The Commons is a weblog for concerned citizens of southeast Iowa and their friends around the world. It was created to encourage grassroots networking and to share information and ideas which have either been suppressed or drowned out in the mainstream media.

"But if the cause be not good, the king himself hath a heavy reckoning to make, when all those legs and arms and heads, chopped off in battle, shall join together at the latter day and cry all 'We died at such a place;' some swearing, some crying for a surgeon, some upon their wives left poor behind them, some upon the debts they owe, some upon their children rawly left. I am afeard there are few die well that die in a battle; for how can they charitably dispose of any thing, when blood is their argument? Now, if these men do not die well, it will be a black matter for the king that led them to it; whom to disobey were against all proportion of subjection." (Henry V, Act V, Scene 4)

Saturday, June 30, 2007

In Own Party, Bush Risks Losing Control

In Own Party, Bush Risks Losing Control

WASHINGTON, June 29 — After a string of Republican defections this week — on Iraq, immigration and domestic eavesdropping — President Bush enters the final 18 months of his presidency in danger of losing control over a party that once marched in lockstep with him.

First, two prominent Republican senators broke with the president on Iraq. Then, Mr. Bush’s party abandoned him in droves on the immigration bill, sending the measure to its death in the Senate, despite the president’s fervent lobbying for it.

And when Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to issue subpoenas to the White House for documents related to its domestic eavesdropping program, three Republicans, including a longtime loyalist, Senator Orrin G. Hatch of Utah, joined them, and another three did not take a position.

For a president who once boasted that he had political capital and intended to use it, the back-to-back desertions demonstrated starkly just how little of that capital is left. With the nation turning its attention to who will succeed Mr. Bush — and Republican presidential candidates increasingly distancing themselves from him — even allies say it could become increasingly difficult for the president to assert himself over his party, much less force the Democratic majority in Congress to bend to his will.

“When you are first elected, you have some momentum and you have more ability to persuade,” Senator Jeff Sessions, Republican of Alabama, said in an interview. “In the last months of any administration, getting people to do something simply because the president asks for it is less. That’s certainly true here.”

Even weakened presidents retain tremendous influence; if nothing else, the conservative tenor of many of the Supreme Court’s decisions in the last week is a reminder of the ways in which Mr. Bush’s legacy will continue to shape politics and policy for a long time. As the president demonstrated in clashes with Congress over war spending and stem cell research, he still has enough Republican support to sustain a veto. And administration officials said Mr. Bush had no intention of writing off the next year and a half.

Still, for a president who once had almost absolute control over his own party and a proclivity to employ his power expansively if not audaciously, the last week was a reminder of how much things have changed. Republicans who came to office brimming with optimism just a few short years ago now sound as if they fear a long slog ahead.

One of them, Senator John Thune of South Dakota, who was elected in 2004, wondered whether the collapse of the immigration bill foreshadowed a long final 18 months of the Bush presidency. With the 2008 presidential campaign intensifying, Mr. Thune said achieving legislative accomplishments would almost certainly become increasingly difficult.

“Probably a lot of the heavy lifting will get pushed off. I hope that doesn’t happen, but it probably will,” Mr. Thune said Friday. “I suspect a lot of what’s going to dominate the atmosphere around here in the next several months will be on Iraq.”

An important test of Mr. Bush’s continued hold over his party will come in September, when his troop buildup in Iraq will be re-evaluated on Capitol Hill, and he will almost certainly face Republican pressure to shift course. Senators Richard G. Lugar of Indiana and George V. Voinovich of Ohio argued for a new direction this week. Even Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, has strongly suggested Republicans will demand a change.

“I think that the handwriting is on the wall that we are going in a different direction in the fall,” Mr. McConnell told reporters last month, “and I expect the president to lead it.”

That shakiness is reflected in public opinion polls, where Republican support for Mr. Bush has also dipped noticeably, said Andrew Kohut, executive director of the Pew Research Center for People and the Press, a nonpartisan research group.

Mr. Kohut said Republican support for Mr. Bush was dwindling across the party spectrum. Among moderate and liberal Republicans, 52 percent currently approve of Mr. Bush’s job performance, down from 63 percent in April, he said. Among conservatives, his job approval stood at 74 percent this month, down from 86 percent in April.

“He’s gone from a president with more support from his party to someone with rather modest support,” Mr. Kohut said, “and how he goes back to where he once was is not clear.”

In a sense, the defeat of the immigration bill could give Mr. Bush a lift by taking off the agenda an issue that has sapped his strength within his base. It is an axiom of politics that a loss is never a victory. But conservatives were so up in arms about the immigration bill, which they regarded as amnesty, that some say it is better for Mr. Bush that it failed.

“The president’s intentions were good, the heart was in the right place, the legislation was bad,” said Senator Jim DeMint, Republican of South Carolina. “If this had passed, America would have lost all confidence in the Congress and the president. I think this is going to give us a fresh start.”

But as lawmakers look ahead to their own re-election campaigns, political analysts predict more rough times ahead for Mr. Bush. After years of demanding that Republicans work in service of his agenda, the president has “very little good will stored up,” said Calvin C. Jillson, a political scientist at Southern Methodist University in Texas, Mr. Bush’s home state.

With 2008 looking like a tough year for Republicans, Mr. Jillson said lawmakers would look back to their districts, rather than to Washington and the White House, for guidance on how to vote. That was abundantly clear on immigration, when even Mr. Bush’s closest Republican allies — including two Texans, Senators John Cornyn and Kay Bailey Hutchison — openly opposed him.

“When John Cornyn defects from the president,” Mr. Jillson said, “you know the president’s mojo is completely gone.”

Jeff Zeleny contributed reporting.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Paul Krugman - The Murdoch Factor

The Murdoch Factor


In October 2003, the nonpartisan Program on International Policy Attitudes published a study titled “Misperceptions, the media and the Iraq war.” It found that 60 percent of Americans believed at least one of the following: clear evidence had been found of links between Iraq and Al Qaeda; W.M.D. had been found in Iraq; world public opinion favored the U.S. going to war with Iraq.

The prevalence of these misperceptions, however, depended crucially on where people got their news. Only 23 percent of those who got their information mainly from PBS or NPR believed any of these untrue things, but the number was 80 percent among those relying primarily on Fox News. In particular, two-thirds of Fox devotees believed that the U.S. had “found clear evidence in Iraq that Saddam Hussein was working closely with the Al Qaeda terrorist organization.”

So, does anyone think it’s O.K. if Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, which owns Fox News, buys The Wall Street Journal?

The problem with Mr. Murdoch isn’t that he’s a right-wing ideologue. If that were all he was, he’d be much less dangerous. What he is, rather, is an opportunist who exploits a rule-free media environment — one created, in part, by conservative political power — by slanting news coverage to favor whoever he thinks will serve his business interests.

In the United States, that strategy has mainly meant blatant bias in favor of the Bush administration and the Republican Party — but last year Mr. Murdoch covered his bases by hosting a fund-raiser for Hillary Clinton’s Senate re-election campaign.

In Britain, Mr. Murdoch endorsed Tony Blair in 1997 and gave his government favorable coverage, “ensuring,” reports The New York Times, “that the new government would allow him to keep intact his British holdings.”

And in China, Mr. Murdoch’s organizations have taken care not to offend the dictatorship.

Now, Mr. Murdoch’s people rarely make flatly false claims. Instead, they usually convey misinformation through innuendo. During the early months of the Iraq occupation, for example, Fox gave breathless coverage to each report of possible W.M.D.’s, with little or no coverage of the subsequent discovery that it was a false alarm. No wonder, then, that many Fox viewers got the impression that W.M.D.’s had been found.

When all else fails, Mr. Murdoch’s news organizations simply stop covering inconvenient subjects.

Last year, Fox relentlessly pushed claims that the “liberal media” were failing to report the “good news” from Iraq. Once that line became untenable — well, the Project for Excellence in Journalism found that in the first quarter of 2007 daytime programs on Fox News devoted only 6 percent of their time to the Iraq war, compared with 18 percent at MSNBC and 20 percent at CNN.

What took Iraq’s place? Anna Nicole Smith, who received 17 percent of Fox’s daytime coverage.

Defenders of Mr. Murdoch’s bid for The Journal say that we should judge him not by Fox News but by his stewardship of the venerable Times of London, which he acquired in 1981. Indeed, the political bias of The Times is much less blatant than that of Fox News. But a number of former Times employees have said that there was pressure to slant coverage — and everyone I’ve seen quoted defending Mr. Murdoch’s management is still on his payroll.

In any case, do we want to see one of America’s two serious national newspapers in the hands of a man who has done so much to mislead so many? (The Washington Post, for all its influence, is basically a Beltway paper, not a national one. The McClatchy papers, though their Washington bureau’s reporting in the run-up to Iraq put more prestigious news organizations to shame, still don’t have The Journal’s ability to drive national discussion.)

There doesn’t seem to be any legal obstacle to the News Corporation’s bid for The Journal: F.C.C. rules on media ownership are mainly designed to prevent monopoly in local markets, not to safeguard precious national informational assets. Still, public pressure could help avert a Murdoch takeover. Maybe Congress should hold hearings.

If Mr. Murdoch does acquire The Journal, it will be a dark day for America’s news media — and American democracy. If there were any justice in the world, Mr. Murdoch, who did more than anyone in the news business to mislead this country into an unjustified, disastrous war, would be a discredited outcast. Instead, he’s expanding his empire.

Bush plays al Qaida card to bolster support for Iraq policy

Bush plays al Qaida card to bolster support for Iraq policy
Jonathan S. Landay | McClatchy Newspapers

last updated: June 29, 2007 01:18:13 PM

WASHINGTON — Facing eroding support for his Iraq policy, even among Republicans, President Bush on Thursday called al Qaida "the main enemy" in Iraq, an assertion rejected by his administration's senior intelligence analysts.

