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Context of 'January 20, 2001 and After: Cheney’s People Take Control of Large Areas of Bush Administration, Begin Expansion of Presidential Power'

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Investigative journalist Seymour Hersh publishes an explosive story in the New York Times, revealing that US submarines are tapping into Soviet communications cables inside the USSR’s three-mile territorial limit. Hersh notes that his inside sources gave him the information in hopes that it would modify administration policy: they believe that using submarines in this manner violates the spirit of detente and is more risky than using satellites to garner similar information. The reaction inside both the Pentagon and the White House is predictably agitated. Chief of Staff Donald Rumsfeld, traveling in Europe with President Ford, delegates his deputy Dick Cheney to formulate the administration’s response. Cheney goes farther than most administration officials would have predicted. He calls a meeting with Attorney General Edward Levi and White House counsel Philip Buchan to discuss options. Cheney’s first thought is to either engineer a burglary of Hersh’s home to find classified documents, or to obtain search warrants and have Hersh’s home legally ransacked. He also considers having a grand jury indict Hersh and the Times over their publication of classified information. “Will we get hit with violating the 1st amendment to the constitution[?]” Cheney writes in his notes of the discussion. Levi manages to rein in Cheney; since the leak and the story do not endanger the spying operations, the White House ultimately decides to let the matter drop rather than draw further attention to it. Interestingly, Cheney has other strings to his bow; he writes in his notes: “Can we take advantage of [the leak] to bolster our position on the Church committee investigation (see April, 1976)? To point out the need for limits on the scope of the investigation?” [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 34-35]

Entity Tags: Seymour Hersh, US Department of Defense, Ford administration, Edward Levi, Donald Rumsfeld, Church Committee, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Philip Buchan, New York Times, Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Incoming presidential chief of staff James Baker asks a former chief of staff, Dick Cheney (see November 4, 1975 and After), for advice on handling the job. Baker takes four pages of handwritten notes covering his conversation with Cheney. Most of the notes cover mundane topics such as personnel and managing the president’s schedule. But Cheney offers at least one piece of policy advice. According to Baker’s notes: “Pres. seriously weakened in recent yrs. Restore power & auth [authority] to Exec Branch—Need strong ldr’ship. Get rid of War Powers Act—restore independent rights.” Baker notes Cheney’s emphasis of this last idea by marking it with two double lines and six asterisks, and a note in the margin, “Central theme we ought to push.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 43]

Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, James A. Baker

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney, along with then-President Gerald Ford, April 28, 1975.Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney, along with then-President Gerald Ford, April 28, 1975. [Source: David Hume Kennerly / Gerald R. Ford Library] (click image to enlarge)Throughout the 1980s, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld are key players in one of the most highly classified programs of the Reagan administration. Presently, Cheney is working as a Republican congressman, while Rumsfeld is head of the pharmaceutical company G. D. Searle. At least once per year, they both leave their day jobs for periods of three or four days. They head to Andrews Air Force Base, near Washington, DC, and along with 40 to 60 federal officials and one member of the Reagan Cabinet are taken to a remote location within the US, such as an underground bunker. While they are gone, none of their work colleagues, or even their wives, knows where they are. They are participating in detailed planning exercises for keeping government running during and after a nuclear war with the Soviet Union.
Unconstitutional 'Continuity of Government' - This highly secret “Continuity of Government” (COG) program is known as Project 908. The idea is that if the US were under a nuclear attack, three teams would be sent from Washington to separate locations around the US to prepare to take leadership of the country. If somehow one team was located and hit with a nuclear weapon, the second or third team could take its place. Each of the three teams includes representatives from the State Department, Defense Department, CIA, and various domestic-policy agencies. The program is run by a new government agency called the National Program Office. Based in the Washington area, it has a budget of hundreds of million dollars a year, which grows to $1 billion per year by the end of Reagan’s first term in office. Within the National Security Council, the “action officer” involved in the COG program is Oliver North, who is a key figure in the mid-1980s Iran-Contra scandal. Reagan’s Vice President, George H. W. Bush, also supervises some of the program’s efforts. As well as Cheney and Rumsfeld, other known figures involved in the COG exercises include Kenneth Duberstein, who serves for a time as President Reagan’s chief of staff, and future CIA Director James Woolsey. Another regular participant is Richard Clarke, who on 9/11 will be the White House chief of counterterrorism (see (1984-2004)). The program, though, is extraconstitutional, as it establishes a process for designating a new US president that is nowhere authorized in the US Constitution or federal law. After George H. W. Bush is elected president in 1988 and the effective end of the Soviet Union in 1989, the exercises continue. They will go on after Bill Clinton is elected president, but will then be based around the threat posed by terrorists, rather than the Soviet Union (see 1992-2000). According to journalist James Mann, the participation of Rumsfeld and Cheney in these exercises demonstrates a broader truth about them: “Over three decades, from the Ford administration onward, even when they were out of the executive branch of government, they were never too far away; they stayed in touch with its defense, military, and intelligence officials and were regularly called upon by those officials. Cheney and Rumsfeld were, in a sense, a part of the permanent, though hidden, national security apparatus of the United States.” [Mann, 2004, pp. 138-145; Atlantic Monthly, 3/2004; Washington Post, 4/7/2004; Cockburn, 2007, pp. 85]
No Role for Congress - According to one participant, “One of the awkward questions we faced was whether to reconstitute Congress after a nuclear attack. It was decided that no, it would be easier to operate without them.” Thus the decision is made to abandon the Constitutional framework of the nation’s government if this plan is ever activated. [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 198]
Reactivated after 9/11 - The plan they rehearse for in the COG exercises will be activated, supposedly for the first time, in the hours during and after the 9/11 attacks (see (Between 9:45 a.m. and 9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Washington Post, 3/1/2002] Mann subsequently comments, “The program is of particular interest today because it helps to explain the thinking and behavior of the second Bush Administration in the hours, days, and months after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.” [Atlantic Monthly, 3/2004]

