The Extraconstitutional Beast

Ken AshfordBush & Co.1 Comment

Following the revelation that Cheney believes he is not part of the Executive Branch of government (and therefore not subject to rules and oversight when it comes to classified information), legislation is being sponsored in both houses of Congress whicih will cut off all funding to the Vice President — at least until he comes forward and says what branch of government he is in.

Pretty good.

Meanwhile, Carpetbagger notes what a problem this is causing for the Bush White House, trying to weasel their way out of this bizarre thing:

The White House has had almost a week to come up with some semblance of a rationale for Dick Cheney arguing that he’s not part of the executive branch. There are some clever spin doctors in the vaunted White House communications office and some creative lawyers in the WH counsel’s office; surely someone will come up with something vaguely coherent, right? Wrong.

The explanatory task fell to White House spokeswoman Dana Perino, whose skin reddened around her neck and collar as she pleaded ignorance during the daily briefing: “I’m not a legal scholar. . . . I’m not opining on his argument that his office is making. . . . I don’t know why he made the arguments that he did.”

“It’s a little surreal,” remarked Keith Koffler of Congress Daily. “You’re telling me,” Perino agreed.

"You can’t give an opinion about whether the vice president is part of the executive branch or not?” Koffler pressed. “It’s a little bit like somebody saying, ‘I don’t know if this is my wife or not.’"


At my favorite point, Perino said, “I think that everyone is making this a little bit more complicated than it needs to be.” Moments later, when a reporter asked why she “can’t give an opinion about whether the Vice President is part of the executive branch or not,” Perino responded, “I think it’s a little bit more complicated than that.” In other words, as far as Perino was concerned reporters were making this controversy more complicated and less complicated simultaneously.

A reporter eventually said, “[Cheney] can argue he’s part of both, but he can’t possibly argue that he’s part of neither. And it seems like he’s saying he’s part of neither.” To which Perino responded, “Okay, you have me thoroughly confused.”

It was the only thing she got right the whole day.

There’s a moment in Monty Python and the Holy Grail when an obnoxious Frenchman is taunting Arthur and Galahad. After a series of abusive comments, Galahad eventually asks, “Is there someone else up there we could talk to?”

I thought about that yesterday. At one point, Perino said, in response to one of many Cheney-related questions, “I don’t know that to be true, so I’m not commenting on it.” Helen Thomas responded, “Can you send someone out here who can?”

Meanwhile, Dana Milbank reports today in the Washington Post that Cheney argued, back in 2001, that he was exempt from oversight because he is part of the executive branch.

Cheney has refused to comply with an order governing the care of classified documents; his office concluded that the order does not apply because he is not “an entity within the executive branch.”

That’s quite opposite the argument Cheney made in 2001, when he said that a congressional probe into the workings of his energy task force “would unconstitutionally interfere with the functioning of the executive branch.” Cheney has, in effect, declared himself to be neither fish nor fowl but an exotic, extraconstitutional beast who answers to no one.