The reference, in a major speech at the Naval War College that referred to al Qaida at least 27 times, seemed calculated to use lingering outrage over the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, to bolster support for the current buildup of U.S. troops in Iraq, despite evidence that sending more troops hasn't reduced the violence or sped Iraqi government action on key issues.

Bush called al Qaida in Iraq the perpetrator of the worst violence racking that country and said it was the same group that had carried out the Sept. 11 attacks in New York and Washington.

"Al Qaida is the main enemy for Shia, Sunni and Kurds alike," Bush asserted. "Al Qaida's responsible for the most sensational killings in Iraq. They're responsible for the sensational killings on U.S. soil."

U.S. military and intelligence officials, however, say that Iraqis with ties to al Qaida are only a small fraction of the threat to American troops. The group known as al Qaida in Iraq didn't exist before the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, didn't pledge its loyalty to al Qaida leader Osama bin Laden until October 2004 and isn't controlled by bin Laden or his top aides.

Bush's references to al Qaida came just days after Republican Sens. Richard Lugar of Indiana, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and George Voinovich of Ohio broke with Bush over his Iraq strategy and joined calls to begin an American withdrawal.

"The only way they think they can rally people is by blaming al Qaida," said Vincent Cannistraro, a former chief of the CIA's Counter-Terrorism Center who's critical of the administration's strategy.

Next month, the Senate is expected to debate the Iraq issue as it considers a Pentagon spending bill. Democrats are planning to offer at least three amendments that seek to change Iraq strategy, including revoking the 2002 resolution that authorized Bush to use force in Iraq and mandating that a withdrawal of troops begin within 120 days.

Bush's use of al Qaida in his speech had strong echoes of the strategy the administration had used to whip up public support for the Iraq invasion by accusing the late Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein of cooperating with bin Laden and implying that he'd played a role in the Sept. 11 attacks. Administration officials have since acknowledged that Saddam had no ties to bin Laden or 9-11.

A similar pattern has developed in Iraq, where the U.S. military has cited al Qaida 33 times in a barrage of news releases in the last seven days, and some news organizations have echoed the drumbeat. Last month, al Qaida was mentioned only nine times in U.S. military news releases.

In his speech, Bush referred only fleetingly to the sectarian violence that pits Sunni Muslim insurgents against Shiite Muslim militias in bloody tit-for-tat attacks, bombings, atrocities and forced mass evictions from contested areas of Baghdad and other cities and towns.

U.S. intelligence agencies and military commanders say the Sunni-Shiite conflict is the greatest source of violence and insecurity in Iraq.

"Extremists — most notably the Sunni jihadist group al Qaida in Iraq and Shia oppositionist Jaysh al-Mahdi — continue to act as very effective accelerators for what has become a self-sustaining struggle between Shia and Sunnis," the National Intelligence Council wrote in the unclassified key judgments of a National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq published in January. Jaysh al Mahdi is Arabic for the Mahdi Army militia of anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al Sadr.

The council comprises the top U.S. intelligence analysts, and a National Intelligence Estimate is the most comprehensive assessment it produces for the president and a small number of his senior aides. It reflects the consensus of all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies.

In his speech, Bush made other questionable assertions.

He claimed that U.S. troops were fighting "block by block" in Baqouba, a city northeast of Baghdad, as part of an offensive to clear out al Qaida fighters.

But Gen. Raymond Odierno, the U.S. ground commander in Iraq, said earlier this month that 80 percent of the insurgents American troops expected to encounter in Baqouba had fled before the operation began, including much of the insurgent leadership.

There was little heavy fighting. Out of 10,000 U.S. troops involved, only one has been killed.

Bush categorically blamed al Qaida for the Feb. 22, 2006, bombing of the Askariya mosque, a sacred Shiite shrine in Samarra whose destruction accelerated sectarian bloodshed.

But no group has claimed responsibility for the attack, and U.S. officials say there's no proof that al Qaida in Iraq was responsible, only strong suspicions.

Critics of the war are questioning the administration's increasing references to al Qaida.

"We cannot attribute all the violence in Iraq to al Qaida," retired Army Maj. Gen. John Batiste, who commanded the 1st Infantry Division in Iraq before becoming an opponent of Bush's strategy there, told the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Wednesday. "Al Qaida is certainly a component, but there's larger components."

(Mike Drummond of The Charlotte Observer in Baghdad and Nancy A. Youssef contributed to this report.)

McClatchy Newspapers 2007

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Sidney Blumenthal - The imperial vice presidency

The imperial vice presidency
New details about his secret mission to expand the power of the president show that Cheney, at the end of his career, refuses to loosen his grip.

By Sidney Blumenthal

Jun. 28, 2007 | When Huey P. Long left the governorship of Louisiana in 1932 to become a U.S. senator, he filled the position with a childhood friend named Oscar Kelly Allen, known as O.K., who gave the OK to whatever the Kingfish wished. The story is still told, perhaps apocryphal, that one day a leaf wafted through an open window and landed on O.K.'s desk and, without hesitation, he signed it.

Two months after 9/11, on the day of the fall of Kabul, Afghanistan, Nov. 13, 2001, Vice President Dick Cheney appeared in the Oval Office with a four-page executive order designating terrorism suspects as enemy combatants to be held indefinitely, with no right to have their detention reviewed by any court except newly created military commissions, where they would not be permitted to learn the accusations or evidence against them, or be represented by counsel, or even know that their case had been heard and decided.

The secretary of state and the national security advisor were deliberately kept uninformed as the White House staff secretary prepared the order for signature. According to a four-part series published this week in the Washington Post on the extraordinary power of the vice president, "When it [the order] returned to the Oval Office, in a blue portfolio embossed with the presidential seal, Bush pulled a felt-tip pen from his pocket and signed without sitting down. Almost no one else had seen the text." Colin Powell was stunned when he learned of the fait accompli. "What the hell just happened?" he asked. Condoleezza Rice was described as "incensed." But neither of them, then or later, effectively challenged Cheney's usurpation of executive authority. And, as can be gathered inferentially, Bush never bothered to ask Cheney about their opinions on the executive order or to call them; nor did he seem to care.

The Washington Post series, written by Barton Gellman and Jo Becker, is an acknowledgment, after more than six years, of the hardly secret scope of Cheney's unprecedented influence. The articles provide fresh detail of his elaborate network within the federal government and how he pulls its strings. On principle, Cheney and his aides are hostile to regular lines of authority set up to enforce professional standards and a responsible chain of command. Having served as President Ford's chief of staff, he understood intimately how control of the paper flow meant control of the decision making. In 1999, the Post reported, Cheney explained to a conference of presidential historians: "The process of moving paper in and out of the Oval Office, who gets involved in the meetings, who does the president listen to, who gets a chance to talk to him before he makes a decision, is absolutely critical."

Cheney has crushed the normal interagency process that permitted communication, cross-fertilization and cooperation at the sub-Cabinet level through all previous modern administrations. At the same time, he has isolated Cabinet secretaries, causing them to be fired when they contradicted him, as he did with Christine Todd Whitman, former head of the Environmental Protection Agency, and former Secretary of the Treasury Paul O'Neill.

Cheney thrives in darkness, operating by stealth within the government, and makes a cult of secrecy. None of these insights are new, except for additional telling details. Reports the Post: "Man-size Mosler safes, used elsewhere in government for classified secrets, store the workaday business of the office of the vice president. Even talking points for reporters are sometimes stamped 'Treated As: Top Secret/SCI.'"

The Post series appeared just as Cheney refused to provide his office's documents to the National Archives and Records Administration as provided by law. He then attempted to abolish the specific agency within the Archives to punish it for its impudence. Cheney's chief of staff and former counsel, David Addington, floated the novel doctrine that the vice president is not "an entity within the executive branch." He claimed that the Archives had no authority and that therefore it "is not necessary in these circumstances to address the subject of any alternative reasoning." Only when Rep. Rahm Emanuel, D-Ill., proposed cutting off the vice president's $4.8 million in executive-branch funding did Cheney concede.

Despite the absurdity of Addington's argument, Cheney has a point, though not a constitutional one. He has transformed an office that Franklin D. Roosevelt's first vice president, John Nance Garner, said was "not worth a bucket of warm piss" into one of vast power. Cheney has acted as the Stalin of the Bush administration, the master of the bureaucracy, eliminating one rival after another, ruthlessly and unscrupulously concentrating power, the culmination of a more than 30-year career. The Post articles are based on information provided by dissidents who have suffered at Cheney's hand and have given Post reporters stories proving that Cheney's whole point is power.

Rather than transcending the executive, Cheney has deranged it in his effort to remake it into a branch of government of unlimited, unaccountable power. The head of the search committee who chose himself to be the experienced vice president to a callow president saw in George W. Bush his opportunity radically to alter the place of the executive within the federal government, which he had been straining to do since he served as Donald Rumsfeld's assistant in the Nixon White House. Cheney has viewed recent American history as a struggle between the imperial presidency necessary in a brutish world and the naive, undependable and in some cases disloyal constraints of Congress, the press and the judiciary. Under Bush, Cheney has shaped the presidential prerogative, acting as "an entity within the executive branch." Secrecy is essential to the protection of presidential prerogative. Follow the paper trail to the Mosler safe.

Even as the spotlight shines on the opaque Cheney, the light reflects on others as well. By shielding Bush from alternatives, Cheney has locked in certain decisions that Bush stubbornly defends as his own. The president's plight is not that of a removed ruler tragically kept from knowing what his government is doing in his name. He has had time to observe the consequences. He is aware of what Cheney says to him. The Decider decides that Cheney will decide what the Decider decides. This is not a case of if-only-the-czar-knew. In the seventh year of his presidency, Bush's decision making consists of justifying his previous decisions.

