Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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December 26, 2007

CHENEY'S 'REMARKABLE' ARGUMENT....Over the summer, Dick Cheney solidified his legendary reputation for lunacy when he and the OVP aides rationalized his opposition to executive-branch oversight rules by deciding that he's not really part of the executive branch.

It stemmed from a bizarre fight the White House had with the National Archives' Information Security Oversight Office, a fairly obscure federal office responsible for supervising the handling of classified information. After having complied with the rules in 2001 and 2002, Cheney decided he no longer wanted to cooperate, and exempted himself from ISOO oversight.

When the OVP refused to even acknowledge the agency's requests for information, the ISOO went to the Attorney General's office, asking if Cheney's office had the legal authority to exempt itself from the executive branch. Alberto Gonzales not only ignored the questions, Cheney and his team responded by trying to eliminate the Information Security Oversight Office from existence.

J. William Leonard, head of the ISOO for 34 years, is stepping down now, and chatted with Newsweek's Michael Isikoff about the ordeal. (via Spencer Ackerman)

So how did matters escalate?
The challenge arose last year when the Chicago Tribune was looking at [ISOO's annual report] and saw the asterisk [reporting that it contained no information from OVP] and decided to follow up. And that's when the spokesperson from the OVP made public this idea that because they have both legislative and executive functions, that requirement doesn't apply to them.... They were saying the basic rules didn't apply to them. I thought that was a rather remarkable position. So I wrote my letter to the Attorney General [asking for a ruling that Cheney's office had to comply.] Then it was shortly after that there were [email] recommendations [from OVP to a National Security Council task force] to change the executive order that would effectively abolish [my] office.

Who wrote the emails?
It was David Addington.

No explanation was offered?
No. It was strike this, strike that. Anyplace you saw the words, "the director of ISOO" or "ISOO" it was struck.

What was your reaction?
I was disappointed that rather than engage on the substance of an issue, some people would resort to that...

You mean, Dick Cheney and David Addington would rather destroy a government oversight office than "engage on the substance of an issue"? They'd claim to be a fourth branch of government just to avoid compliance with a presidential executive order on handling government secrets?

You don't say.

Steve Benen 1:41 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (30)

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Howdy, Steve. Glad to see you back here at WaMo to give Kevin some time off.

It's telling how secrecy and Cheney go hand in hand. Oh, the dark secrets he must hold... wait a minute. Aren't we taxpayers footing one heckuva shredding bill for the OVP?

Congress ought to withhold fundng for the "fourth branch" since the U.S. Constitution describes no such thing.

Posted by: Apollo 13 on December 26, 2007 at 1:58 PM | PERMALINK

What's really disappointing is that this is not at all suprising.

Posted by: CT on December 26, 2007 at 2:07 PM | PERMALINK

As I understand it, the president can, fairly unilaterally, declassify material at the stroke of a pen.

Am I correct in this?

If I am, (and this is just for the sake of discussion) what would prevent the next president, say, a reform minded democrat, from declaring a whole slue of Cheney & Bush's documentation declassified and then placing them in the public record.

Why, you could even scan every last log, note and the like and put them up on a website.

You know, shine a little light on the process.

Posted by: TB on December 26, 2007 at 2:12 PM | PERMALINK

No one will ever touch Cheney, and five years from now he will keel over at the breakfast table. His widow and his children will split the millions that he got for mismanaging a morally repugnant company that only exists because of self-dealing cronyism. His family members will write stirring editorials about his "dignity," his "courage," his "integrity."

Posted by: Anon on December 26, 2007 at 2:29 PM | PERMALINK

If Hugo Chavez did this sort of thing would we say he was a responsible democratic leader or would we say this is further evidence he is corrupt?

Either government transparency is good for democracy or it is not.

Posted by: pj in jesusland on December 26, 2007 at 2:30 PM | PERMALINK

The importance of what Cheney did, TB, is that there will be very few classified documents from the OVP stored.

What Cheney would not do is report each month on how many classified documents were produced, and how many were declassified. And so without those two numbers, if he ever steps down, he can hand in three documents and say, well, that was it, and then he can take the rest with him, or shred them and shove them up our asses.

Posted by: jerry on December 26, 2007 at 2:32 PM | PERMALINK

I agree that Cheney's legalistic argument deserves ridicule. But, no more so than Bill Clinton did, when he split hairs over what the meaning of "is" is.

