Since he took office, Vice President Cheney has led the Bush administration's effort to increase the power of the presidency. "I have repeatedly seen an erosion of the powers and the ability of the president of the United States to do his job," he said after a year in office, calling it "wrong" for past presidents to yield to congressional demands. "We are weaker today as an institution because of the unwise compromises that have been made over the last 30 to 35 years."
Cheney has tried to increase executive power with a series of bold actions -- some so audacious that even conservatives on the Supreme Court sympathetic to Cheney's view have rejected them as overreaching. The vice president's point man in this is longtime aide David Addington, who serves as Cheney's top lawyer.
Where there has been controversy over the past four years, there has often been Addington. He was a principal author of the White House memo justifying torture of terrorism suspects. He was a prime advocate of arguments supporting the holding of terrorism suspects without access to courts.
Addington also led the fight with Congress and environmentalists over access to information about corporations that advised the White House on energy policy. He was instrumental in the series of fights with the Sept. 11 commission and its requests for information. And he was a main backer of the nomination of Pentagon lawyer William J. Haynes II for a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit. Haynes's confirmation has been a source of huge friction on Capitol Hill.
Colleagues say Addington stands out for his devotion to secrecy in an administration noted for its confidentiality. He declined to be interviewed or photographed for this article, and he did not respond to a list of specific points made in the article.
Addington, 47, was a lawyer and GOP staffer on congressional committees on intelligence and the Iran-contra matter, before Cheney chose him to serve as general counsel at the Pentagon when Cheney was defense secretary.
Even in a White House known for its dedication to conservative philosophy, Addington is known as an ideologue, an adherent of an obscure philosophy called the unitary executive theory that favors an extraordinarily powerful president.
The unitary executive notion can be found in the torture memo. "In light of the president's complete authority over the conduct of war, without a clear statement otherwise, criminal statutes are not read as infringing on the president's ultimate authority in these areas," the memo said. Prohibitions on torture "must be construed as inapplicable to interrogations undertaken pursuant to his commander-in-chief authority. . . . Congress may no more regulate the president's ability to detain and interrogate enemy combatants than it may regulate his ability to direct troop movements on the battlefield." The same would go for "federal officials acting pursuant to the president's constitutional authority."
"The Framers understood the [commander in chief] clause as investing the president with the fullest range of power," the memo said, including "the conduct of warfare and the defense of the nation unless expressly assigned in the Constitution to Congress." That "sweeping grant" of power, it continued, is given because "national security decisions require the unity in purpose and energy in action that characterize the presidency rather than Congress."
On the job, colleagues describe Addington as hard-edged and a bureaucratic infighter who frequently clashes with others, particularly the National Security Council's top lawyer, John Bellinger. Officials say disputes between Addington and Jack Goldsmith, head of the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, led Goldsmith to resign after eight months in the job; Addington had sought to persuade OLC to take a more permissive line on torture.
Still, even foes admire Addington's work ethic and frugality; he takes Metro from his home in Alexandria instead of using his White House parking space.
Addington's influence -- like Cheney's overall -- extends throughout the government in his bid to expand executive power. He goes through every page of the federal budget in search of riders that could restrict executive authority. He meets daily with White House counsel Alberto R. Gonzales and often raises objections to requests for information from Congress or the public, officials say. He also routinely works to defeat proposals from the State Department, where the pervasive internationalist philosophy is at odds with Cheney's neoconservatism.
Occasionally, others in the administration have sought to keep Addington out of the loop to avoid his inevitable objections. When the White House agreed, under pressure from Congress, to appoint a commission to investigate the absence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, Cheney's office did not know about it until a reporter from The Washington Post called to inquire.
There has been something of a backlash against Addington's philosophy within the administration, where some believe his aggressive legal arguments have caused the courts to become more suspicious of executive authority. That was a common complaint when the Supreme Court in June dealt the administration major defeats in the Hamdi and Rasul cases regarding terrorism detainees.
The court ruled that U.S. citizens held as "enemy combatants" are entitled to contest the government's case in court. It also ruled that al Qaeda and Taliban prisoners at the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, could ask to be set free by a U.S. judge. Justice Sandra Day O'Connor wrote: "A state of war is not a blank check for the President when it comes to the rights of the nation's citizens."
"Addington adds to the problems the president has with the courts," said Bruce Fein, who was an official in the Reagan Justice Department and worked with Addington during the Iran-contra probe. Fein said Addington is the "intellectual brainchild" of overreaching legal assertions that "have resulted in actually weakening the presidency because of intransigence."
Fein said Cheney and Addington, while arguing that they are reclaiming executive authority, are actually seeking to push it to new levels. Many of the restraints on executive authority -- the War Powers act, anti-impoundment legislation, the legislative veto and the independent counsel statute -- have already disappeared or become insignificant.
"They're in a time warp," Fein said. "If you look at the facts, presidential powers have never been higher."
In part, Cheney and Addington may be reflecting the reality from when they served in Congress, Cheney as a Republican leader and Addington as a staff member. During the Iran-contra hearings, Addington was heavily involved in arguing that Congress was improperly tying the hands of the president by preventing him from helping Nicaragua's contras.
Cheney and Addington became close in 1984, when Addington was a lawyer on the House intelligence committee, one of Cheney's panels. After their time together at the Pentagon, where Addington was known as Cheney's "gatekeeper," Addington became president of a Cheney political action committee, Alliance for American Leadership, that helped fund a 1996 presidential exploration bid for Cheney.