Of the Bush Cabinet secretaries, former Attorney General John Ashcroft most strenuously confronted Cheney about his seizures of power. Ashcroft was perhaps the most conservative member of the Cabinet, and it was out of a sense of his own constitutional obligation that he objected. When Ashcroft discovered that John Yoo, the deputy assistant in the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, had been recruited by the Cheney operation to write memos on detainee policy that would deny any role in the new legal process to the Justice Department, he was outraged. At the White House he confronted Cheney and Addington. "According to participants [at the meeting]," the Post reported, "Ashcroft said that he was the president's senior law enforcement officer, supervised the FBI and oversaw terrorism prosecutions nationwide. The Justice Department, he said, had to have a voice in the tribunal process." But Cheney did not relent. Ashcroft received no meeting to discuss the matter with Bush. Cheney was the gatekeeper -- the decider for the Decider.

The narrative of Powell's internal struggle with Cheney remains largely unknown. From conversations I have had with former senior CIA officials, it is clear that Powell himself does not fully understand all the ways he was misled, manipulated and abused in order to get him to make the case for the invasion of Iraq. To this day, Powell still does not really know what the CIA and the White House knew about weapons of mass destruction and when they knew it, largely because Cheney was so successful in his rigging of the intelligence process.

Powell's performance on NBC's "Meet the Press" on June 10 demonstrated his continuing confusion. He wondered why the CIA didn't tell him before his speech to the United Nations on Feb. 5, 2003, that the intelligence on mobile weapons laboratories wasn't solid, even now unaware that CIA director George Tenet had been informed by CIA officers but dismissed their information because it ran counter to the case the administration wished to make for going to war.

Powell was caught between his diminished self-image as a loyal aide and good soldier indebted to a coterie of Republicans who had promoted him eventually to secretary of state, and his grandiose self-image as the most respected and popular public man in the country, and his influence imploded. He was strangely incapable of gaining political traction to hold his ground. Now the record cannot be changed. He can only learn how easily Cheney toyed with him.

Curiously absent in the lengthy Post articles, except in one brief passing scene, is Cheney's ubiquitous shadow in his shadow presidency -- his former chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby. Obsessed with secrecy, Cheney ordered Libby to ensure that one national security secret became public -- the identity of Valerie Plame Wilson as a covert CIA officer. Now convicted on four counts of perjury and obstruction of justice, Libby awaits word from the federal appeals court on whether he will be able to stay his 30-month prison sentence. Steadfastly refusing to cooperate with the prosecutor, he continues his obstruction, protecting his principal. "There is a cloud over the vice president," said Patrick Fitzgerald, the special prosecutor, in his closing remarks to the jury. "And that cloud remains because this defendant obstructed justice."

Despite the recent round of punditry that Cheney's influence has waned, he remains a formidable force. These are Cheney's final days; this is his endgame. He will never run again for public office. He is freed from the constraints of political consequences. He now has no horizon. He lives only in the present. He is nearly done. There are only months left to achieve his goals. Mortality impinges. Next month, he will have his heart pacemaker replaced. He disdains public opinion. He does not care who's next. "We didn't get elected to be popular," he said on Fox News on May 10. "We didn't get elected to worry just about the fate of the Republican Party."

To the last minute, Cheney refuses to loosen his grip on power. Meanwhile, his former aides pump up pressure for a presidential pardon -- a pardon that would enshrine Libby's obstruction of justice and shield Cheney forever, "an entity in the executive branch" who would be above the law. A breeze is blowing a leaf toward an open window of the Oval Office.

Three Bad Rulings

Three Bad Rulings
The New York Times | Editorial

Tuesday 26 June 2007

The Supreme Court hit the trifecta yesterday: Three cases involving the First Amendment. Three dismaying decisions by Chief Justice John Roberts's new conservative majority.

Chief Justice Roberts and the four others in his ascendant bloc used the next-to-last decision day of this term to reopen the political system to a new flood of special-interest money, to weaken protection of student expression and to make it harder for citizens to challenge government violations of the separation of church and state. In the process, the reconfigured court extended its noxious habit of casting aside precedents without acknowledging it - insincere judicial modesty scored by Justice Antonin Scalia in a concurring opinion.

First, campaign finance. Four years ago, a differently constituted court upheld sensible provisions of the McCain-Feingold Act designed to prevent corporations and labor unions from circumventing the ban on their spending in federal campaigns by bankrolling phony "issue ads." These ads purport to just educate voters about a policy issue, but are really aimed at a particular candidate.

The 2003 ruling correctly found that the bogus issue ads were the functional equivalent of campaign ads and upheld the Congressional restrictions on corporate and union money. Yet the Roberts court shifted course in response to sham issue ads run on radio and TV by a group called Wisconsin Right to Life with major funding from corporations opposed to Senator Russell Feingold, the Democrat who co-authored the act.

It opened a big new loophole in time to do mischief in the 2008 elections. The exact extent of the damage is unclear. But the four dissenters were correct in warning that the court's hazy new standard for assessing these ads is bound to invite evasion and fresh public cynicism about big money and politics.

The decision contained a lot of pious language about protecting free speech. But magnifying the voice of wealthy corporations and unions over the voice of candidates and private citizens is hardly a free speech victory. Moreover, the professed devotion to the First Amendment did not extend to allowing taxpayers to challenge White House aid to faith-based organizations as a violation of church-state separation. The controlling opinion by Justice Samuel Alito offers a cockeyed reading of precedent and flimsy distinctions between executive branch initiatives and Congressionally authorized spending to deny private citizens standing to sue. That permits the White House to escape accountability when it improperly spends tax money for religious purposes.

Nor did the court's concern for free speech extend to actually allowing free speech in the oddball case of an Alaska student who was suspended from high school in 2002 after he unfurled a banner reading "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" while the Olympic torch passed. The ruling by Chief Justice Roberts said public officials did not violate the student's rights by punishing him for words that promote a drug message at an off-campus event. This oblique reference to drugs hardly justifies such mangling of sound precedent and the First Amendment.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Impeach Cheney

Impeach Cheney

The vice president has run utterly amok and must be stopped.
By Bruce Fein
Posted Wednesday, June 27, 2007, at 5:06 PM ET

Under Dick Cheney, the office of the vice president has been transformed from a tiny acorn into an unprecedented giant oak. In grasping and exercising presidential powers, Cheney has dulled political accountability and concocted theories for evading the law and Constitution that would have embarrassed King George III. The most recent invention we know of is the vice president's insistence that an executive order governing the handling of classified information in the executive branch does not reach his office because he also serves as president of the Senate. In other words, the vice president is a unique legislative-executive creature standing above and beyond the Constitution. The House judiciary committee should commence an impeachment inquiry. As Alexander Hamilton advised in the Federalist Papers, an impeachable offense is a political crime against the nation. Cheney's multiple crimes against the Constitution clearly qualify.

Take the vice president's preposterous theory that his office is outside the executive branch because it also exercises a legislative function. The same can be said of the president, who also exercises a legislative function in signing or vetoing bills passed by Congress. Under Cheney's bizarre reasoning, President Bush is not part of his own administration: The executive branch becomes acephalous. Today Cheney Chief of Staff David Addington refused to renounce that reasoning, instead laughably trying to diminish the importance of the legal question at issue.

The nation's first vice president, John Adams, bemoaned: "My country has in its wisdom contrived for me the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived or his imagination conceived; and as I can do neither good nor evil, I must be borne away by others and meet common fate." Vice President John Nance Garner, serving under President Franklin D. Roosevelt, lamented: "The vice presidency isn't worth a pitcher of warm piss." In modern times, vice presidents have generally been confined to attending state funerals or to distributing blankets after earthquakes.

Then President George W. Bush outsourced the lion's share of his presidency to Vice President Cheney, and Mr. Cheney has made the most of it. Since 9/11, he has proclaimed that all checks and balances and individual liberties are subservient to the president's commander in chief powers in confronting international terrorism. Let's review the record of his abuses and excesses:

The vice president asserted presidential power to create military commissions, which combine the functions of judge, jury, and prosecutor in the trial of war crimes. The Supreme Court rebuked Cheney in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld. Mr. Cheney claimed authority to detain American citizens as enemy combatants indefinitely at Guantanamo Bay on the president's say-so alone, a frightening power indistinguishable from King Louis XVI's execrated lettres de cachet that occasioned the storming of the Bastille. The Supreme Court repudiated Cheney in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld.

The vice president initiated kidnappings, secret detentions, and torture in Eastern European prisons of suspected international terrorists. This lawlessness has been answered in Germany and Italy with criminal charges against CIA operatives or agents. The legal precedent set by Cheney would justify a decision by Russian President Vladimir Putin to kidnap American tourists in Paris and to dispatch them to dungeons in Belarus if they were suspected of Chechen sympathies.

The vice president has maintained that the entire world is a battlefield. Accordingly, he contends that military power may be unleashed to kill or capture any American citizen on American soil if suspected of association or affiliation with al-Qaida. Thus, Mr. Cheney could have ordered the military to kill Jose Padilla with rockets, artillery, or otherwise when he landed at O'Hare Airport in Chicago, because of Padilla's then-suspected ties to international terrorism.

Mr. Cheney has championed a presidential power to torture in contravention of federal statutes and treaties.

He has advocated and authored signing statements that declare the president's intent to disregard provisions of bills he has signed into law that he proclaims are unconstitutional, for example, a requirement to obtain a judicial warrant before opening mail or a prohibition on employing military force to fight narco-terrorists in Colombia. The signing statements are tantamount to absolute line-item vetoes that the Supreme Court invalidated in the 1998 case Clinton v. New York.

The vice president engineered the National Security Agency's warrantless domestic surveillance program targeting American citizens on American soil in contravention of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978. He concocted the alarming theory that the president may flout any law that inhibits the collection of foreign intelligence, including prohibitions on breaking and entering homes, torture, or assassinations. As a reflection of his power in this arena, today the Senate Judiciary Committee subpoenaed Cheney's office, as well as the White House, for documents that relate to the warrantless eavesdropping.

