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Context of 'Mid-2006: Former Justice Official Blames Cheney for Abrogating Congressional Powers'

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David Addington.David Addington. [Source: Richard A. Bloom / Corbis]David Addington, the chief counsel for Vice President Dick Cheney, is named Cheney’s chief of staff to replace Lewis “Scooter” Libby, who was convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice in the Valerie Plame Wilson case (see February 13, 2002). [National Journal, 10/30/2005; MSNBC, 11/4/2005] Addington is described by one White House official as “the most powerful man you never heard of.” A former Justice Department official says of Addington, “He seems to have his hand in everything, and he has these incredible powers, energy, reserves in an obsessive, zealot’s kind of way.” He is, according to former Solicitor General Theodore Olson, Cheney’s “eyes, ears, and voice.” [US News and World Report, 5/21/2006] Addington is a neoconservative ideologue committed to dramatically expanding the power of the presidency, and a powerful advocate of the “unitary executive” theory of presidential power. He has been with Cheney for years, ever since Cheney chose him to serve as the Pentagon’s chief counsel while Cheney was Defense Secretary under Ronald Reagan. During that time, Addington was an integral part of Cheney’s battle to keep the Iran-Contra scandal from exploding (see 1984). [Washington Post, 10/11/2004; National Journal, 10/30/2005; MSNBC, 11/4/2005; US News and World Report, 5/21/2006] According to Larry Wilkerson, the former chief of staff to former Secretary of State Colin Powell, documentary evidence shows that Cheney’s office, and Addington in particular, were responsible for giving at least tacit approval for US soldiers to abuse and torture prisoners in Iraq (see January 9, 2002). In an administration devoted to secrecy, Addington stands out in his commitment to keeping information away from the public. [Washington Post, 10/11/2004] Though Addington claims to have a lifelong love affair with the Constitution, his interpretation of it is somewhat unusual. One senior Congressional staffer says, “The joke around here is that Addington looks at the Constitution and sees only Article II, the power of the presidency.” [US News and World Report, 5/21/2006] Addington’s influence in the White House is pervasive. He scrutinizes every page of the federal budget, hunting for riders that might restrict the power of the president. He worked closely with Gonzales to oppose attempts by Congress to pry information from the executive branch, and constantly battles the State Department, whose internationalist philosophy is at odds with his and Cheney’s own beliefs. [Washington Post, 10/11/2004] Former Reagan Justice Department official Bruce Fein calls Addington the “intellectual brainchild” of overreaching legal assertions that “have resulted in actually weakening the presidency because of intransigence.” According to Fein, Addington and Cheney are doing far more than reclaiming executive authority, they are seeking to push it farther than it has ever gone under US constitutional authority. They have already been successful in removing executive restraints formerly in place under the War Powers Act, anti-impoundment legislation, the legislative veto and the independent counsel statute. “They’re in a time warp,” Fein says. “If you look at the facts, presidential powers have never been higher.” [Washington Post, 10/11/2004] “He thinks he’s on the side of the angels,” says a former Justice Department official. “And that’s what makes it so scary.” [US News and World Report, 5/21/2006]

Entity Tags: Saddam Hussein, US Department of State, Theodore (“Ted”) Olson, US Department of Justice, US Department of Defense, Ronald Reagan, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, National Security Council, Bruce Fein, Bradford Berenson, 9/11 Commission, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, David S. Addington, John Bellinger, Jack Goldsmith, Lawrence Wilkerson, John C. Yoo, Valerie Plame Wilson

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

While on a trip to the Middle East, Vice President Dick Cheney gives a frank outline of his view of the president’s powers, and refers to an Iran-Contra document as support for this view. In response to a question about his perspective as a veteran of the Ford administration, which the reporter says “arguably was the point at which presidential power had reached its absolute nadir,” Cheney replies, “Yes, I do have the view that over the years there had been an erosion of presidential power and authority, that it’s reflected in a number of developments.” Cheney lists several examples, including the War Powers Act, Congressional budget controls, the limitations placed on his own 2001 Energy Task Force, and numerous steps to limit the president’s power taken after Watergate and the Vietnam War. Cheney then advises the reporter: “If you want reference to an obscure text, go look at the minority views that were filed with the Iran-Contra Committee; the Iran Contra Report in about 1987 (see November 16-17, 1987). Nobody has ever read them, but we—part of the argument in Iran Contra was whether or not the president had the authority to do what was done in the Reagan years. And those of us in the minority wrote minority views, but they were actually authored by a guy working for me, for my staff, that I think are very good in laying out a robust view of the president’s prerogatives with respect to the conduct of especially foreign policy and national security matters. It will give you a much broader perspective.… I believe in a strong, robust executive authority. And I think the world we live in demands it. And to some extent, that we have an obligation as an administration to pass on the offices we hold to our successors in as good a shape as we found them.… I do think that to some extent now, we’ve been able to restore the legitimate authority of the presidency.” [White House, 12/20/2005]
Nixon Lawyer: Cheney 'Twisting History' - However, former Nixon White House counsel John Dean will call the Iran-Contra document to which Cheney refers “replete with factual and other errors,” a wholesale “twist[ing] of history” that nevertheless “sought to establish extreme standards for presidential powers vis-a-vis Congress.” According to Dean, Cheney believes now, as he did then, “that the Congress—other than writing checks to finance the president’s policies—has no real role whatsoever.” [Dean, 2007, pp. 86-88]
Former Republican Staffer: 'Chasm of Difference' between Then, Now - Former Justice Department lawyer Bruce Fein, who helped Cheney write the minority report and has since parted ways with his old boss, will say there is “a chasm of difference” between Iran-Contra and the secrecy of the Bush-Cheney administration. “Then it was part of the democratic process,” Fein will say in July 2006. “The way you debate the process, it allows for self-correction. This is the essence, the lifeblood of democracy.” Then, the Reagan administration was forced by a Democratic majority in Congress to disclose at least some details of its inner workings. There is no such disclosure today, Fein says. “They think that democracy ends if you win elections.” [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 81]

Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Ford administration, John Dean, Reagan administration

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, Iran-Contra Affair

Bruce Fein, a former senior Justice Department official in the Reagan administration, says that Vice President Dick Cheney is the person most responsible for abrogating the constitutional powers of the US Congress and presenting them to the executive branch. “Dick Cheney exercises all the powers of the presidency,” Fein says. “He has great contempt for Congress. You can get pretty cynical about Congress. Some of those people are yahoos. But that’s not the point. You don’t have to be brilliant to provide the checks and balances. You just need the constant questioning, the restraint.” [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 223]

Entity Tags: Bruce Fein, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

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