Entity Tags: Richard A. Clarke, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Oliver North, National Program Office, James Woolsey, Kenneth Duberstein, Donald Rumsfeld, George Herbert Walker Bush

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline, Civil Liberties

Representative Dick Cheney (R-WY) publishes an essay for the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute (AEI), apparently written either by his Iran-Contra commission colleague Michael Malbin or by Cheney and Malbin together, but printed under Cheney’s name. The essay is titled “Congressional Overreaching in Foreign Policy,” and covers what he terms “congressional aggrandizement” of presidential powers.
Congress Has No Place in Determining, Implementing US Foreign Policy - Cheney’s essay bluntly states his belief that Congress has no business interfering in the president’s power to determine and implement the nation’s foreign policy; in general, the essay indicates Cheney’s disdain for the legislative branch of which he has been a member. He writes, in part: “Broadly speaking, the Congress was intended to be a collective, deliberative body. When working at its best, it would slow down decisions, improve their substantive content, subject them to compromise, and help build a consensus behind general rules before they were to be applied to the citizenry. The presidency, in contrast, was designed as a one-person office to ensure that it would be ready for action. Its major characteristics… were to be ‘decision, activity, secrecy, and dispatch.‘… [T]he legislative branch is ill equipped to handle many of the foreign policy tasks it has been taking upon itself lately.” He writes that while Congress may take upon itself powers to launch military actions or respond to an attack, it is by nature so slow and deliberative, and its members so focused on getting reelected, that it cannot adequately wield those powers: “[T]he real world effect often turns out… not to be a transfer of power from the president to Congress, but a denial of power to the government as a whole.” The only power Congress should have in involving itself in foreign policy, Cheney argues, is whether or not to fund presidential initiatives. “[T]he nation should not be paralyzed by Congress’s indecision,” he writes. [PBS Frontline, 6/20/2006; Savage, 2007, pp. 59-61]
Cheney Selected as Secretary of Defense - Shortly after the essay is published, President George H.W. Bush names Cheney as his secretary of defense. Cheney was scheduled to give a talk based on the essay at AEI, but cancels it and goes to Washington to begin preparing for confirmation hearings in the Senate. Reporter Charlie Savage will note that the essay may have caused Cheney some difficulties in his confirmation hearings had it had a larger audience. [Savage, 2007, pp. 61]
Former White House Counsel: Cheney's Proposals Unconstitutional, Unwise - In 2007, former Nixon White House counsel John Dean will write of the essay: “Cheney seems to be oblivious to the fact that the type of government he advocates is not, in fact, the government our Constitution provides.… His argument also assumes that a more agile, energetic, and fast-acting chief executive is the better system, but history does not support that contention. Presidential leadership has consistently shown itself less wise and less prudent than the slower but more deliberative nature of the system that we have. It was Congress that forced presidents out of no-win wars like Vietnam. The reason the nation’s Founders empowered Congress was because they wisely realized that a president—like heads of governments throughout history—was prone to fighting wars for his own glory, without seeming able to easily bring those wars to an end.” [Dean, 2007, pp. 88-89]