The vice president has orchestrated the invocation of executive privilege to conceal from Congress secret spying programs to gather foreign intelligence, and their legal justifications. He has summoned the privilege to refuse to disclose his consulting of business executives in conjunction with his Energy Task Force, and to frustrate the testimonies of Karl Rove and Harriet Miers regarding the firings of U.S. attorneys.

Cheney scorns freedom of speech and of the press. He urges application of the Espionage Act to prosecute journalists who expose national security abuses, for example, secret prisons in Eastern Europe or the NSA's warrantless surveillance program. He retaliated against Ambassador Joseph Wilson and his wife, Valerie Plame, through Chief of Staff Scooter Libby, for questioning the administration's evidence of weapons of mass destruction as justification for invading Iraq. Mr. Cheney is defending himself from a pending suit brought by Wilson and Plame on the grounds that he is entitled to the absolute immunity of the president established in 1982 by Nixon v. Fitzgerald. (Although this defense contradicts Cheney's claim that he is not part of the executive branch.)

The Constitution does not expressly forbid the president from abandoning his chief powers to the vice president. But President Bush's tacit delegation to Cheney and Cheney's eager acceptance tortures the Constitution's provision for an acting president. The presidency and vice presidency are discrete constitutional offices. The 12th Amendment provides for their separate elections. The sole constitutionally enumerated function of the vice president is to serve as president of the Senate without a vote except to break ties.

In contrast, Article II enumerates the powers and responsibilities of the president, including the obligation to take care that the laws be faithfully executed. A special presidential oath is prescribed. Section 3 of the 25th Amendment provides a method for the president to yield his office to the vice president, when "he is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office." There is no other constitutional provision for transferring presidential powers to the vice president.

Yet without making a written transmittal to Congress, President Bush has ceded vast domains of his powers to Vice President Cheney by mutual understanding that circumvents the 25th Amendment. This constitutional provision assures that the public and Congress know who is exercising the powers of the presidency and who should be held responsible for successes or failures. The Bush-Cheney dispensation blurs political accountability by continually hiding the real decision-maker under presidential skirts. The Washington Post has thoroughly documented the vice president's dominance in a four-part series running this week. It is quite a read.

In the end, President Bush regularly is unable to explain or defend the policies of his own administration, and that is because the heavy intellectual labor has been performed in the office of the vice president. Cheney is impeachable for his overweening power and his sneering contempt of the Constitution and the rule of law.

Article URL:

Rules? For Fools.

Rules? For Fools.

By Ruth Marcus

Wednesday, June 27, 2007; A19

Let's admit it: We in the media haven't had this much fun with Vice President Cheney since he shot a man in the face and neglected, for a while, to tell the boss. And let's admit: Like that episode, this one doesn't matter much on its own.

So the vice president's office wouldn't report how many documents it had classified, and it wouldn't let an obscure division of the National Archives look at its security procedures. In bureaucratese, OVP blocked ISOO from conducting an on-site review under Section 5.2 (b)(4) of Executive Order 12958, as amended.

Of all the vice president's excesses, this one barely registers on the Cheney Scale. Its seismic impact, rather, stems from the combination of so many Cheneyesque attributes: mania for secrecy, resistance to oversight, willingness to twist the law and assertion of unreviewable power.

This is Cheney's version of the $400 haircut/I voted for the $87 billion before I voted against it/I invented the Internet -- a moment whose importance is magnified because it fits with jigsaw precision into an existing template. In this case, as the Post series on Cheney has shown, those preconceptions are justified.

As maddening as the vice president's above-the-law attitude is the way he and his staff respond when challenged: first, the silent treatment, then the legal bait and switch. When the Information Security Oversight Office asked Cheney's chief of staff, David S. Addington, why the office had blocked its inspection, Addington didn't deign to reply -- twice. Neither did Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, to whom ISOO wrote in January for guidance.

Cheney's initial explanation for his refusal to file ISOO reports -- and this is where the fun we've been having with this story comes in -- rested on his unique status as both vice president and president of the Senate.

"This has been thoroughly reviewed, and it's been determined that the reporting requirement does not apply to [the office of the vice president], which has both legislative and executive functions," a Cheney spokeswoman told the Chicago Tribune in May last year.

This makes no sense -- as the White House's subsequent abandonment (mostly) of this argument suggests. No doubt, the vice president wears two hats. But it's hard to credit the argument that he is not as a result, "within the executive branch," and therefore covered by the executive order.

Indeed, when President Bush rewrote the order in 2003, he granted the vice president explicit authority "in the performance of executive duties" to classify and declassify information. So under Cheney's interpretation he simultaneously gets new executive classification powers but isn't part of the executive in having to report his handling of classified material.

Moreover, when the executive order wanted to exempt the vice president's office from one provision, it did so clearly. The amended order explicitly relieves the vice president's staff from having to comply with a rule letting outsiders seek declassification.

Now, the argument has shifted from that shaky ground to other, equally shaky ones.

First, that the office of the vice president isn't an agency covered by the regulation. "Supreme Court precedent shows that the vice president and the president are not seen as an agency when it comes to executive orders," the battered briefer, Dana Perino, dutifully recited Monday.

She was referring to a 1992 census case, Franklin v. Massachusetts, in which the Supreme Court said that the president was not considered an "agency" for purposes of the Administrative Procedure Act. That might be vaguely relevant if the executive order didn't contain its own, far broader definition of agency ("any other entity within the executive branch that comes into the possession of classified information").

Second, Perino now argues, the president never intended for his office or the vice president's to be covered by the reporting and inspection rules.

The president and vice president, for purposes of this order, she says, are one and the same -- an argument that doesn't quite square with Perino's point, at the same briefing, that "the vice president's paycheck comes from the Senate." And, Perino says, neither is covered by the relevant part of the executive order.

That would be a fine argument, and certainly within the president's power, except that's not what the order says. It's not the way previous administrations have interpreted it -- or how this one did for the first two years, when Cheney's office filed reports about its classification procedures. If the president meant to change that practice when he rewrote the executive order in 2003, he didn't mention it.

In the end, Cheney vs. ISOO is just another example of the Cheney doctrine at work: Never willingly provide information, however innocuous. Never do in public what you can accomplish by stealth. And never make a reasonable argument when an outlandish one is at hand.

Leaving No Tracks (WaPo Cheney Article, part 4)

Leaving No Tracks

By Jo Becker and Barton Gellman
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, June 27, 2007; Page A01

Sue Ellen Wooldridge, the 19th-ranking Interior Department official, arrived at her desk in Room 6140 a few months after Inauguration Day 2001. A phone message awaited her.

"This is Dick Cheney," said the man on her voice mail, Wooldridge recalled in an interview. "I understand you are the person handling this Klamath situation. Please call me at -- hmm, I guess I don't know my own number. I'm over at the White House."
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The vice president has intervened in many cases to undercut long-standing environmental rules for the benefit of business. Here, Cheney is photographed during an August 2004 family vacation in Moose, Wyoming. Getty Images
More photos >>

Wooldridge wrote off the message as a prank. It was not. Cheney had reached far down the chain of command, on so unexpected a point of vice presidential concern, because he had spotted a political threat arriving on Wooldridge's desk.

In Oregon, a battleground state that the Bush-Cheney ticket had lost by less than half of 1 percent, drought-stricken farmers and ranchers were about to be cut off from the irrigation water that kept their cropland and pastures green. Federal biologists said the Endangered Species Act left the government no choice: The survival of two imperiled species of fish was at stake.

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.

The Klamath case is one of many in which the vice president took on a decisive role to undercut long-standing environmental regulations for the benefit of business.

By combining unwavering ideological positions -- such as the priority of economic interests over protected fish -- with a deep practical knowledge of the federal bureaucracy, Cheney has made an indelible mark on the administration's approach to everything from air and water quality to the preservation of national parks and forests.

It was Cheney's insistence on easing air pollution controls, not the personal reasons she cited at the time, that led Christine Todd Whitman to resign as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, she said in an interview that provides the most detailed account so far of her departure.

The vice president also pushed to make Nevada's Yucca Mountain the nation's repository for nuclear and radioactive waste, aides said, a victory for the nuclear power industry over those with long-standing safety concerns. And his office was a powerful force behind the White House's decision to rewrite a Clinton-era land-protection measure that put nearly a third of the national forests off limits to logging, mining and most development, former Cheney staff members said.

Cheney's pro-business drive to ease regulations, however, has often set the administration on a collision course with the judicial branch.

The administration, for example, is appealing the order of a federal judge who reinstated the forest protections after she ruled that officials didn't adequately study the environmental consequences of giving states more development authority.

And in April, the Supreme Court rejected two other policies closely associated with Cheney. It rebuffed the effort, ongoing since Whitman's resignation, to loosen some rules under the Clean Air Act. The court also rebuked the administration for not regulating greenhouse gases associated with global warming, issuing its ruling less than two months after Cheney declared that "conflicting viewpoints" remain about the extent of the human contribution to the problem.

In the latter case, Cheney made his environmental views clear in public. But with some notable exceptions, he generally has preferred to operate with stealth, aided by loyalists who owe him for their careers.

When the vice president got wind of a petition to list the cutthroat trout in Yellowstone National Park as a protected species, his office turned to one of his former congressional aides.

The aide, Paul Hoffman, landed his job as deputy assistant interior secretary for fish and wildlife after Cheney recommended him. In an interview, Hoffman said the vice president knew that listing the cutthroat trout would harm the recreational fishing industry in his home state of Wyoming and that he "followed the issue closely." In 2001 and again in 2006, Hoffman's agency declined to list the trout as threatened.

Hoffman also was well positioned to help his former boss with what Cheney aides said was one of the vice president's pet peeves: the Clinton-era ban on snowmobiling in national parks. "He impressed upon us that so many people enjoyed snowmobiling in the Tetons," former Cheney aide Ron Christie said.

With Cheney's encouragement, the administration lifted the ban in 2002, and Hoffman followed up in 2005 by writing a proposal to fundamentally change the way national parks are managed. That plan, which would have emphasized recreational use over conservation, attracted so much opposition from park managers and the public that the Interior Department withdrew it. Still, the Bush administration continues to press for expanded snowmobile access, despite numerous studies showing that the vehicles harm the parks' environment and polls showing majority support for the ban.

Hoffman, now in another job at the Interior Department, said Cheney never told him what to do on either issue -- he didn't have to.

"His genius," Hoffman said, is that "he builds networks and puts the right people in the right places, and then trusts them to make well-informed decisions that comport with his overall vision."

'Political Ramifications'

Robert F. Smith had grown desperate by the time he turned to the vice president for help.
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Bush and Cheney, who lost Oregon by less than half of 1 percent in 2000, couldn't afford to anger thousands of Republican farmers and ranchers in the state during the 2002 midterm elections. Above, in 2001 a sign stands in a field near Klamath Falls, Oregon. Aurora/Getty Images

The former Republican congressman from Oregon represented farmers in the Klamath basin who had relied on a government-operated complex of dams and canals built almost a century ago along the Oregon-California border to irrigate nearly a quarter-million acres of arid land.

In April 2001, with the region gripped by the worst drought in memory, the spigot was shut off.

Studies by the federal government's scientists concluded unequivocally that diverting water would harm two federally protected species of fish, violating the Endangered Species Act of 1973. The Bureau of Reclamation was forced to declare that farmers must go without in order to maintain higher water levels so that two types of suckerfish in Upper Klamath Lake and the coho salmon that spawn in the Klamath River could survive the dry spell.

Farmers and their families, furious and fearing for their livelihoods, formed a symbolic 10,000-person bucket brigade. Then they took saws and blowtorches to dam gates, clashing with U.S. marshals as water streamed into the canals that fed their withering fields, before the government stopped the flow again.

What they didn't know was that the vice president was already on the case.

Smith had served with Cheney on the House Interior Committee in the 1980s, and the former congressman said he turned to the vice president because he knew him as a man of the West who didn't take kindly to federal bureaucrats meddling with private use of public land. "He saw, as every other person did, what a ridiculous disaster shutting off the water was," Smith said.

Cheney recognized, even before the shut-off and long before others at the White House, that what "at first blush didn't seem like a big deal" had "a lot of political ramifications," said Dylan Glenn, a former aide to President Bush.

Bush and Cheney couldn't afford to anger thousands of solidly Republican farmers and ranchers during the midterm elections and beyond. The case also was rapidly becoming a test for conservatives nationwide of the administration's commitment to fixing what they saw as an imbalance between conservation and economics.

"What does the law say?" Christie, the former aide, recalled the vice president asking. "Isn't there some way around it?"

Next, Cheney called Wooldridge, who was then deputy chief of staff to Interior Secretary Gale A. Norton and the woman handling the Klamath situation.

Aides praise Cheney's habit of reaching down to officials who are best informed on a subject he is tackling. But the effect of his calls often leads those mid-level officials scrambling to do what they presume to be his bidding.

That's what happened when a mortified Wooldridge finally returned the vice president's call, after receiving a tart follow-up inquiry from one of his aides. Cheney, she said, "was coming from the perspective that the farmers had to be able to farm -- that was his concern. The fact that the vice president was interested meant that everyone paid attention."

Cheney made sure that attention did not wander. He had Wooldridge brief his staff weekly and, Smith said, he also called the interior secretary directly.

"For months and months, at almost every briefing it was 'Sir, here's where we stand on the Klamath basin,'" recalled Christie, who is now a lobbyist. "His hands-on involvement, it's safe to say, elevated the issue."

'Let the Water Flow'

There was, as it happened, an established exemption to the Endangered Species Act.

A rarely invoked panel of seven Cabinet officials, known informally as the "God Squad," is empowered by the statute to determine that economic hardship outweighs the benefit of protecting threatened wildlife. But after discussing the option with Smith, Cheney rejected that course. He had another idea, one that would not put the administration on record as advocating the extinction of endangered or threatened species.

The thing to do, Cheney told Smith, was to get science on the side of the farmers. And the way to do that was to ask the National Academy of Sciences to scrutinize the work of the federal biologists who wanted to protect the fish.

Smith said he told Cheney that he thought that was a roll of the dice. Academy panels are independently appointed, receive no payment and must reach a conclusion that can withstand peer review.

"It worried me that these are individuals who are unreachable," Smith said of the academy members. But Cheney was firm, expressing no such concerns about the result. "He felt we had to match the science."

Smith also wasn't sure that the Klamath case -- "a small place in a small corner of the country" -- would meet the science academy's rigorous internal process for deciding what to study. Cheney took care of that. "He called them and said, 'Please look at this, it's important,'" Smith said. "Everyone just went flying at it."

William Kearney, a spokesman for the National Academies, said he was unaware of any direct contact from Cheney on the matter. The official request came from the Interior Department, he said.

It was Norton who announced the review, and it was Bush and his political adviser Karl Rove who traveled to Oregon in February 2002 to assure farmers that they had the administration's support. A month later, Cheney got what he wanted when the science academy delivered a preliminary report finding "no substantial scientific foundation" to justify withholding water from the farmers.

There was not enough clear evidence that proposed higher lake levels would benefit suckerfish, the report found. And it hypothesized that the practice of releasing warm lake water into the river during spawning season might do more harm than good to the coho, which thrive in lower temperatures. [Read the report.]

Norton flew to Klamath Falls in March to open the head gate as farmers chanted "Let the water flow!" And seizing on the report's draft findings, the Bureau of Reclamation immediately submitted a new decade-long plan to give the farmers their full share of water.

When the lead biologist for the National Marine Fisheries Service team critiqued the science academy's report in a draft opinion objecting to the plan, the critique was edited out by superiors and his objections were overruled, he said. The biologist, Michael Kelly, who has since quit the federal agency, said in a whistle-blower claim that it was clear to him that "someone at a higher level" had ordered his agency to endorse the proposal regardless of the consequences to the fish.
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An estimated 77,000 salmon washed up on the banks of the Klamath River. Last year, the government declared a "commercial fishery failure" on the West Coast. Above, dead salmon line the banks of the Klamath River in Sept. 2002. AP

Months later, the first of an estimated 77,000 dead salmon began washing up on the banks of the warm, slow-moving river. Not only were threatened coho dying -- so were chinook salmon, the staple of commercial fishing in Oregon and Northern California. State and federal biologists soon concluded that the diversion of water to farms was at least partly responsible.

Fishermen filed lawsuits and courts ruled that the new irrigation plan violated the Endangered Species Act. Echoing Kelly's objections, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit observed that the 10-year plan wouldn't provide enough water for the fish until year nine. By then, the 2005 opinion said, "all the water in the world" could not save the fish, "for there will be none to protect." In March 2006, a federal judge prohibited the government from diverting water for agricultural use whenever water levels dropped beneath a certain point.

Last summer, the federal government declared a "commercial fishery failure" on the West Coast after several years of poor chinook returns virtually shut down the industry, opening the way for Congress to approve more than $60 million in disaster aid to help fishermen recover their losses. That came on top of the $15 million that the government has paid Klamath farmers since 2002 not to farm, in order to reduce demand.

The science academy panel, in its final report, acknowledged that its draft report was "controversial," but it stood by its conclusions. Instead of focusing on the irrigation spigot, it recommended broad and expensive changes to improve fish habitat.

"The farmers were grateful for our decision, but we made the decision based on the scientific outcome," said the panel chairman, William Lewis, a biologist at the University of Colorado at Boulder. "It just so happened the outcome favored the farmers."

But J.B. Ruhl, another member of the panel and a Florida State University law professor who specializes in endangered species cases, said the Bureau of Reclamation went "too far," making judgments that were not backed up by the academy's draft report. "The approach they took was inviting criticism," Ruhl said, "and I didn't think it was supported by our recommendations."

'More Pro-Industry'

Whitman, then head of the EPA, was on vacation with her family in Colorado when her cellphone rang. The vice president was on the line, and he was clearly irked.

Why was the agency dragging its feet on easing pollution rules for aging power and oil refinery plants?, Cheney wanted to know. An industry that had contributed heavily to the Bush-Cheney campaign was clamoring for change, and the vice president told Whitman that she "hadn't moved it fast enough," she recalled.

Whitman protested, warning Cheney that the administration had to proceed cautiously. It was August 2001, just seven months into the first term. We need to "document this according to the books," she said she told him, "so we don't look like we are ramrodding something through. Because it's going to court."

But the vice president's main concern was getting it done fast, she said, and "doing it in a way that didn't hamper industry."
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Cheney's insistence on easing air pollution controls led Christine Todd Whitman, shown with Secretary of State Colin Powell and Cheney aide Lewis "Scooter" Libby, to resign as EPA administrator. Getty Images

At issue was a provision of the Clean Air Act known as the New Source Review, which requires older plants that belch millions of tons of smog and soot each year to install modern pollution controls when they are refurbished in a way that increases emissions.

Industry officials complained to the White House that even when they had merely performed routine maintenance and repairs, the Clinton administration hit them with violations and multimillion-dollar lawsuits. Cheney's energy task force ordered the EPA to reconsider the rule.

Whitman had already gone several rounds with the vice president over the issue.

She and Cheney first got to know each other in one of the Nixon administration's anti-poverty agencies, working under Donald H. Rumsfeld. When Cheney offered her the job in the Bush administration, the former New Jersey governor marveled at how far both had come. But as with Treasury Secretary Paul H. O'Neill, another longtime friend who owed his Cabinet post to Cheney, Whitman's differences with the vice president would lead to her departure.

