Cheney’s refusal to comply with oversight order is out of line
The vice president has refused to comply with an executive order to ensure protection of classified information.
DICK Cheney's passion for secrecy and executive power is a hallmark of the most forceful vice president in U.S. history, but his refusal to comply with an order from the man who is ostensibly his boss goes beyond the pale.
Yet, President Bush backs up his second in command, albeit for a reason that conflicts with Cheney's.
Since 2003, Cheney has spurned Bush's order that entities of the executive branch give the Information Security Oversight Office of the National Archives data on how much material they classify and declassify. All other agencies, even the National Security Council, routinely comply.
However, since shortly after the president awarded Cheney broad, unprecedented power to classify and declassify material on his own, the vice president has refused to provide the data.
Cheney contends that because the vice president also is president of the Senate, his office is not an "entity within the executive branch," the order's definition of agencies that must comply.
The argument ignores the fact that Cheney's executive role, not his legislative function of breaking tie votes, allows him free access to classified intelligence, blunting his escape clause from oversight.
Conversely, Bush argues that Cheney really is an "entity" of the executive branch, but that executive privilege exempts them both from reporting. Further, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino says, Bush is the "sole enforcer" of the executive order.
She could not, however, explain why Cheney did conform to the reporting requirement in 2001 and 2002, then stopped, blocking an on-site inspection in 2004 by the oversight office.
The sequence of events gives administration opponents ammunition, drawing speculation that at the time, Cheney's then chief of staff, I. Lewis Libby, and others were under investigation in the unmasking of an undercover CIA agent, which ended in Libby's conviction for perjury and obstruction of justice.
Rep. Henry Waxman, the House oversight committee chairman, contends Cheney's office has "the worst record in the executive branch for safeguarding classified material," pointing to the vice president's declassifying reports so Libby could share them with reporters to counter criticism of the administration. Waxman also noted that a former Cheney aide pleaded guilty last year to passing classified data in a plot to assassinate the president of the Philippines.
In addition, documents revealed that after the oversight office appealed Cheney's refusal to comply, the vice president sought to shut down the office and prevent a ruling from the attorney general.
The issue is but one in which Cheney has pulled a cloak of secrecy over his office. He has blocked information about who visits his home and office, his political appointees, where he travels and how much his travel costs, among other matters. While some of these may be rightly kept secret, the vice president has come to believe he is free from checks or scrutiny. He needs to be dissuaded.