There's a remarkable paragraph close to the start of Barton Gellman and Jo Becker's story on Cheney today:
Cheney is not, by nearly every inside account, the shadow president of popular lore. Bush has set his own course, not always in directions Cheney preferred. The president seized the helm when his No. 2 steered toward trouble, as Bush did, in time, on military commissions. Their one-on-one relationship is opaque, a vital unknown in assessing Cheney's impact on events. The two men speak of it seldom, if ever, with others. But officials who see them together often, not all of them admirers of the vice president, detect a strong sense of mutual confidence that Cheney is serving Bush's aims.
Consider the logic of the paragraph. Cheney is not the shadow president, they say. Bush has taken (some) actions independent of Cheney, they say. Cheney is implementing Bush's goals, they say. But then they say, "Their one-on-one relationship is opaque, a vital unknown in assessing Cheney's impact on events." None of the other claims made in the paragraph stand in the presence of that fact. So long as no one knows what happens between Bush and Cheney, we can never say whether Cheney is serving Bush's aims or Bush is serving Cheney's.
But the article does provide a great deal of meat to the skeleton understanding of how Cheney operates. I'd like to look at what the story implies, but doesn't say.
The first thing Cheney did to establish his incredible hold on power was to place loyal aides of his in key parts of the government:
While lawyers fought over the 2000 Florida ballot recount, with the presidential election in the balance, Cheney was already populating a prospective Bush administration.
Close allies found positions as chief and deputy chief of the Office of Management and Budget, deputy national security adviser, undersecretary of state, and assistant or deputy assistant secretary in numerous Cabinet departments. Other loyalists -- including McCormack, who progressed to assignments in Iraq's occupation authority and then on Bush's staff -- turned up in less senior, but still significant, posts.
Though these figures are not named, we know who they are and how they've influenced events. Later in the article, for example, Gellman and Becker suggest (without saying) that Deputy National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley provided Cheney a copy of all communication that come into then-NSA Condi Rice; this provided a way for Cheney to undercut the power of Rice and spy on anyone else trying to intercede in his issues.
After 9/11, Cheney implemented a similar work-around bureaucracy to implement his unconstitutional plans. Note the people and placement on this team:
Down in the bunker, according to a colleague with firsthand knowledge, Cheney and Addington began contemplating the founding question of the legal revolution to come: What extraordinary powers will the president need for his response?
Before the day ended, Cheney's lawyer joined forces with Timothy E. Flanigan, the deputy White House counsel, linked by secure video from the Situation Room. Flanigan patched in John C. Yoo at the Justice Department's fourth-floor command center. White House counsel Alberto R. Gonzales joined later.
"Addington, Flanigan and Gonzales were really a triumvirate," recalled Bradford A. Berenson, then an associate White House counsel. Yoo, he said, "was a supporting player."
Cheney, Addington, Flanigan, and Gonzales, between them writing statutes that would shred our Constitution--the VP, his counsel, WH counsel and one Associate Counsel. Yoo served as a critical DOJ voice in the process, but--extrapolating from what Berenson says--mostly to put the stamp of legality onto the theories of Addington. Note what's missing? As others have reported, by putting Yoo on the team, you bypass the Attorney General entirely. A later passage shows how this worked. John Yoo wrote an opinion basically abdicating DOJ's (and Congress' and State's ability to oversee military commissions). And by the time Ashcroft learned about it, it was too late.
To pave the way for the military commissions, Yoo wrote an opinion on Nov. 6, 2001, declaring that Bush did not need approval from Congress or federal courts. Yoo said in an interview that he saw no need to inform the State Department, which hosts the archives of the Geneva Conventions and the government's leading experts on the law of war. "The issue we dealt with was: Can the president do it constitutionally?" Yoo said. "State -- they wouldn't have views on that."
Attorney General John D. Ashcroft, was astonished to learn that the draft gave the Justice Department no role in choosing which alleged terrorists would be tried in military commissions. Over Veterans Day weekend, on Nov. 10, he took his objections to the White House.