Posted by: ex-liberal on December 26, 2007 at 2:32 PM | PERMALINK

Are you on vacation ex-liberal? Because you phoned that one in.

Posted by: jerry on December 26, 2007 at 2:39 PM | PERMALINK
more so than Bill Clinton did, when he split hairs over what the meaning of "is" is. ex-lax at 2:32 PM
Poor Ex-lax, still in thrall to the mighty Clentis™. In RepubliConTarianland, private failings are worse than public ones, unless it's a Republican; then, everything is jake. Posted by: Mike on December 26, 2007 at 2:39 PM | PERMALINK

Congratulations, ex-lib, on being the first to ridicule Bill Clinton for that. What courage that must have taken in the face of universal press silence on Clinton's bad behavior over the past decade or so. Now you can give us your thoughts on Mitt Romney's parsing of "saw" and "with."

BTW, of Clinton and Cheney, which of the two now holds public office?

Posted by: Emartin on December 26, 2007 at 2:41 PM | PERMALINK

It's a shame the Democrats are too spineless to prosecute and/or impeach these people. It's really not a defense that the Democrats don't have a large enough majority to make impeachment proceedings stick; at the very least these abuses and crimes need to be made public. It would also force Republicans to go on record with an up or down vote on whether or not they want to allow abuses/crimes like these - which can then be used against them in a general election. Given the way this administration is polling now, Bush and Cheney cannot count on the kind of cult-like, blind and unanimous support they enjoyed not so long ago.

Prosecute, impeach, and use it in the general election.

Or is the big hold up that Nancy Pelosi was cowed by Republicans into saying that "impeachment was off the table" during the last election?

For all practical purposes, Reid and Pelosi's failure to pursue these abuses and crimes make them every bit as complicit as the Republicans - the only differences are the excuses being made to justify the inaction.

And make no mistake, the failure to prosecute has repercussions well beyond whether Bush and Cheney are ever held directly accountable. If these abuses and crimes go unpunished, there is a very real risk that these practices will become established as precedents for tolerable behavior. For example, does anyone honestly expect a new president will voluntarily reduce their own power and increase oversight into their job functions (and thereby increase their exposure to public humiliation and/or prosecution)?

Given the laughably trivial cause for Bill Clinton's impeachment, it simply defies all belief and reason that absolutely nothing is being done to prosecute or impeach members of the current administration.

Posted by: Augustus on December 26, 2007 at 2:48 PM | PERMALINK

Why are congressional Republicans marching arm-in-arm and lockstep with this corrupt abomination of a presidential administration? And worse yet, why do southern white crackers who repeatedly vote for these fuckin' bozos think this is somehow a good thing?

What's up with the South, generally? Why was the Alabama GOP allowed to blatantly steal the 2002 gubernatorial race, while the victim of that fraud, former Gov. Don Siegelman, is the one who's in federal prison for seven years, essentially being held as a political prisoner convicted on some very dubious charges?

Which leads to my final two questions -- where the fuck are our congressional Democrats? And if the Democrats are trying to do something about the GOP's trashing of our democracy, why does our mainstream media continue to be far more intrigued by the apparent collective propensity of the Spears sisters to drop their panties at the sight of a pretty boy?

Posted by: Donald from Hawaii on December 26, 2007 at 2:50 PM | PERMALINK

There was a lengthy discussion of the actual legal issues involved at Beldar, if anyone is interested. Administrative law is a complicated field, and it shares at least one characteristic with many other areas of the law, which is that words don't always have their common meanings. So, in this case, careful legal analysis reveals that the Office of the Vice President is probably not an "executive agency" or "executive department" as used in the relevant Executive Order, which in turn cross-refers to various statutes.

Now, most people find this kind of careful parsing of language somewhere between boring and morally repugnant, which is why first year associate salaries are approaching $200,000 a year. But that's the way the law works.

Posted by: y81 on December 26, 2007 at 2:55 PM | PERMALINK

All outstanding questions Donald.

Not to put all the blame on them, I sure wish Pelosi and Reid would spend more time with their families.

Posted by: jerry on December 26, 2007 at 2:58 PM | PERMALINK

Cheney would be a very effective VP if people would just get out of the way and let him do his job. If we limit government regulation of the OVP and cut taxes on paper shredding the free market would sort this out.

Posted by: tbrosz on December 26, 2007 at 3:00 PM | PERMALINK

Sigh. Tom Brosz. In light of all the right wing apologists that regularly post here, I actually miss that sincere imbecile.

