that David S. Addington, Cheney's chief of staff and former legal counsel, was among the three White House lawyers who participated in at least one key meeting about the videotapes in 2004.

(For background on Addington, the indomitable and secretive agent of Cheney's will, see this May 2006 profile by Chitra Ragavan in U.S. News; this July 2006 profile by Jane Mayer in the New Yorker, and my Sept. 5 column.)

The initial spin from the White House was that only Harriet E. Miers, then a deputy White House chief of staff, had been briefed about the tapes -- and that she had advised against their destruction.

But with anything related to torture, it's pretty clear the CIA took its orders from Cheney -- via Addington. And how plausible is it that, in his exchanges with the CIA, Addington advised against the tapes' destruction? Or that the CIA would have done it if he had told them not to? Isn't it more likely that he supported the idea, either overtly or with a nod and a wink?

So one has to wonder what will happen if Addington is hauled in front of a grand jury to testify not just about his relevant conversations with the CIA, but about his conversations with Cheney.

"Did you, Mr. Addington, indicate in any way to the CIA that destroying the tapes would be acceptable, or even preferable? Did you do so based on instructions from your boss, the vice president?"

Wouldn't it be interesting to hear Addington answer those questions under oath?

Then again, he might just lie.

The last time a federal prosecutor got close to Cheney, of course, was in the CIA leak case. Special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, who investigated the outing of Valerie Plame as a CIA agent, indicated during and after the trial of Cheney's chief of staff, I. Lewis 'Scooter' Libby, that he had been hot on the trail of the vice president himself until Libby obstructed his investigation.

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