Cheney Flip-Flops, But Still Says He’s Not Subject To Executive Order

Ken AshfordBush & Co.Leave a Comment

Dick Cheney’s office is abandoning a justification for keeping classified docouments from the auditors of the National Archives.  Cheney had tried to claim he is separate from the executive branch, but they will no longer pursue that defense, senior administration officials now say.  That original claim had been met with widespread derision from the right and the left:

White House spokespeople have been struggling to answer questions about the argument without repeating, amplifying or embracing it.

Blogs, comics and pundits feasted on the neither-fish-nor-fowl argument, with Jon Stewart joking on “The Daily Show” Tuesday night that the vice president may be “half she-wolf.”

Does this mean the Veep’s Office will comply with the Executive Order requiring oversight and audits of classified material?  Nope:

In a letter to Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), Cheney Chief of Staff David S. Addington wrote that the order treats the vice president the same as the president and distinguishes them both from "agencies" subject to the oversight provisions of the executive order.

Addington did not cite specific language in the executive order supporting this view, and a Cheney spokeswoman could not point to such language last night. But spokeswoman Lee Anne McBride said the intent of the order, as expressed by White House officials in recent days, was "not for the VP to be separated from the president on this reporting requirement."

In other words, Cheney has gone from a laughable defense to, essentially, no supportable defense at all.  The Executive Order at issue, which you can read in plain English here, does not make a distinction between agencies within the executive department (on the one hand) and the president/vice president. 

Here’s the key paragraph, Section 5.2(b)(4):

Under the direction of the Archivist, acting in consultation with the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs, the Director of the Information Security Oversight Office shall:

    (1) develop directives for the implementation of this order;

    (2) oversee agency actions to ensure compliance with this order and its implementing directives;

    (3) review and approve agency implementing regulations and agency guides for systematic declassification review prior to their issuance by the agency;

    (4) have the authority to conduct on-site reviews of each agencys program established under this order, and to require of each agency those reports, information, and other cooperation that may be necessary to fulfill its responsibilities.

And what is "agency"?  Here’s the key definition, under Section 6.1(b):

(b) "Agency" means any "Executive agency," as defined in 5 U.S.C. 105; any "Military department" as defined in 5 U.S.C. 102; and any other entity within the executive branch that comes into the possession of classified information.

Where does the argument come from that the Executive Order is supposed to treat the vice-president’s office differently from other executive agencies?  Nowhere.  It comes out of thin air.

RELATED:  Speaking of something fishy, the final installment of Jo Becker and Barton Gellman’s four-part series on Richard Bruce Cheney has been put up at the Washington Post‘s Web site.  Here’s something to make you feel all warm anf fuzzy about the Veep:

Law and science seemed to be on the side of the fish. Then the vice president stepped in.

First Cheney looked for a way around the law, aides said. Next he set in motion a process to challenge the science protecting the fish, according to a former Oregon congressman who lobbied for the farmers.

Because of Cheney’s intervention, the government reversed itself and let the water flow in time to save the 2002 growing season, declaring that there was no threat to the fish. What followed was the largest fish kill the West had ever seen, with tens of thousands of salmon rotting on the banks of the Klamath River.

Characteristically, Cheney left no tracks.

UPDATE:  Won’t this be fun?

CAPITOL HILL (AP) A Senate panel is demanding some documents from the White House and from Vice President Cheney’s office.

The Judiciary Committee today issued a subpoena for documents related to President Bush’s program involving eavesdropping without warrants.

The subpoenas also name the Justice Department and the National Security Council.