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Context of 'December 19, 2007: Fire Breaks Out in Cheney’s Office'

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Clay Johnson.Clay Johnson. [Source: National Institutes of Health]A number of senior government officials who left the White House or the Eisenhower Executive Office Building when these buildings were evacuated return to the White House and join other senior officials in the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC), the bunker below the East Wing. [Sewanee Today, 2/24/2003; Bridgeland, 2012, pp. 5; LBJ Presidential Library, 9/3/2013] The officials were among dozens of government employees who went to the office of DaimlerChrysler in Washington, DC, after they were evacuated from the White House or the Eisenhower Executive Office Building next to it (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Anita McBride, the acting director of White House personnel, contacted the White House Situation Room and let officials there know who was with her at the DaimlerChrysler building, and arrangements were then made for a few senior officials to go back to the White House (see (Shortly After 9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Politico, 9/9/2011] These officials head from the DaimlerChrysler building to the White House around midday. [LBJ Presidential Library, 9/3/2013] They are escorted through downtown Washington by members of the Secret Service. [Lindsey, 2008, pp. 86; Crescent, 10/3/2011] The officials who go back to the White House include Nicholas Calio, assistant to the president for legislative affairs; Larry Lindsey, assistant to the president for economic policy; Albert Hawkins, secretary of Cabinet affairs; Clay Johnson, assistant to the president for presidential personnel; Tucker Eskew, director of the White House Office of Media Affairs; and Logan Walters, President Bush’s personal aide. [Draper, 2007, pp. 142; Crescent, 10/3/2011; Bridgeland, 2012, pp. 5] After arriving at the White House, the officials go to the PEOC, where they join Vice President Dick Cheney, members of the Cabinet, and other senior White House staffers. [Lindsey, 2008, pp. 86; Bridgeland, 2012, pp. 5]

Entity Tags: Clay Johnson, US Secret Service, Lawrence Lindsey, Nicholas E. Calio, Tucker Eskew, Albert Hawkins, Logan Walters

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Vice President Dick Cheney unilaterally exempts his office from Executive Order 12958, which established government-wide procedures for safeguarding classified national security information. [White House, 4/17/1995; Congress Committee On Oversight And Government Reform, 6/21/2007] It was amended by President Bush’s Executive Order 13292 (see March 25, 2003) to require that all agencies or “any other entity within the executive branch that comes into the possession of classified information” regularly report on their activities to the Information Security Oversight Office. [White House, 3/25/2003]
Vice President Not Part of Executive Branch, Cheney Argues - Cheney’s argument is that the vice president’s office is not part of the executive branch, and therefore has no legal obligation to report on its classification decisions as mandated by the order. Cheney justifies his position by noting that the vice president has a role in both the executive and legislative branches—the vice president is also president of the Senate—and the vice president’s office is not an agency. In May 2006, Cheney spokeswoman Lea Anne McBride will say, “This has been thoroughly reviewed and it’s been determined that the reporting requirement does not apply to [the office of the vice president], which has both legislative and executive functions.” (McBride does not say who reviewed the claim.)
Criticism - Others, such as government secrecy expert Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists, disagree. “It undermines oversight of the classification system and reveals a disdain for presidential authority,” he says. “It’s part of a larger picture of disrespect that this vice president has shown for the norms of oversight and accountability.” Around 80 agencies and entities must report annually to the National Archives; besides the Office of the Vice President, only the president’s Homeland Security Council and the president’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board have as yet failed to report on their activities. Aftergood will say: “Somebody made a decision that they don’t want to do what they used to do.… They have to explain why they stopped doing it, and they haven’t done that.” [ABC News, 6/21/2007] Law professor Garrett Epps observes: “The vice president is saying he doesn’t have to follow the orders of the president. That’s a very interesting proposition.” And Judicial Watch’s Paul Orfanedes says Cheney’s claim “seems most disingenuous.” [Cox News Service, 6/21/2007]
Retaliation For Attempt To Force Compliance - The National Archives’ Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO) will attempt in 2004 to conduct an inspection of Cheney’s offices pursuant to the executive order; Cheney’s staff will block the inspection, the first time since the ISOO’s inception in 1978 that one of its inspections has been thwarted. The National Archives will protest Cheney’s decision (see June 8, 2006 and January 9, 2007); Cheney will respond by attempting to abolish the ISOO (see May 29, 2007-June 7, 2007). [Henry A. Waxman, 6/21/2007 pdf file; ABC News, 6/21/2007] In June 2007, President Bush will announce that he never intended for either his or Cheney’s office to have to comply with the directive. [USA Today, 6/24/2007; Newsweek, 12/27/2007]
Issue Nothing More Than 'Kerfuffle' - In December 2007, Cheney will call the entire issue a “kerfuffle… is he or isn’t he; is he part of the executive branch, part of the legislative branch? And the answer really is, you’ve got a foot in both camps. I obviously work for the president. That’s why I’m sitting here in the West Wing of the White House. But I also have a role to play in the Congress as the president of the Senate. I actually get paid—that’s where my paycheck comes from, is the Senate. So I try to keep lines open to both sides of the Congress, both the House and the Senate.” [White House, 12/6/2007] However, Cheney sometimes asserts executive privilege, a function of the executive branch (see June 26, 2007 and June 29, 2007).

Entity Tags: Information Security Oversight Office, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, National Archives and Records Administration, Homeland Security Advisory Council, Lea Anne McBride, George W. Bush, Federation of American Scientists (FAS), Issuetsdeah, Garrett Epps, Steven Aftergood, Office of the Vice President, Paul Orfanedes

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

A fire erupts in Vice President Dick Cheney’s ceremonial offices in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building while White House press secretary Dana Perino is answering questions about the destruction of CIA interrogation videos, at approximately 9:15 in the morning, next door at the White House. White House spokesperson Emily Lawrimore says she is unaware of any documents or artwork lost in the fire. DC fire department spokesman Alan Etter says that smoke came from an electrical closet on the second floor, which may have been the location of the fire’s cause. Perino says the fire may have originated in the electrical closet or a phone bank. The vice president’s working office is located in the West Wing of the White House, whereas the Eisenhower Executive Office Building houses the Office of Management and Budget, staff of the National Security Council, other agencies, and the ceremonial offices of the vice president. The adjacent office of the vice president’s political director Amy Whitelaw is heavily damaged in the fire, according to Cheney spokesperson Lea Anne McBride. [CBS News, 12/19/2007; Associated Press, 12/19/2007; Los Angeles Times, 12/20/2007]

Entity Tags: Eisenhower Executive Offices Building, Alan Etter, Amy Whitelaw, Dana Perino, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, White House, Emily Lawrimore, Lea Anne McBride, District of Columbia Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department

Timeline Tags: Misc Entries

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