Posted by: Pat on December 26, 2007 at 3:05 PM | PERMALINK

As I understand it, the president can, fairly unilaterally, declassify material at the stroke of a pen.

Am I correct in this?

You are substantially correct. EO 12958 is the implementing document for classification of national security matters and can be pretty much unilaterally changed. (There is some stuff where disclosure is governed by statute as well, such as the atomic energy act of 1950, but even with this, there is still a broad amount of executive discretion)

But the devil is in the details. Yes, President Clinton/Obama/Edwards could state in their own EO that "all matters that were in the office of the Vice President from Jan 2001 to Jan 2009 are hereby downgraded to unclassified" but you risk thowing the baby out with the bathwater.

It would be better IMO to ensure those portions of the current EO (like previous ones) that cover declassification/ downgrading, and FOIA requests are acted upon dilligently and with greater resources applied to improve transparency while simulataneously mitgating releasing info that could actually get people killed

Posted by: Kolohe on December 26, 2007 at 3:06 PM | PERMALINK

jerry: "... I sure wish Pelosi and Reid would spend more time with their families."

The primary problem with Sen. Harry Reid appears to be his courtly demeanor, by which he comes across in public as a nice little old lady. And in these troubled times, if he's going to act like one, it's really too bad that his role model wasn't Doris "Granny D" Haddock.

Most of Nancy Pelosi's problems in the House can be traced directly to one Steny Hoyer (D-MD), the rather odious and shifty Majority Leader. Remember, Pelosi was easily thwarted by Hoyer in her efforts last year to garner support amongst her Democratic colleagues to back Jack Murtha for that particular post. I can only speculate and at how different things might be in Congress had she gotten her way, and Murtha was Majority Leader instead of the oily Mr. Hoyer.

Further, I can't help but suspect that it was Hoyer, and not Pelosi herself, who was behind her public insistence that impeachment was "off the table", prior to her becoming the Speaker. Ever the consummate wheeler-dealer, he didn't command enough support to take the top post himself, but obviously held more than enough chits amongst his Democratic colleagues to deny it to her. I think if she was truly able to have her way, Dick Cheney would be sitting in the Senste docket right now, awaiting trial.

Posted by: Donald from Hawaii on December 26, 2007 at 3:52 PM | PERMALINK

>the failure to prosecute has repercussions well beyond whether Bush and Cheney are ever held directly accountable"

Trace this back to the 'pardoning' of Richard Nixon by Gerald Ford... which set the scene for the later Bush I pardons of the 'Israel-Iran-Contra' players.

If Nixon, and later Reagan had spent some years peering out from behind bars this country would be a lot better off. As it is today, the top members of the political apparatus know that they are exempt from justice.

Posted by: Buford on December 26, 2007 at 4:25 PM | PERMALINK

We would be better off if Bush & Co were gone.
We would be better off if Rahm Emanuel weren't a leader.
We would be better off with a Dem president.

And, with a little luck we'll get all those things.

Harry Reid might not seem nearly as bad with a Dem president. But, we'll see. Maybe Dodd will take Leader from him.

Posted by: MarkH on December 26, 2007 at 4:30 PM | PERMALINK

Heh, as remarkable as particles being waves and vice versa. Once again, I just have to link to The Quantum Cheneyverse

Posted by: Neil B. on December 26, 2007 at 4:55 PM | PERMALINK

Where have you gone, the real TBrosz, a lonely nation turns its eyes to you . . .

Woo woo woo . . .

Posted by: rea on December 26, 2007 at 8:00 PM | PERMALINK

apollo 13: Aren't we taxpayers footing one heckuva shredding bill for the OVP?

In 2000, the feds spent $452,807 for shredding paper.

2006, that number was up to $2.9 million.

Halfway through 2007, that number was $2.7 million and counting.


Posted by: mr. irony on December 27, 2007 at 7:00 AM | PERMALINK

And yet, as absurd as was Cheney's argument, it worked like a charm.

Basically, the Vice President was caught ignoring a presidential directive (a very serious constitutional issue). So what did he do? He foated the patently ridiculous argument that the OVP isn't part of theexecutive and presto-bango - none of the pundits cared about constitutional principles anymore. It was much more fun to make stupid jokes and laugh at Cheney's stupid rationalization.

It's more dangerous to be taken seriously than it is to be lampooned.

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