The attorney general found Cheney, not Bush, at the broad conference table in the Roosevelt Room. According to participants, 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. He was enraged to discover that Yoo, his subordinate, had recommended otherwise -- as part of a strategy to deny jurisdiction to U.S. courts.
Raising his voice, participants said, Ashcroft talked over Addington and brushed aside interjections from Cheney. "The thing I remember about it is how rude, there's no other word for it, the attorney general was to the vice president," said one of those in the room. Asked recently about the confrontation, Ashcroft replied curtly: "I'm just not prepared to comment on that."
According to Yoo and three other officials, Ashcroft did not persuade Cheney and got no audience with Bush.
Note the details here. The implication is that the other participants in the meeting were Cheney allies, not least because they describe Ashcroft's justifiable rage as "rudeness" directed at Cheney. And Cheney here serves as a gatekeeper--not least because Ashcroft exhibited "rudeness" to Cheney, it meant he got no audience with Bush. It's worth remembering, here, that Comey and Mueller only got a direct audience on the domestic surveillance program with Bush after Bush realized there was a problem directly. That was a failure of Cheney's system, allowing Comey and Mueller to get to Bush directly. Ordinarily, it appears that Cheney served as a gatekeeper, keeping those who objected to the shredding of the Constitution away from the President. And this was a policy Bush endorsed directly, as when he told Graham that Cheney, not Bush, would deal with intelligence issues.
"We met in the vice president's office," recalled former senator Bob Graham (D-Fla.). Bush had told Graham already, when the senator assumed the intelligence panel chairmanship, that "the vice president should be your point of contact in the White House." Cheney, the president said, "has the portfolio for intelligence activities."
Much of the rest of the article shows how Cheney bypassed those who were, nominally at least, tasked to carry out precisely the activities Cheney and his cabal were undertaking.
Among the excluded was John B. Bellinger III, a man for whom Cheney's attorney had "open contempt," according to a senior government lawyer who saw them often. The eavesdropping program was directly within Bellinger's purview as ranking national security lawyer in the White House, reporting to Rice. Addington had no line responsibility. But he had Cheney's proxy, and more than once he accused Bellinger, to his face, of selling out presidential authority for good "public relations" or bureaucratic consensus.
In Bellinger's case, Cheney literally spied on him, relying (presumably) on Stephen Hadley to give him copies of documents before they get to Condi.
At the White House, 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. Faxes had been pouring in at the State Department since the order for military commissions was signed, with even British authorities warning that they could not hand over suspects if the U.S. government withdrew from accepted legal norms.
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.
Consider the effect of this: not only does this prevent Bellinger from getting an opportunity to convince Bush that the program is wrong (again, the importance of a direct audience with Bush). But if Cheney can pre-empt communication going to Bush, it provides the President plausible deniability about the illegality of the activities he sanctions.
The method becomes more chilling still when Powell tries to intervene. In this case, Gonzales (still White House Counsel, so the appropriate person to counsel Bush on these issues) puts his name on a memo written by Addington, addressing what they believe will be Powell's argument directly.
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 [Read the memo].
As the article points out, this hides the fact that Cheney and Addington generated the opinion, making it appear that Cheney was just responding to the issues, and not driving them personally.
If Bush consulted Cheney after that, the vice president became a sounding board for advice he originated himself.
Addington smartly did what you do with men who overestimate their own intelligence--he flattered him, using Bush's own language to formulate the opinion. At the same time, Addington imputed words to Powell that he did not say or believe.
Addington, under Gonzales's name, appealed to the president by quoting Bush's own declaration that "the war against terrorism is a new kind of war." Addington described the Geneva Conventions as "quaint," casting Powell as a defender of "obsolete" rules devised for another time. If Bush followed Powell's lead, Addington suggested, U.S. forces would be obliged to provide athletic gear and commissary privileges to captured terrorists.
