It’s a little surprising to look at The New York Times site, a full 24 hours after Dick “Gunner” Cheney announced he had been promoted to co-president, and find the paper still chasing reaction to the former vice president’s accidental wounding of a quail-hunting partner last week. If you missed the announcement, it came during Cheney’s appearance Wednesday on the administration’s broadcast arm, Fox News. He disclosed a fact that really wasn’t secret, yet hadn’t been widely reported: That nearly three years ago, Bush had issued an order extending the power to classify and declassify national security information to the vice president.
Although the Times and others might be a little slow on the uptake, Byron York of the conservative National Review did a nice analysis of the Cheney news that appeared first thing Thursday morning. York concluded:
“In the last several years, there has been much talk about the powerful role Dick Cheney plays in the Bush White House. Some of that talk has been based on anecdotal evidence, and some on entirely fanciful speculation. But Executive Order 13292 is real evidence of real power in the vice president’s office. Since the beginning of the administration, Dick Cheney has favored measures allowing the executive branch to keep more things secret. And in March of 2003, the president gave him the authority to do it.”
Of course, in his Fox interview, Cheney was talking about blabbing secrets, not keeping them. He mentioned his powers when the interviewer, Brit Hume, brought up the Scooter Libby case:
Q: On another subject, court filings have indicated that Scooter Libby has suggested that his superiors — unidentified — authorized the release of some classified information. What do you know about that?
A: It’s nothing I can talk about, Brit. This is an issue that’s been under investigation for a couple of years. I’ve cooperated fully, including being interviewed, as well, by a special prosecutor. All of it is now going to trial. Scooter is entitled to the presumption of innocence. He’s a great guy. I’ve worked with him for a long time, have enormous regard for him. I may well be called as a witness at some point in the case and it’s, therefore, inappropriate for me to comment on any facet of the case.
Q: Let me ask you another question. Is it your view that a Vice President has the authority to declassify information?
A: There is an executive order to that effect.
Q: There is.
Q: Have you done it?
A: Well, I’ve certainly advocated declassification and participated in declassification decisions. The executive order …
Q: You ever done it unilaterally?
A: I don’t want to get into that. There is an executive order that specifies who has classification authority, and obviously focuses first and foremost on the President, but also includes the Vice President.
Cheney and Bush probably don’t think it’s a big deal to take formal steps to create a conjoined presidency. Maybe they’re right. During today’s White House press briefing? Not a single question on Cheney’s role as a manager of national intelligence.