Thursday, October 27, 2005

I have a brand new National Journal piece out tonight as we await the final denouement of Patrick Fitzgerald's grand jury. Here is the lede and a few key paragraphs:

Vice President Cheney and his chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, overruling advice from some White House political staffers and lawyers, decided to withhold crucial documents from the Senate Intelligence Committee in 2004 when the panel was investigating the use of pre-war intelligence that erroneously concluded Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, according to Bush administration and congressional sources.
Among the White House materials withheld from the committee were Libby-authored passages in drafts of a speech that then-Secretary of State Colin L. Powell delivered to the United Nations in February 2003 to argue the Bush administration's case for war with Iraq...
The new information that Cheney and Libby blocked information to the Senate Intelligence Committee further underscores the central role played by the vice president's office in trying to blunt criticism that the Bush administration exaggerated intelligence data to make the case to go to war...

In addition to withholding drafts of Powell's speech -- which included passages written by Libby -- the administration also refused to turn over to the committee contents of the president's morning intelligence briefings on Iraq, sources say. These documents, known as the Presidential Daily Brief, or PDB, are a written summary of intelligence information and analysis provided by the CIA to the president.

In my National Journal article, I mention an aide to Cheney whose name hasn't come up before in either the Iraq pre-war intelligence fiasco and the Fitzgerald investigation, yet has been ubiquitous in both. That is David Addington, the general counsel to the Vice President. Addington has been fairly good at exercsing his authority behind the scenes. But here are some excerpts from a Washington Post profile that might be of interest to some of you:

Since he took office, Vice President Cheney has led the Bush administration's effort to increase the power of the presidency. "I have repeatedly seen an erosion of the powers and the ability of the president of the United States to do his job," he said after a year in office, calling it "wrong" for past presidents to yield to congressional demands. "We are weaker today as an institution because of the unwise compromises that have been made over the last 30 to 35 years."
Cheney has tried to increase executive power with a series of bold actions -- some so audacious that even conservatives on the Supreme Court sympathetic to Cheney's view have rejected them as overreaching. The vice president's point man in this is longtime aide David Addington, who serves as Cheney's top lawyer.
Where there has been controversy over the past four years, there has often been Addington. He was a principal author of the White House memo justifying torture of terrorism suspects. He was a prime advocate of arguments supporting the holding of terrorism suspects without access to courts.
Addington also led the fight with Congress and environmentalists over access to information about corporations that advised the White House on energy policy. He was instrumental in the series of fights with the Sept. 11 commission and its requests for information...
Colleagues say Addington stands out for his devotion to secrecy in an administration noted for its confidentiality. He declined to be interviewed or photographed for this article, and he did not respond to a list of specific points made in the article.
Addington, 47, was a lawyer and GOP staffer on congressional committees on intelligence and the Iran-contra matter, before Cheney chose him to serve as general counsel at the Pentagon when Cheney was defense secretary.
Even in a White House known for its dedication to conservative philosophy, Addington is known as an ideologue, an adherent of an obscure philosophy called the unitary executive theory that favors an extraordinarily powerful president.
The unitary executive notion can be found in the torture memo. "In light of the president's complete authority over the conduct of war, without a clear statement otherwise, criminal statutes are not read as infringing on the president's ultimate authority in these areas," the memo said. Prohibitions on torture "must be construed as inapplicable to interrogations undertaken pursuant to his commander-in-chief authority. . . . Congress may no more regulate the president's ability to detain and interrogate enemy combatants than it may regulate his ability to direct troop movements on the battlefield." The same would go for "federal officials acting pursuant to the president's constitutional authority."...
Occasionally, others in the administration have sought to keep Addington out of the loop to avoid his inevitable objections. When the White House agreed, under pressure from Congress, to appoint a commission to investigate the absence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, Cheney's office did not know about it until a reporter from The Washington Post called to inquire.

There has been something of a backlash against Addington's philosophy within the administration, where some believe his aggressive legal arguments have caused the courts to become more suspicious of executive authority...
"Addington adds to the problems the president has with the courts," said Bruce Fein, who was an official in the Reagan Justice Department and worked with Addington during the Iran-contra probe. Fein said Addington is the "intellectual brainchild" of overreaching legal assertions that "have resulted in actually weakening the presidency because of intransigence."

Fein said Cheney and Addington, while arguing that they are reclaiming executive authority, are actually seeking to push it to new levels. Many of the restraints on executive authority -- the War Powers act, anti-impoundment legislation, the legislative veto and the independent counsel statute -- have already disappeared or become insignificant.

"They're in a time warp," Fein said. "If you look at the facts, presidential powers have never been higher."

No comments: