Washington Post Profile Reveals Stealthy Cheney Spies On White House Staffers

cheneyToday, the Washington Post unveiled the first in its lengthy four-part series on the unprecedented influence and power of the vice president.

Shortly after Bush was elected, “Cheney preferred, and Bush approved, a mandate that gave him access to ‘every table and every meeting,’ making his voice heard in ‘whatever area the vice president feels he wants to be active in.’”

According to the article, Cheney used that influence to bypass key presidential aides and thwart any dissent about Bush’s authorization of the unconstitutional military commissions to try detainees. The Post reports “almost no one” had seen the legal draft establishing the commissions, except Cheney’s closest aides. Cheney then took astonishing measures to ensure that internal objections would not reach the President, even resorting to spying on White House staff:

At the White House, [White House national security lawyer John] Bellinger sent Rice a blunt — and, he thought, private — legal warning. The Cheney-Rumsfeld position would place the president indisputably in breach of international law and would undermine cooperation from allied governments. …

One lawyer in his office said that Bellinger was chagrined to learn, indirectly, that Cheney had read the confidential memo and “was concerned” about his advice. Thus Bellinger discovered an unannounced standing order: Documents prepared for the national security adviser, another White House official said, were “routed outside the formal process” to Cheney, too. The reverse did not apply.

Powell asked for a meeting with Bush. The same day, Jan. 25, 2002, Cheney’s office struck a preemptive blow. It appeared to come from Gonzales, a longtime Bush confidant whom the president nicknamed “Fredo.” Hours after Powell made his request, Gonzales signed his name to a memo that anticipated and undermined the State Department’s talking points. The true author has long been a subject of speculation, for reasons including its unorthodox format and a subtly mocking tone that is not a Gonzales hallmark.

A White House lawyer with direct knowledge said Cheney’s lawyer, Addington, wrote the memo. Flanigan passed it to Gonzales, and Gonzales sent it as “my judgment” to Bush. If Bush consulted Cheney after that, the vice president became a sounding board for advice he originated himself.

Attorney General John Ashcroft “was astonished” to learn he had been pushed aside. “What the hell just happened?” Secretary of State Colin Powell asked upon learning through the media that the order had been signed. “National security adviser Condoleezza Rice, incensed, sent an aide to find out.”

The Post notes, “Stealth is among Cheney’s most effective tools.” The talking points for reporters drafted by Cheney’s office are “sometimes stamped ‘Treated As: Top Secret/SCI.’ Experts in and out of government said Cheney’s office appears to have invented that designation, which alludes to ’sensitive compartmented information,’ the most closely guarded category of government secrets. By adding the words ‘treated as,’ they said, Cheney seeks to protect unclassified work as though its disclosure would cause ‘exceptionally grave damage to national security.’”

UPDATE: Laura Rozen writes, “Cheney will go to his grave like others before him thinking he was a great patriot who should not be bound by the laws of this country, or the laws of war. But even with all that secret extra-legal power he yielded and bestowed for all these years, he couldn’t show success on any front when it mattered.”

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(Via Think Progress.)