Cheney's vice-like grip - Bush Quietly Put Great Power in Cheney's Hands Years Ago
Bush has granted his deputy the greatest expansion of powers in American history
By Sidney Blumenthal
02/24/06 "The Guardian" -- -- After shooting Harry Whittington, Dick Cheney's immediate impulse was to control the intelligence. Rather than call the president directly, he ordered an aide to inform the White House chief of staff, Andrew Card, that there had been an accident - but not that Cheney was its cause. Then surrogates attacked the victim for not steering clear of Cheney when he was firing without looking. The vice-president tried to defuse the furore by giving an interview to friendly Fox News.
His most revealing answer came in response to a question about something other than the hunting accident. Cheney was asked about court papers filed by his former chief of staff Lewis "Scooter" Libby, indicted for perjury and obstruction of justice in the inquiry into the leaking of the identity of the undercover CIA agent Valerie Plame. In the papers, Libby laid out a line of defence that he leaked classified material at the behest of "his superiors" (to wit, Cheney). Libby said he was authorised to disclose to members of the press classified sections of the prewar National Intelligence Estimate on Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction. Indeed, Cheney explained, he has the power to declassify intelligence. "There is an executive order to that effect," he said.
On March 25 2003 President Bush signed executive order 13292, a hitherto little-known document that grants the greatest expansion of the power of the vice-president in US history. It gives the vice-president the same ability to classify intelligence as the president. By controlling classification, the vice-president can control intelligence and, through that, foreign policy. Bush operates on the radical notion of the "unitary executive", that the presidency has inherent and limitless powers in his role as commander in chief, above the system of checks and balances. Never before has any president diminished and divided his power.
The unprecedented executive order bears the hallmarks of Cheney's former counsel and current chief of staff, David Addington, the most powerful aide within the White House. Addington has been the closest assistant to Cheney through three decades. Inside the executive branch, Addington acts as Cheney's vicar, inspiring fear and obedience. Few documents of concern to the vice-president, even executive orders, reach the president without passing through Addington's hands.
To advance their scenario for the Iraq war, Cheney and co either pressured or dismissed the intelligence community when it presented contrary analysis.
On domestic spying conducted without legal approval of the foreign-intelligence surveillance court, Addington and his minions crushed dissent from James Comey, deputy attorney general, and Jack Goldsmith, head of the justice department's office of legal counsel.
On torture policy, as reported by the New Yorker this week, Alberto Mora, recently retired as general counsel to the US navy, opposed Bush's abrogation of the Geneva conventions. Addington et al told him the policies were being ended, while pursuing them on a separate track.
The first US vice-president, John Adams, called his position "the most insignificant office ever the invention of man contrived or his imagination conceived". When Cheney was defence secretary, he reprimanded Vice-President Dan Quayle for asserting power he did not possess by calling a meeting of the National Security Council when the elder President Bush was abroad.
Since the coup d'etat of executive order 13292, the vice-presidency has been transformed. Perhaps, for a blinding moment, Cheney imagined he might classify his shooting party as top secret.
Sidney Blumenthal, a former senior adviser to President Clinton, is the author of The Clinton Wars - firstname.lastname@example.org