Entity Tags: Joint House-Senate Iran-Contra Committee, John Dean, American Enterprise Institute, Michael Malbin, George Herbert Walker Bush, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, Iran-Contra Affair

David Addington, a personal aide to Defense Secretary Dick Cheney, is forced to take part in Senate confirmation hearings for his appointment as chief counsel for the Defense Department. Addington, a Cheney protege and a fierce advocate for the ever-widening power of the executive branch, has gained a reputation for effective, if arrogant, conflicts with the Pentagon’s uniformed leadership and for tightly controlling what information enters and leaves Cheney’s office. Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, an aide to Joint Chiefs chairman General Colin Powell, will later characterize Addington as an intense bureaucratic infighter bent on concentrating power in Cheney’s office. “Addington was a nut,” Wilkerson will recall. “That was how everybody summed it up. A brilliant nut perhaps, but a nut nevertheless.” The Senate hearing becomes a platform for Democratic senators to attack Cheney’s anti-Congressional policies (see Early 1991 and March 1992). In his turn, Addington calmly denies that he or Cheney have ever exhibited any intention to defy Congress on any issue. “How many ways are there around evading the will of Congress?” storms Senator Carl Levin (D-MI). “How many different legal theories do you have?” Addington answers, “I do not have any, Senator.” Addington is only confirmed after promising that the Pentagon will restore the independence of military lawyers (see March 1992) and begin funding the V-22 Osprey (see Early 1991). [Savage, 2007, pp. 63]

Entity Tags: David S. Addington, Carl Levin, Lawrence Wilkerson, Colin Powell, US Department of Defense, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Former Defense Secretary Dick Cheney, speaking at an awards ceremony for the Gerald R. Ford Foundation, tells listeners that he intends to do whatever he can to “restore” the power of the presidency. If he ever returns to Washington, he says he will roll back what he calls “unwise” limits on the presidency imposed after the Vietnam War and Watergate. “I clearly do believe, and have spoken directly about the importance of a strong president,” he says. “I think there have been times in the past, oftentimes in response to events such as Watergate or the war in Vietnam, where Congress has begun to encroach upon the powers and responsibilities of the president: that it was important to try to go back and restore that balance.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 9]

Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

According to reporter and author Charlie Savage, the White House staff quickly coalesces into two camps: “Bush People[,] mostly personal friends of the new president who shared his inexperience in Washington,” which includes President Bush’s top legal counsels, Alberto Gonzales and Harriet Miers, both corporate lawyers in Texas before joining Bush in Washington. The second group is “Cheney People—allies from [Vice-President Dick] Cheney’s earlier stints in the federal government (see May 25, 1975, November 18, 1980, 1981-1992, 1989, and June 1996) who were deeply versed in Washington-level issues, a familiarity that would allow their views to dominate internal meetings. These included [Defense Secretary Donald] Rumsfeld and other cabinet secretaries, key deputies throughout the administration, and David Addington, Cheney’s longtime aide who would become a chief architect of the administration’s legal strategy in the war on terrorism” (see July 1, 1992 and (After 10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Savage will observe, “Given the stark contrast in experience between Cheney and Bush, it was immediately clear to observers of all political stripes that Cheney would possess far more power than had any prior vice president.”
'Unprecedented' Influence - Cheney will certainly have “unprecedented” influence, according to neoconservative publisher William Kristol, who himself had served as former Vice President Dan Quayle’s chief of staff. “The question to ask about Cheney,” Kristol will write, is “will he be happy to be a very trusted executor of Bush’s policies—a confidant and counselor who suggests personnel and perhaps works on legislative strategy, but who really doesn’t try to change Bush’s mind about anything? Or will he actually, substantively try to shape administration policy in a few areas, in a way that it wouldn’t otherwise be going?”
Expanding the Power of the Presidency - Cheney will quickly answer that question, Savage will write, by attempting to “expand the power of the presidency.” Savage will continue: “He wanted to reduce the authority of Congress and the courts and to expand the ability of the commander in chief and his top advisers to govern with maximum flexibility and minimum oversight. He hoped to enlarge a zone of secrecy around the executive branch, to reduce the power of Congress to restrict presidential action, to undermine limits imposed by international treaties, to nominate judges who favored a stronger presidency, and to impose greater White House control over the permanent workings of government. And Cheney’s vision of expanded executive power was not limited to his and Bush’s own tenure in office. Rather, Cheney wanted to permanently alter the constitutional balance of American government, establishing powers that future presidents would be able to wield as well.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 7-9] Larry Wilkerson, the chief of staff for Secretary of State Colin Powell, will say after leaving the administration: “We used to say about both [Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s office] and the vice president’s office that they were going to win nine out of 10 battles, because they were ruthless, because they have a strategy, because they never, never deviate from that strategy. They make a decision, and they make it in secret, and they make it in a different way than the rest of the bureaucracy makes it, and then suddenly, foist it on the government—and the rest of the government is all confused.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 299]
Signing Statements to Reshape Legislation, Expand Presidential Power - To that end, Cheney ensures that all legislation is routed through his office for review before it reaches Bush’s desk. Addington goes through every bill for any new provisions that conceivably might infringe on the president’s power as Addington interprets it, and drafts signing statements for Bush to sign. In 2006, White House counsel Bradford Berenson will reflect: “Signing statements unite two of Addington’s passions. One is executive power. And the other is the inner alleyways of bureaucratic combat. It’s a way to advance executive power through those inner alleyways.… So he’s a vigorous advocate of signing statements and including important objections in signing statements. Most lawyers in the White House regard the bill review process as a tedious but necessary bureaucratic aspect of the job. Addington regarded it with relish. He would dive into a 200-page bill like it was a four-course meal.” It will not be long before White House and Justice Department lawyers begin vetting legislation themselves, with Addington’s views in mind. “You didn’t want to miss something,” says a then-lawyer in the White House. [Savage, 2007, pp. 236]

Entity Tags: David S. Addington, Bradford Berenson, Alberto R. Gonzales, Charlie Savage, William Kristol, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Bush administration (43), Harriet E. Miers, George W. Bush, Lawrence Wilkerson

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

David Addington.David Addington. [Source: David Bohrer / White House]According to an in-depth examination by the Washington Post, within hours of the 9/11 attacks, Vice President Dick Cheney begins working to secure additional powers for the White House. Cheney had plans in place to begin acquiring these powers for the executive branch before the attacks, but had not begun to execute them.
Gathering the Team - David Addington, Cheney’s general counsel and legal adviser, had been walking home after having to leave the now-evacuated Eisenhower Executive Office Building. He receives a message from the White House telling him to turn around, because the vice president needs him. After Addington joins Cheney in the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC) below the East Wing of the White House, the pair reportedly begin “contemplating the founding question of the legal revolution to come: What extraordinary powers will the president need for his response?” Later in the day, Addington connects by secure video with Timothy Flanigan, the deputy White House counsel, who is in the White House Situation Room. John Yoo, the deputy chief of the Office of Legal Counsel, is also patched in from the Justice Department’s command center. White House counsel Alberto Gonzales joins them later. This forms the core legal team that Cheney will oversee after the terrorist attacks. Associate White House counsel Bradford Berenson will later recall: “Addington, Flanigan and Gonzales were really a triumvirate. [Yoo] was a supporting player.” Addington dominates the group. Gonzales is there primarily because of his relationship with President Bush. He is not, Yoo will later recall, “a law-of-war expert and [doesn’t] have very developed views.” Along with these allies, Cheney will provide what the Washington Post calls “the rationale and political muscle to drive far-reaching legal changes through the White House, the Justice Department, and the Pentagon,” which will free the president to fight the war on terror, “as he saw fit.”
Drafting the AUMF - The team begins drafting the document that will become the Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF—see October 10, 2002) passed by Congress for the assault on Afghanistan. In the words of the group, the president is authorized “to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States.”
Extraordinarily Broad Language - The language is extraordinarily broad; Yoo will later explain that they chose such sweeping language because “this war was so different, you can’t predict what might come up.” The AUMF draft is the first of numerous attempts to secure broad powers for the presidency, most justified by the 9/11 attacks. The Washington Post will later report, “In fact, the triumvirate knew very well what would come next: the interception—without a warrant—of communications to and from the United States” (see September 25, 2001). [CNN, 9/11/2001; CNN, 9/12/2001; Unger, 2007, pp. 220-221; Washington Post, 6/24/2007]

Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, John C. Yoo, Timothy E. Flanigan, Craig Unger, Bradford Berenson, David S. Addington, Alberto R. Gonzales

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline, Civil Liberties

Steven Calabresi, one of the architects of the ‘unitary executive’ theory, says Bush’s use of signing statements has gone too far.Steven Calabresi, one of the architects of the ‘unitary executive’ theory, says Bush’s use of signing statements has gone too far. [Source: MeFeedia]Legal scholars and constitutional experts decry President Bush’s claim that he can ignore or disobey laws with impunity. An examination by Boston Globe reporter Charlie Savage finds that to date, Bush has claimed the authority to disobey over 750 laws enacted since he took office (see January 20, 2001 and After, After September 11, 2001, January 27, 2002, November 5, 2002, March 12, 2004 and After, November 6, 2003, December 2004, December 17, 2004, Dec. 23, 2004, January 17, 2005, August 8, 2005, October 18, 2005, December 30, 2005, and January 23, 2006). He claims that as president, he has the power to override any statute passed by Congress when it conflicts with his interpretation of the Constitution. While the Constitution assigns Congress the power to write the laws and the president the duty “to take care that the laws be faithfully executed,” Bush asserts that he has no mandate to “execute” a law he believes is unconstitutional. Administration spokespersons have repeatedly said that Bush “will faithfully execute the law in a manner that is consistent with the Constitution,” but it is Bush who decides what is and is not constitutional. Many legal scholars disagree with Bush’s position, and accuse him of attempting to usurp Congressional power for himself.
Philip Cooper - Law professor Phillip Cooper says over the Bush administration’s tenure, it has relentlessly worked to concentrate ever more governmental power into the White House. “There is no question that this administration has been involved in a very carefully thought-out, systematic process of expanding presidential power at the expense of the other branches of government,” Cooper says. “This is really big, very expansive, and very significant.”
Christopher Kelley - Political science professor Christopher Kelley notes that Bush uses signing statements to abrogate Congressional powers in a manner inconsistent with Constitutional mandates. “He agrees to a compromise with members of Congress, and all of them are there for a public bill-signing ceremony, but then he takes back those compromises—and more often than not, without the Congress or the press or the public knowing what has happened,” Kelley says.
David Golove - Law professor David Golove says Bush has besmirched “the whole idea that there is a rule of law” because no one can be certain of which laws Bush thinks are valid and which he thinks he can ignore. “Where you have a president who is willing to declare vast quantities of the legislation that is passed during his term unconstitutional, it implies that he also thinks a very significant amount of the other laws that were already on the books before he became president are also unconstitutional,” Golove says. To the extent that Bush is interpreting the Constitution in defiance of Supreme Court rulings, Golove notes, he threatens to “overturn the existing structures of constitutional law.” When a president ignores the Court and is not restrained by a Congress that enables his usurpations, Golove says, the Constitution can be made to simply “disappear.” Golove adds, “Bush has essentially said that ‘We’re the executive branch and we’re going to carry this law out as we please, and if Congress wants to impeach us, go ahead and try it.’”
Jack Beerman - Law professor Jack Beermann says: “The president is daring Congress to act against his positions, and they’re not taking action because they don’t want to appear to be too critical of the president, given that their own fortunes are tied to his because they are all Republicans. Oversight gets much reduced in a situation where the president and Congress are controlled by the same party.”
Steven Calabresi - Former Justice Department official Steven Calabresi, who came up with the idea of using signing statements to counter Congressional powers during the Reagan administration (see August 23, 1985 - December 1985), now says, “I think what the administration has done in issuing no vetoes and scores of signing statements (see September 2007) is not the right way to approach this.”
Bruce Fein - Former Reagan Justice Department official Bruce Fein says: “This is an attempt by the president to have the final word on his own constitutional powers, which eliminates the checks and balances that keep the country a democracy. There is no way for an independent judiciary to check his assertions of power, and Congress isn’t doing it, either. So this is moving us toward an unlimited executive power.” [Boston Globe, 4/30/2006; Savage, 2007, pp. 243]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Charlie Savage, Christopher Kelley, Jack Beermann, Bruce Fein, David Golove, George W. Bush, Phillip Cooper, Steven Calabresi

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

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