And then, one of Cheney's favorite tools, the selective leak. In this case, the article strongly suggests, Addington (or someone) leaked the memo to the Moonie Times, which would be sure to mobilize conservative criticism against Powell.
Late that afternoon, as the "Gonzales memo" began to circulate around the government, Addington turned to Flanigan.
"It'll leak in 10 minutes," he predicted, according to a witness.
The next morning's Washington Times carried a front-page article in which administration sources accused Powell of "bowing to pressure from the political left" and advocating that terrorists be given "all sorts of amenities, including exercise rooms and canteens."
And the coup de grace: after leaking the memo, they blamed William Taft, an action that both distracted attention from the real leakers and served to discredit another of Addington's bureaucratic enemies.
Though the report portrayed Powell as soft on enemies, two senior government lawyers said, Addington blamed the State Department for leaking it. The breach of secrecy, Addington said, proved that William H. Taft IV, Powell's legal adviser, could not be trusted. Taft joined Bellinger on a growing -- and explicit -- blacklist, excluded from consultation. "I was off the team," Taft said in an interview. The vice president's lawyer had marked him an enemy, but Taft did not know he was at war.
Finally, there is the more careful laundering of information, where Cheney enacts a statute, while hiding his role, without consulting any of the people who should be consulted.
Three days after the Ashcroft meeting, Cheney brought the order for military commissions to Bush. No one told Bellinger, Rice or Powell, who continued to think that Prosper's working group was at the helm.
After leaving Bush's private dining room, the vice president took no chances on a last-minute objection. He sent the order on a swift path to execution that left no sign of his role. After Addington and Flanigan, the text passed to Berenson, the associate White House counsel. Cheney's link to the document broke there: Berenson was not told of its provenance.
Berenson rushed the order to deputy staff secretary Stuart W. Bowen Jr., bearing instructions to prepare it for signature immediately -- without advance distribution to the president's top advisers. Bowen objected, he told colleagues later, saying he had handled thousands of presidential documents without ever bypassing strict procedures of coordination and review. He relented, one White House official said, only after "rapid, urgent persuasion" that Bush was standing by to sign and that the order was too sensitive to delay. [Read the order]
In an interview, Berenson said it was his understanding that "someone had briefed" the president "and gone over it" already. He added: "I don't know who that was."
Cheney to Addington and Flanigan, then laundered through Berenson. When Berenson handed it to Stuart Bowen, he was able to persuade Bowen that he should bypass all normal protocol--even while Berenson himself (he claims) didn't know who was responsible for the order.
And here's the part that's almost humorous, if it weren't so sick. Where does Cheney go to announce that the US is dismantling the Constitution? To the Chamber of Commerce.
On Nov. 14, 2001, the day after Bush signed the commissions order, Cheney took the next big step. He told the U.S. Chamber of Commerce that terrorists do not "deserve to be treated as prisoners of war." [Read Cheney's full remarks]
Understand, though, the point. Cheney was forcing Bush's hand. It's the same thing he did in August 2002, when he persuaded Bush (after Powell had persuaded him to the contrary) to push for war no matter what. At that point, Cheney spoke to the Veterans of Foreign Wars. In both cases, I suspect, Cheney deliberately selected a group that could pressure Bush from the right to enact policies he appears not to have supported of his own accord.
The president had not yet made that decision. Ten weeks passed, and the Bush administration fought one of its fiercest internal brawls, before Bush ratified the policy that Cheney had declared: The Geneva Conventions would not apply to al-Qaeda or Taliban fighters captured on the battlefield.
It's a remarkable article. For it shows that Cheney controls all of the information getting to Bush, which provides the Vice President a way to intercept even the most important legal advice (such as, that Bush will be committing war crimes). And when that doesn't work by itself, Cheney works the refs, using conservative groups to pressure Bush to implement Cheney's plans.
Which makes you wonder. Why is it that these people believe that Cheney is not the one leading? What about this portrait suggests Cheney is anything but a shadow President?