Monday, January 29, 2007

The Cheney Problem II

The Scooter Libby trial is focusing attention on Vice President Dick Cheney like never before and the details we are learning are not putting Cheney in a good light. Americans can no longer ignore Cheney's hubris and incompetence but there have been signs for at least four years that much of this actually goes deeper. The problems with the secretive vice president are mounting.

That hasn't stopped Cheney from admitting that the job of Republicans in Congress is to bow to the superiority of the Bush Administration; here's the story from CBS News:
Vice President Dick Cheney shot back at Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel, who has accused the Bush administration of playing "a ping-pong game with American lives" by sending more U.S. troops into Iraq.

"Let's say I believe firmly in Ronald Reagan's 11th commandment: Thou shalt not speak ill of a fellow Republican," Cheney said. "But it's very hard sometimes to adhere to that where Chuck Hagel is involved."

Given his hypocritical bullying of his fellow Republicans and given the facts and behavior of the Bush Administration in the last six years, Cheney's comment has no other fundamental interpretation than this: when it comes to Dick Cheney and George W. Bush, Republicans must rubber stamp the incompetence, recklessness, deceptions and abuse of the US Constitution no matter what. That is behavior an overwhelming majority of Americans cannot afford.

Dan Froomkin of White House Briefing is back and has some comments on the Cheney situation:
While Dick Cheney undoubtedly remains the most powerful vice president this nation has ever seen, it's becoming increasingly unclear whether anyone outside the White House believes a word he says.

Inside the West Wing, Cheney's influence remains considerable. In fact, nothing better explains Bush's perplexing plan to send more troops to Iraq than Cheney's neoconservative conviction that showing the world that we have the "stomach for the fight" is the most important thing -- even if it isn't accomplishing the things we're supposed to be fighting for. Even if it's backfiring horribly.

But as his astonishing interview with CNN's Wolf Blitzer laid bare last week, Cheney is increasingly out of touch with reality... ...

The secretive Cheney has the largest staff of any vice president in history; in essence, it's a government within a government with little oversight by Congress. Cheney has ignored repeated media requests to interview some of his people and understand his 'unusual' operation. President Bush has, by law, the ultimate authority in his government but it's never been clear how he and Cheney divide up their responsibilities. In the past, some critics have argued that Cheney is the real president while Bush is the public relations man.

Americans have a right to know what's going on in a government that has been elected by the people and why so much behavior is deliberately being hidden from us (Google Halliburton, Iraq reconstruction, defense contracts, and Republican campaign donors just as a place to start). As I mentioned above, Cheney has resisted all attempts to understand his operation; Justin Rood of TPM Muckraker has a story that may begin to peel back the layers of secrecy by revealing some of the people who directly work for Cheney (note that Cheney apparently has others burrowed in various departments around Washington):
Stamped "For Official Use Only," the four-page document lists 81 employees, including six who worked for Lynne Cheney. That's well over the 30 or so names Cheney's office is said to submit routinely to directory services.

The directory shows 23 staffers who worked exclusively on national security and homeland security issues. Meanwhile, three positions were dedicated on domestic policy issues; one of those was vacant at the time of the directory's publishing.

It's not clear how much overlap there is with the list we posted earlier of 41 staffers serving Cheney from the Senate's payroll according to a 2006 report. But at least now we're in the ballpark of the 88 staffers Laura Rozen estimated to be there.

In the next few months, Congress needs to ask what these people are doing. If there isn't cooperation forthcoming from Cheney, Congress should seriously consider cutting Cheney's staff budget in half, investigating Cheney's role in starting the war in Iraq and investigating his obvious interest in widening the war, possibly with Iran.

Since August 2003, when Cheney lied about a nuclear program in Iraq, the media and his fellow Republicans have walked on egg shells perhaps because of Cheney's threats and famous vindictiveness that resulted in the outing of CIA operative Valerie Plame. The more the country learns about Cheney, however, the more it becomes obvious that his behavior is unacceptable by any rational interpretation of the US Constitution and that his resignation is long overdue.

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