Sitting through Cheney's task force meetings, Whitman had been stunned by what she viewed as an unquestioned belief that EPA's regulations were primarily to blame for keeping companies from building new power plants. "I was upset, mad, offended that there seemed to be so much head-nodding around the table," she said.

Whitman said she had to fight "tooth and nail" to prevent Cheney's task force from handing over the job of reforming the New Source Review to the Energy Department, a battle she said she won only after appealing to White House Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr. This was an environmental issue with major implications for air quality and health, she believed, and it shouldn't be driven by a task force primarily concerned with increasing production.

Whitman agreed that the exception for routine maintenance and repair needed to be clarified, but not in a way that undercut the ongoing Clinton-era lawsuits -- many of which had merit, she said.

Cheney listened to her arguments, and as usual didn't say much. Whitman said she also met with the president to "explain my concerns" and to offer an alternative.

She wanted to work a political trade with industry -- eliminating the New Source Review in return for support of Bush's 2002 "Clear Skies" initiative, which outlined a market-based approach to reducing emissions over time. But Clear Skies went nowhere. "There was never any follow-up," Whitman said, and moreover, there was no reason for industry to embrace even a modest pollution control initiative when the vice president was pushing to change the rules for nothing.

She decided to go back to Bush one last time. It was a crapshoot -- the EPA administrator had already been rolled by Cheney when the president reversed himself on a campaign promise to limit carbon dioxide emissions linked to global warming -- so she came armed with a political argument.

Whitman said she plunked down two sets of folders filled with news clips. This one, she said, pointing to a stack about 2-1/2 inches thick, contained articles, mostly negative, about the administration's controversial proposal to suspend tough new standards governing arsenic in drinking water. And this one, she said as she pointed to a pile four or five times as thick, are the articles about the rules on aging power plants and refineries -- and the administration hadn't even done anything yet.

"If you think arsenic was bad," she recalled telling Bush, "look at what has already been written about this."

But Whitman left the meeting with the feeling that "the decision had already been made." Cheney had a clear mandate from the president on all things energy-related, she said, and while she could take her case directly to Bush, "you leave and the vice president's still there. So together, they would then shape policy."

What happened next was "a perfect example" of that, she said.

The EPA sent rule revisions to White House officials. The read-back was that they weren't happy and "wanted something that would be more pro-industry," she said.

The end result, which she said was written at the direction of the White House and announced in August 2003, vastly broadened the definition of routine maintenance. It allowed some of the nation's dirtiest plants to make major modifications without installing costly new pollution controls.

By that time, Whitman had already announced her resignation, saying she wanted to spend more time with her family. But the real reason, she said, was the new rule.

"I just couldn't sign it," she said. "The president has a right to have an administrator who could defend it, and I just couldn't."

A federal appeals court has since found that the rule change violated the Clean Air Act. In their ruling, the judges said that the administration had redefined the law in a way that could be valid "only in a Humpty-Dumpty world."

Staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Other GOP Senators Embrace Lugar’s Call for Change of Course in Iraq

Other GOP Senators Embrace Lugar’s Call for Change of Course in Iraq

Republican senators expressed support today for Indiana Sen. Richard G. Lugar’s call for an immediate change of course in Iraq.

Lugar, the top Republican and former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in a floor speech yesterday that a gradual drawdown of U.S. troops in Iraq should begin immediately. Lugar said President Bush’s deployment of additional U.S. troops to Iraq was unlikely to produce positive results by September, when a report by Gen.David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, is due.

Lugar urged haste, before the political climate heats up heading into the 2008 elections. “The purpose of giving this speech now is that we are in a quiet period when we are not forced to extreme debates and there can be consensus building,” Lugar said today.

The speech displayed publicly sentiments Lugar had expressed to President Bush privately in January, he added.

Lugar doesn’t plan any specific legislation to advance his view, but will continue to advocate his position to other senators and will meet with the administration this week, he said.

“I hail what he did,” said Sen. John W. Warner, R-Va., former chairman of the Armed Services Committee. “It shows the strength that each of us individually must bring to this debate.”

A GOP Plan To Oust Cheney

A GOP Plan To Oust Cheney

By Sally Quinn
Tuesday, June 26, 2007; 12:00 AM

The big question right now among Republicans is how to remove Vice President Cheney from office. Even before this week's blockbuster series in The Post, discontent in Republican ranks was rising.

As the reputed architect of the war in Iraq, Cheney is viewed as toxic, and as the administration's leading proponent of an attack on Iran, he is seen as dangerous. As long as he remains vice president, according to this thinking, he has the potential to drag down every member of the party -- including the presidential nominee -- in next year's elections.

Removing a sitting vice president is not easy, but this may be the moment. I remember Barry Goldwater sitting in my parents' living room in 1973, in the last days of Watergate, debating whether to lead a group of senior Republicans to the White House to tell President Nixon he had to go. His hesitation was that he felt loyalty to the president and the party. But in the end he felt a greater loyalty to his country, and he went to the White House.

Today, another group of party elders, led by Sen. John Warner of Virginia, could well do the same. They could act out of concern for our country's plummeting reputation throughout the world, particularly in the Middle East.

For such a plan to work, however, they would need a ready replacement. Until recently, there hasn't been an acceptable alternative to Cheney -- nor has there been a persuasive argument to convince President Bush to make a change. Now there is.

The idea is to install a vice president who could beat the Democratic nominee in 2008. It's unlikely that any of the top three Republican candidates -- former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, Sen. John McCain of Arizona or former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney -- would want the job, for fear that association with Bush's war would be the kiss of death.

Nor would any of them be that attractive to the president. Giuliani is too New York, too liberal. His reputation as a leader, forged on 9/11 and the days after, carries him only so far. McCain, who has always had a rocky relationship with the president, lost much of his support from moderate Democrats and independents (and from a fair amount of Republicans) when the Straight Talk Express started veering off course. And no matter what anyone says about how Romney's religion doesn't matter, being a Mormon is simply not acceptable to Bush's base. Several right-wing evangelicals have told me they don't see Mormons as "true Christians."

That leaves Fred Thompson. Everybody loves Fred. He has the healing qualities of Gerald Ford and the movie-star appeal of Ronald Reagan. He is relatively moderate on social issues. He has a reputation as a peacemaker and a compromiser. And he has a good sense of humor.

He could be just the partner to bring out Bush's better nature -- or at least be a sensible voice of reason. I could easily imagine him telling the president, "For God's sake, do not push that button!" -- a command I have a hard time hearing Cheney give.

Not only that, Thompson would give the Republicans a platform for running for the presidency -- and the president a way out of Iraq without looking like he's backing down. Bush would be left in better shape on the war and be able to concentrate on AIDS and the environment in hopes of salvaging his legacy.

Cheney is scheduled this summer for surgery to replace his pacemaker, which needs new batteries. So if the president is willing, and Republicans are able, they have a convenient reason to replace him: doctor's orders. And I'm sure the the vice president would also like to spend more time with his ever-expanding family.

The writer is co-host, with John Meacham, of On Faith, an online conversation about religion.

'Angler' For Power

'Angler' For Power

By Eugene Robinson

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

I'm often asked why, given my lower-than-low opinion of this administration, I don't at least raise the subject of whether George W. Bush should be impeached. I answer with three scary words that tend to end the discussion: President Dick Cheney.

Then again, Cheney would probably think of moving into the Oval Office as a demotion. The president, at least, has some accountability to public opinion -- if he's going to defy it, he has to offer some explanation. The president has to hold an occasional news conference, tolerate meetings with his opponents on Capitol Hill and endure lectures from world leaders who question his policies. Cheney can just blow it all off.

Cheney will be remembered not just as the first sitting vice president since Aaron Burr to shoot someone but also as the first vice president in history clever and determined enough to turn what is usually a ceremonial office into a center of vast independent power.

It's ironic that the latest outrage from Cheney is his claim to be exempt from a presidential order concerning the handling of classified documents because his office is not actually, or at least not exclusively, a part of the executive branch. Cheney, you see, has spent the past six years pushing the envelope of executive authority, asserting for Bush and himself the right to do pretty much any damn thing they want.

Didn't Cheney claim executive privilege as his reason for keeping secret the process he followed in developing the administration's energy policy, including the names of the people with whom he met?

The flap over secret documents is a mere bagatelle, however, compared with the way Cheney has usurped, concentrated and wielded power. A remarkable series of stories in The Post about Cheney's unprecedented role began Sunday with the amazing tale of how, two months after the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, Cheney got Bush to sign an order denying foreign terrorism suspects access to any court of law, military or civilian.

Cheney presented Bush with the order, which had been written "in strict secrecy" by Cheney's lawyer, as the two had lunch. Within the hour, the document had been made official with Bush's signature -- and neither Secretary of State Colin Powell nor national security adviser Condoleezza Rice had been informed.

Rice was "incensed," according to The Post, while Powell didn't learn of the order -- which had enormous implications for U.S. foreign policy -- until he heard it announced that evening on CNN. His response: "What the hell just happened?"

What happened was that Cheney took him to school.

Cheney went on to oversee the development of the shameful philosophical and legal framework that the administration has used to justify submitting detainees in the "war on terror" to what Cheney called "robust interrogation" -- and what international agreements call torture. Cheney supported a hair-splitting distinction between torture on the one hand and "cruel, inhuman or degrading" treatment on the other.

I've never bought the theory of the Bush-Cheney relationship as Pinocchio-Geppetto -- it lets Bush off too easily to imagine that Cheney pulls all the strings. But it's clear that Cheney is the toughest, smartest infighter in the administration and that his toughness and smarts have been employed partly in service of an independent agenda. Cheney came into office believing that the presidency -- and, by extension, the vice presidency -- had been deflated, and he set out to puff them back up again.

Students of public administration should have to take a course called "Cheney." How he has amassed and employed his power offers a case study in how government really works -- and how a skillful operator can make a bureaucracy dance. Take Cheney's penchant for secrecy, which seems to border on the maniacal. His office stamps "SECRET" on routine documents, including talking points for officials to use with reporters. He keeps papers pertaining to everyday business in huge Mosler safes. Is this loopy? No, he's just putting into practice the dictum that information is power. Sunshine is for losers.

The vice president, whose Secret Service code name is "Angler," really does know all the angles. And above all, he knows how to survive. His onetime mentor Donald Rumsfeld is gone, his onetime top aide Scooter Libby is on his way to jail, yet Cheney -- defiantly, disastrously, unbelievably -- remains. It will take years to uncover and undo all the damage he has wrought.

Monday, June 25, 2007

A Strong Push From Back Stage (WaPo Cheney Story, part 3)

A Strong Push From Back Stage

By Jo Becker and Barton Gellman
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, June 26, 2007; Page A01

Air Force Two touched down at the Greenbrier Valley Airport in West Virginia on Feb. 6, 2003, carrying Vice President Cheney to the annual retreat of Republican House and Senate leaders. He had come to sell them on the economic centerpiece of President Bush's first term: a $674 billion tax cut.
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When the president announced his economic package the day after this Cabinet meeting in January 2003, Cheney had one more thing to add. Corbis

Cheney had spent months making sure the package contained everything he wanted. One thing was missing.

The president had accepted Cheney's diagnosis that the sluggish economy needed a jolt, overruling senior economic advisers who forecast dangerous budget deficits. But Bush rejected one of Cheney's remedies: deep reductions in the capital gains tax on investments.

The vice president "was just hot on that," said Cesar Conda, then Cheney's domestic policy adviser. "It goes to show you: He wins and he loses, and he lost on that one."

Not for long.

As the Republican lawmakers debated in a closed-door session at the Greenbrier resort, the vice president revived the argument, touting his idea as a way to energize a stock market battered by scandals such as Enron. House allies inserted Cheney's cut into their package. But that came at the expense of one of Bush's priorities: abolishing the tax on stock dividends.

Cheney has changed history more than once, earning his reputation as the nation's most powerful vice president. His impact has been on public display in the arenas of foreign policy and homeland security, and in a long-running battle to broaden presidential authority. But he has also been the unseen hand behind some of the president's major domestic initiatives.

Scores of interviews with advisers to the president and vice president, as well as with other senior officials throughout the government, offer a backstage view of how the Bush White House operates. The president is "the decider," as Bush puts it, but the vice president often serves up his menu of choices.

Cheney led a group that winnowed the president's list of potential Supreme Court nominees. Cheney resolved a crisis in the space program after the Columbia shuttle disaster. Cheney fashioned a controversial truce between the legislative and executive branches -- and averted resignations at the top of the Justice Department and the FBI -- over the right of law enforcement authorities to investigate political corruption in Congress.

And it was Cheney who served as the guardian of conservative orthodoxy on budget and tax matters. He shaped and pushed through Bush's tax cuts, blunting the influence of Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, a longtime friend, and of Cabinet rivals he had played a principal role in selecting. He managed to overcome the president's "compassionate conservative" resistance to multiple breaks for the wealthy. He even orchestrated a decision to let a GOP senator switch parties -- giving control of the chamber to Democrats -- rather than meet the senator's demand for billions of dollars in new spending.

On the home front, the vice president is well known for leading a secretive task force on energy policy. But in a town where politicians routinely scurry for credit, Cheney more often kept his role concealed, even from top Bush advisers.

"A lot of it was a black box, and I think designedly so," said former Bush speechwriter David Frum. "It was like -- you know that experiment where you pass a magnet under the table and you see the iron filings on the top of the table move? You know there's a magnet there because of what you see happening, but you never see the magnet."

A 'More Effective Role'

When Bush tapped Cheney to be his running mate seven years ago, he chose a man who had put a great deal of thought into how a vice president can transform himself from a funeral-trotting figurehead into a center of real power.
Expanding Authority for No. 2 Spot
In 1980, as Ford was being wooed to run for vice president, Cheney played a key role in re-imagining the job. More »
Photo: President Bush and Vice President Cheney check their watches in the White House on Jan. 26, 2001, following the ceremonial swearing-in ceremony for Secretary of State Colin Powell. (White House via Reuters)

As President Gerald R. Ford's chief of staff in the 1970s, Cheney saw firsthand how White House policies got shaped -- and how a vice president such as Nelson Rockefeller could become so marginalized as to be dumped from the ticket. Former Army secretary John O. Marsh Jr. said Cheney knew that he needed to control the process by which the president makes choices to ride "the rushing river of power" that winds through the West Wing to the Oval Office.

"Dick's major concern, one of them was, and I agree, that there needs to be a greater and more effective role for the vice president," Marsh, a longtime Cheney friend, said in an interview. "He holds the view, as do I, that the vice president should be the chief of staff in effect, that everything should run through his office."

In Bush, Cheney found the perfect partner. The president's willingness to delegate left plenty of room for his more detail-oriented vice president.

"My impression is that the president thinks that the Reagan style of leadership is best -- guiding the ship of state from high up on the mast," said former White House lawyer Bradford A. Berenson. "It seems to me that the vice president is more willing to get down in the wheelhouse below the decks."

When the space shuttle Columbia disintegrated over Texas on Feb. 1, 2003, for example, Bush was consumed with concern for the families of the seven dead astronauts. That left Cheney to make the first critical decisions about the future of manned spaceflight.

Even as the vice president and others were grappling with the invasion of Iraq, Cheney crafted a solution to the most pressing problem facing the space program, said former NASA administrator Sean O'Keefe, a Cheney protege.

With its shuttle fleet grounded, the space agency had no way to resupply the crew aboard the international space station, including two Americans. Russia was demanding $100 million to take up the slack. But Congress had barred space-related payments to Moscow unless the administration could certify that the Russians were not transferring banned technology to Iran for nuclear, biological or chemical weapons. Getting the law changed would take time, and could "open up a can of worms" with no guarantee that the result would be to the administration's liking, O'Keefe said.

The vice president's solution, he said, was to get around the law by cutting the deal as a barter. The Russians wouldn't charge the United States for the costs of flying to the space station, and in return, the Americans wouldn't charge the Russians for their share of some operating and equipment costs.

The vice president then took the lead in persuading the State Department to go along with the plan, which never came to public attention. "He helped frame how to do this without a major diplomatic dust-up," O'Keefe said.
Taking on the Supreme Court Case
When it came to vetting potential nominees, the vice president steered the selection committee. More »
Photo: The president meets with Supreme Court justices on Oct. 3, 2005. A day earlier, Cheney learned, through a Bush aide, that the president had nominated White House counsel Harriet E. Miers for a spot on the court. (AP)

Last year, Cheney was behind another unprecedented and controversial deal that inserted the White House into an ongoing criminal probe.

When the FBI seized files from the office of Rep. William J. Jefferson (D-La.) as part of a bribery investigation, House Republican leaders erupted. With a number of their own members under investigation for other matters, they charged that the search violated the Constitution. They demanded the return of the files.

Cheney quickly gravitated toward the House's position, aides said, but Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales; his top deputy, Paul J. McNulty; and FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III threatened to resign if forced to hand over evidence they believed had been properly collected under a warrant.

White House Chief of Staff Joshua B. Bolten called a meeting on May 25, 2006, to resolve the political and legal crisis. The president's lawyers and congressional liaison were in the room, and so was Cheney. Once again, it was the vice president who came up with a solution, according to a participant. Cheney's plan met his goal of keeping the files from federal investigators. The files would be placed under seal for 45 days. Within hours of the meeting, Bush made Cheney's recommendation official. As often happens in government, delay was decisive. Jefferson was indicted earlier this month on 16 counts of bribery, racketeering, fraud, money laundering and obstruction of justice. But nearly half of the files remain off-limits, tied up in legal disputes.

Taking Options 'Off the Table'

Cheney's influence is manifested not just in crisis but also through his extraordinary involvement in the daily machinery of the White House.

The vice president chairs a budget review board, a panel the Bush administration created to set spending priorities and serve as arbiter when Cabinet members appeal decisions by White House budget officials. The White House has portrayed the board as a device to keep Bush from wasting time on petty disagreements, but previous administrations have seldom seen Cabinet-level disputes in that light. Cheney's leadership of the panel gives him direct and indirect power over the federal budget -- and over those who must live within it. [Read then-OMB Director Joshua Bolten's memo about the review board.]

Mitchell E. Daniels Jr., who served as Bush's budget director from 2001 to 2003 and is now governor of Indiana, said that during his tenure the number of times a Cabinet official made a direct budget appeal to Bush "was zero," which aides from previous administrations found "stunning," he added.

Daniels said he chalked that track record up to "the respect people had for the vice president." Cabinet members, he said, recognized that if the board didn't agree with them, "then the president wasn't likely to, either."

It is well known that Cheney is usually the last to speak to the president before Bush makes a decision. Less so is his role, to a degree unmatched by his predecessors, in steering debate by weighing in at the lower-level meetings where proposals are born and die.

Cheney, Bolten said, is a vocal participant at a weekly luncheon meeting of Bush's economic team, which gathers without the president. As the most senior official in the room, Cheney receives great deference from Bush's advisers.

Wise officials vet their proposals in advance. White House budget director Rob Portman, for instance, sought Cheney's counsel as he was putting together the budget for the upcoming year, using him as a "sounding board" on issues as varied as defense spending and tax reform.

"He never, ever has said to me, 'Do this.' Never. Which is interesting, because that might be the perception of how he operates," Portman said. "But it is 'What do you think of this?' Well, he's the vice president of the United States -- and obviously I'm interested in his point of view."

Perhaps more important than Cheney's influence in pushing policies is his power to stop them before they reach the Oval Office.

