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Cheney's Total Impunity

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By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Tuesday, April 29, 2008; 1:20 PM

How far will Vice President Cheney go to shield himself and his office from public scrutiny?

Last spring, Cheney asserted that he wasn't subject to executive-branch rules about classified information because he wasn't actually part of the executive branch.

Now his office argues that he and his staff are completely immune from congressional oversight. That's right: Completely immune.

Cheney's latest claim came in a response to a House Judiciary Committee request for vice presidential chief of staff David S. Addington to testify about his central role in developing the administration's torture policies.

Cheney lawyer Kathryn L. Wheelbarger wrote back: "Congress lacks the constitutional power to regulate by a law what a Vice President communicates in the performance of the Vice President's official duties, or what a Vice President recommends that a President communicate in the President's performance of official duties, and therefore those matters are not within the Committee's power of inquiry."

As it happens, that was only one of three startling responses in Wheelbarger's letter.

She also wrote: "The Chief of Staff to the Vice President is an employee of the Vice President, and not the President, and therefore is not in a position to speak on behalf of the President."

Disregard, for a moment, the fact that Addington wasn't actually asked to speak on behalf of the president - but about his "unique information and perspective." Contrary to Wheelbarger's central assertion, Addington actually does work for the president. When he took over the job previously held by Scooter Libby -- who has since been convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice in the Valerie Plame CIA leak case -- Addington also inherited Libby's title as "assistant to the president." See, for instance, his official White House profile.

Cheney's office somehow managed to omit Addington from the White House staff list submitted to Congress. But Addington isn't on Cheney's public Senate payroll either.

Finally, Wheelbarger cites, "separate from any question of immunity from testimony," questions of privilege "protecting state secrets, attorney-client communications, deliberations, and communications among Presidents, Vice Presidents, and their advisers."

In a letter to Addington, Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers yesterday lamented Wheelbarger's "legalistic and argumentative response" and warned that if Addington refuses to appear voluntarily, he may be subpoenaed. (Conyers issued the same threat to former Attorney General John Ashcroft and former Justice Department lawyer John Yoo, both of whom also declined to appear voluntarily.)

The Conyers letter cites media reports that describe Addington as the driving force behind the administration's most controversial legal arguments. Among the citations: Jane Mayer in the New Yorker, Phillippe Sands in Vanity Fair, Barton Gellman and Jo Becker in the Washington Post and Chitra Ragavan in U.S. News.


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© 2008 The Washington Post Company

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