Saturday, June 23, 2007

Bush Says He And Dick Are Above Oversight

By Cernig

Raw Story has excerpts from a story in the LA Times today that will report that Bush insists never meant Cheney's office to be covered by his executive order on oversight by an independent federal watchdog of their handling of classified materials - and neither is Bush himself.

Raw Story quotes the LA Times article as follows:
"The executive order that Bush issued in March 2003 covers all government agencies that are part of the executive branch and, although it doesn't specifically say so, was not meant to apply to the vice president's office or the president's office, a White House spokesman said.

The issue flared up Thursday when Rep. Henry A. Waxman, D-Calif., criticized Cheney for refusing to file annual reports with the National Archives and Records Administration, spelling out how his office handles classified documents, or to submit to an inspection by the archives' Information Security Oversight Office.

The archives, a federal agency, has been pressing the vice president's office to cooperate with its oversight efforts for the past several years, contending that by not doing so, Cheney and his staff have created a potential national security risk.

Bush issued the directive in response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks as a way of ensuring that the nation's secrets would not be mishandled, made public, or improperly declassified.
Any guesses on what the Dark Lord's hold over Dubya is, that Bush will turn circles in such a blatantly ass-covering manner for a VP who obviously doesn't give a damn for Bush's own rules?

Update The LA Times article is exactly as described by Raw Story.

Doesn't it look waaaayyy too much like Bush originally intended both his own and Cheney's offices to comply with the EO, Cheney decided differently, and now Bush is having to backpeddle like mad rather than have a public spat with the VP?

The difference in stories is telling, to my mind - Cheney says its because his office isn't in the executive, Bush says it's because Cheney's office, while in the executive, is exempt.

James Joyner notes that:
The president, as the sole authority for issuing Executive Orders, has an absolute right to exempt whomever he wishes from the order. Still, it’s a horrible idea to exempt the Executive Office of the President and Office of the Vice President from this scrutiny, since they represent the probably the greatest breach threat in the Executive branch: people who have not spent their whole careers dealing with Sensitive Compartmented Information who are presumably dealing with the mostly highly sensitive materials.
The White House line is that, even though both Bush and Cheney's offices are exempt from oversight, they still have a legal obligation to "adhere to the executive order's guidelines regarding the proper handling of classified documents" and are doing so. It's just that no-one is allowed to prove they are meeting their legal obligation.

So once again, it comes down to "trust us", when even on this issue alone (never mind many, many others) we've seen plenty of light between the White House and credibility.

Watertiger calls it Calvinball, and it is. Even neoconservative blogger "Captain" Ed Morrissey sees that much.
This dispute has two aspects to it, one political and one legal, and neither benefit the White House, at least not the way it is handling the issue. President Bush set rules governing the handling of classified material for the entire executive branch in a 2003 presidential order. If he wanted to exclude the White House and the Vice-President's office in that order, he could have explicitly done so at the time. Without another order specifically doing that, the 2003 order should cover all executive-branch offices, including Bush and Cheney. The rule of law applies, not the rule of whim, and without another order outlining the specific responsibilities of the President and VP, that's what Bush and Cheney's demands appear to be.

While the legal case is tenuous at best -- no one disputes that Bush could modify the order if necessary -- the political case is solidly foolish. Why pick this fight? Is there a rational reason why the President and VP cannot comply with the same standards applied to the rest of the executive branch? If so, that argument has not found its way outside of the administration, leading people to wonder what the two have to hide. [emphasis mine - C]

Update 2 Steve Benen: perceptive and excellent blogging as ever.
Perhaps it's best to take a moment to summarize the questions that need answers:

* Why did Bush and Cheney abide by the executive order in question in 2001 and 2002, and then stop in 2003? Is it a coincidence they started ignoring the E.O. on handling classified materials just as they started mishandling classified materials?

* Why did Cheney abide by the E.O. in 2001 and 2002 if he's not part of the executive branch?

* Why did the President exempt the Vice President from an executive order he was already following? Why did he later exempt himself?

* When, precisely, did the White House decide that Bush and Cheney should exempt themselves from their own rules?

* Does Bush consider Cheney part of the executive branch? Why has the White House thus far refused to respond to this question? Does the President consider this a trick question?

* In its response to questions about the E.O., why did the White House point to a provision of the E.O. that doesn't exist?

* The White House insists, "There's no question that [Cheney] is in compliance" with the E.O. If there is no oversight, and Cheney is unaccountable, how does the White House know?

* In yesterday's press briefing, the president's spokesperson dismissed the oversight provision of the E.O. as "small" six times. Does the White House believe only "big" provisions need to be followed? How does the administration make the distinction?

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