When Edward P. Lazear, chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, broached the idea of limiting the popular mortgage tax deduction, he said he quickly dropped it after Cheney told him it would never fly with Congress. "He's a big timesaver for us in that he takes off the table a lot of things he knows aren't going to go anywhere," Lazear said.

Lazear, who is otherwise known as a fierce advocate for his views, said that he may argue a point with Cheney "for 10 minutes or so" but that in the end he is always convinced. "I can't think of a time when I have thought I was right and the vice president was wrong."

But Cheney is careful to choose which issues deserve his attention, preferring not to dissipate his influence. "Dick Cheney learned early on to say no to things that were peripheral to his primary interests or assignments," said his longtime friend David Gribbin.

Current and former White House officials say that the vice president has largely steered clear of hot-button issues such as stem cell research and Bush's "faith-based" initiative to funnel more federal money to religious groups. He is also savvy enough, they say, to retreat when the president expresses strong personal views.

Cheney sided with conservatives who wanted to urge the Supreme Court to reverse a landmark ruling that permitted affirmative action. But, former officials said, he did not press the case when the president, who as governor of Texas had run a state university system, made it clear that he intended to take a more limited and nuanced legal position.

Word of a Cheney loss seldom leaks, a trait that has further endeared him to Bush -- and that has served to exaggerate his influence. Former Cheney and Bush aides described several domestic policy defeats that never reached public notice.

Cheney shared conservative trepidations about the president's signature education initiative, the No Child Left Behind Act, which gave the federal government more control over K-12 education. He has griped privately to confidants, such as economist and CNBC host Lawrence Kudlow, about the administration's failure to control spending. And in robust internal White House discussions, he raised concerns about the cost of the administration's decision to expand Medicare to include a new multibillion-dollar drug entitlement, but bowed to the political reality that the president had to fulfill a campaign promise.

"At least in my area, he didn't have a 100 percent batting average," said Conda, the former domestic policy adviser.

In each case, however, Cheney was a loyal soldier, instrumental in helping to sell the president's policies on the Hill and to the Republican base.

"Dick once told me that our president is a 'big-government conservative,'" said former senator Phil Gramm (R-Tex.), in a recollection disputed by Cheney's office. "Now, Dick keeps his opinions to himself whenever he disagrees with the administration, as he should. But I believe that Dick is a small-government conservative."

'A Spine Quotient'

When Sen. James M. Jeffords (Vt.) threatened to bolt the GOP during negotiations over the president's 2001 tax package, senior Bush advisers and Republican senators were deeply split over whether to buy him off. It was a momentous decision -- a Jeffords defection would toss the Senate to Democratic control for the first time since 1994.

But in a contentious internal debate, the vice president forcefully argued that the administration should not capitulate by giving Jeffords the billions of dollars in special-education funding he sought, recalled O'Keefe, at the time deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget.

O'Keefe said Cheney argued that the White House should not sacrifice conservative principle in the face of Jeffords's threat by scaling back tax cuts dear to the GOP base in order to create an expensive new mandate. Gramm, who confirmed that account, said there would have been no end to such demands if the president had caved.

"The principle was 'Hell, we can't go around funding programs based on what some individual might do,'" said Gramm, who worked closely with Cheney during the negotiations.

By the end of the critical meeting, O'Keefe said, the divided group presented Cheney's view as the consensus recommendation to the president. Bush's $1.35 trillion tax cut passed, and Jeffords defected as promised.

Such stands by Cheney were not uncommon, said Bolten, the White House chief of staff. Cheney often stepped in if he sensed the administration was softening its commitment to Republican "first principles," Bolten said, and he was "a pretty vigorous voice for holding the line on spending and for holding the line on tax cuts." Longtime Cheney adviser Mary Matalin said the vice president brings a "spine quotient" to internal debates.

Cheney's power derives in part from meticulous preparation paired with a strong will to prevail. He knows what he wants, and as one rival put it, Cheney and his staff are "just ferocious negotiators."

The vice president regularly convenes a kitchen cabinet of diverse outside economic experts, often before the president is about to make a major decision. Members of the group describe a man who enjoys the nitty-gritty of economics, poring over charts of obscure data such as freight-car loadings and quizzing experts on the subtle ways the government can influence the economy.

"With the president it was much shorter. It's 'Marty, what do you think of where we stand today?'" said Martin Feldstein, a Harvard economics professor and the president and chief executive of the National Bureau of Economic Research. "It's also a less technical presentation."

R. Glenn Hubbard, Bush's former chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, said of Cheney: "I'd have conversations with him that were at a level of detail that those with the president were not."

In the weeks following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, as the White House was putting together an economic recovery package, Cheney gathered his kitchen cabinet, frequently interrupting the experts as he furiously jotted notes on a stack of cards embossed with the vice presidential seal. What kind of tax cuts are needed? Cheney wanted to know. How big?

A few days later, Cheney was "on fire" when he met with the president, Cheney's chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, later told Conda. Cheney had decided that the best way to shake business leaders out of their post-attack paralysis was to let them immediately write off the cost of new plants and equipment. After hearing him out, Bush made Cheney's idea a centerpiece of his plan.

In previous administrations, such initiatives typically have been generated by the Treasury Department or the White House economic team. But Cheney has made the vice president's office a hub of tax policy, enabled by the fact that "this president appears to want to have Treasury take the orders from the White House," said John H. Makin, an economist and an informal Cheney adviser.

All this put Cheney in a position to outflank some of Bush's top advisers, and even his old friend Greenspan, to shape the administration's signature tax package: the 2003 cuts that Cheney sold at the Greenbrier resort in West Virginia.

'The President Made the Call'

As far as Greenspan knew, the vice president agreed with him on the danger of the tax package Bush was contemplating. The Federal Reserve chairman worried that the sheer size of the cuts would drown the federal budget in red ink.
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When Bush met with Alan Greenspan, Cheney was almost always present. Behind the scenes, the vice president took steps to undermine a study the Federal Reserve chairman gave him that could threaten the 2003 tax cuts. AP

Cheney and Greenspan met regularly, far more often than the Fed chief met with Bush, according to interviews and Greenspan's calendar. And when the president did meet with Greenspan, Cheney was nearly always in the room.

The vice president and the Fed chairman had formed a close bond when both served in the Ford administration. The Fed chief saw the vice president as a conduit to a president he did not know nearly as well, someone he could trust to fairly present his views to Bush.

So Greenspan sent Cheney a study by one of the central bank's senior economists showing that big deficits lead to higher long-term interest rates, according to a person with firsthand knowledge. Higher rates, Greenspan believed, would wipe out any short-term benefit from a tax cut.

In subsequent meetings with the Fed chief, Cheney never took issue with the study. What Greenspan did not know was that, behind the scenes, the vice president took steps to undermine an argument that could threaten the big tax cut he favored. Conda, the vice president's aide, said Cheney asked him to critique the study. Conda attached his own memo arguing that the Fed's analytical model was flawed. He said "it wasn't my job to know" what Cheney did with the paperwork, but noted that Greenspan's study did not gain traction inside the White House.

Aside from Greenspan, Cheney had faced down opposition from many of the administration's senior economic voices, including Daniels, Treasury Secretary Paul H. O'Neill and Commerce Secretary Donald L. Evans. They believed that the economy was recovering and that a deep tax cut wasn't needed. Daniels said he worried that it would undermine the GOP message of fiscal discipline.

Cheney, however, pressed his argument that the economy needed a jump-start. He wanted not only to reduce the tax on dividends but also to cut the capital gains tax and accelerate income tax breaks for top earners, according to Daniels, Conda, Hubbard and others. Conda said Cheney subscribed to the view of supply-side economists that when government cuts taxes the economy grows, generating additional tax revenue that largely offsets the losses from lower tax rates.

The standoff came to a head in late November 2002, during a meeting in the Roosevelt Room.

O'Neill continued to oppose the tax cut on grounds that the government was moving toward "fiscal crisis," irritating Cheney. "The vice president really got a sense of where O'Neill was coming from and surmised it was a problem," Conda said. The following month, Cheney would demand O'Neill's resignation.

Bush sided with Cheney on the dividends tax but thought it would be better to eliminate it altogether. The president was cooler on the capital gains tax, according to Conda and others. And having campaigned on a platform of compassionate conservatism, he expressed doubts about giving another income tax break to the wealthiest Americans, particularly because they would benefit the most from the elimination of the dividends tax, Hubbard said.

But by the time Bush publicly announced his tax package on Jan. 7, 2003, Cheney lost on only one major count. The president included no reduction in the tax on capital gains. [Read the legislation: As first introduced in the House | As passed by Congress.]

"There was a question of priorities and how to fit things in," said Karl Rove, Bush's chief political adviser. "And ultimately the president made the call."

It was then that Cheney doubled back at the Greenbrier retreat.

"We were deciding how to proceed," recalled Rep. Adam H. Putnam (Fla.), now the third-ranking Republican in the House. "Are we going to put all our eggs in the dividends basket, or are we going to move on capital gains? As I recall, he was a very strong advocate on both counts, but particularly capital gains in terms of its potential to unleash the economy."

In the end, the House decided against eliminating the dividends tax cut, as Bush had wanted, choosing instead to just reduce the rate to make room for a capital gains cut.

Bill Thomas, the California Republican who guided the final bill to passage as chairman of the House tax-writing committee, said he and Cheney go way back and "use each other in the best sense," with the two men deciding which one will make a proposal and which will speak up in its support.

In the case of the capital gains proposal, Cheney pitched it to the Greenbrier gathering. Thomas pitched it to the White House, and he credited the vice president with persuading Bush to go along. "That," Thomas said, "is why the administration changed its position."

The vote in the Senate was 51 to 50. Cheney, exercising his only formal power under the Constitution, cast the tie-breaking vote.

Staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.