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Profile: Jake Bernstein
Jake Bernstein was a participant or observer in the following events:
Dick Cheney. [Source: Boston Globe]Dick Cheney, a long-term college student who avoided the Vietnam War by securing five student deferments [Washington Post, 1/17/2006] and now a Congressional aide, is hired by Donald Rumsfeld, who had been a congressman but resigned to run the Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO). Cheney is a young staff assistant to Representative Bill Steiger (R-WI), who took Cheney under his wing and taught him what he knew of the ins and outs of Washington bureaucracy. There are two versions of how Cheney comes to Rumsfeld’s attention. Rumsfeld sends a letter to Steiger asking for advice on how to run the OEO. The official story has Cheney spying the letter and writing a ten-page policy memo on how to run a federal agency, a memo that so impresses Steiger that he recommends Cheney to Rumsfeld’s attention. Authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein will write, “A more plausible version has Steiger (who died in 1978) assigning Cheney the task of collecting information on the OEO for Rumsfeld.” Either way, Rumsfeld is so taken with the memo that he hires Cheney on the spot. Rumsfeld, who is also an assistant to President Nixon, takes Cheney with him to morning and afternoon meetings in the White House. Cheney later says these meetings taught him “what [a president] has to do in the course of a day.” [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 24-25]
The Reagan administration, reeling from the revelation that it has illegally armed the Nicaraguan Contras (see October 5, 1986), attempts to conceal its workings in Nicaragua. In a closed session of the House Intelligence Committee, Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams, joined by CIA officials, assures committee members that the US government is not involved in supplying the Contras. According to the witnesses, the CIA claims it had nothing to do with Eugene Hasenfus, the cargo handler who survived the recent downing of a CIA transport plane and in doing so revealed the existence of the illegal arms deals. Supposedly, the only involvement by US officials was to offer public encouragement. The committee Democrats do not believe anything Abrams or the CIA officials say, but at least one committee member, Dick Cheney (R-WY) offers his support. According to the summary written by the administration staffer taking notes that day, “Mr. Cheney said he found our ignorance credible.” There is far more going on than the committee Democrats know—or than Cheney will tell them. For years, Cheney has been urging Congress to authorize aid to the Contras, but the majority Democrats have been inconsistent in their support. As authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein will later characterize the situation, Abrams, a self-described former socialist turned enthusiastic neoconservative, and others in the administration, such as National Security Council staffer Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North, have now taken matters into their own hands (see October 5, 1986), in direct violation of US law. Committee Democrats are as yet unaware that Reagan officials such as North have also been negotiating arms-for-hostages deals with Iran, in a covert three-way deal involving Iran, the US, and the Contras (see November 3, 1986). [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 65]
Attorney General Edwin Meese. [Source: Doug Mills / Bettman / Corbis]Attorney General Edwin Meese undertakes an internal fact-finding investigation focused on President Reagan’s involvement in the November 1985 sale of Hawk missiles to Iran (see 1985). Meese is apparently not interested in finding facts, because he refuses a request to assist from the FBI, and takes no notes during his interviews of administration officials.
'Shredding Party' - Additionally, during his investigation, National Security Council documents are altered or destroyed, including a presidential finding from December 1985 that retroactively authorized US missile sales to Iran (see November 24-25, 1985 and December 5, 1985); National Security Adviser John Poindexter will later admit to destroying this document. Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North holds what is later called a “shredding party,” destroying thousands of documents that would likely implicate White House officials in a criminal conspiracy to break the law (see November 21-23, 1986). The Iran-Contra investigative committee will later fault Meese for departing from “standard investigative techniques” during his investigation.
Document Linking Iran Arms Sales, Contra Supplies Survives - Meese also finds a potentially explosive document in the desk of North, the National Security Council staffer who managed the Iran arms deals. The document, an undated memorandum apparently from April 1986, outlined “a planned diversion of $12 million in proceeds from the Iran arms sales to the Nicaraguan contras” (see April 4, 1986). Meese’s investigation now diverges onto two tracks, one a continuation of the Hawk shipments, and the second an investigation into who knew about, and who had approved, the diversion.
Reagan Courting Impeachment? - Meese confirms from North that the $12 million had indeed been given to the Contras, and informs Reagan, Chief of Staff Donald Regan, and Vice President Bush. Reagan is reportedly shocked by the revelation, in part because he knows he could face impeachment for violating the Boland Amendment (see October 10, 1984). Meese informs the cabinet the next day. Apparently Meese does not want to know if any senior White House officials knew of the diversion, because he does not ask them about it. When Poindexter informs Meese that before December 1985, his predecessor Robert McFarlane handled the Iran arms sales “all alone” with “no documentation,” Meese accepts his word. Several White House officials present at the meeting—Reagan, Regan, Bush, Poindexter, Secretary of State George Shultz, and Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger—all know that Poindexter is lying, but none correct him. After the meeting, Shultz tells his aide, Charles Hill: “They may lay all this off on Bud [McFarlane].… They [are] rearranging the record.” Investigative counsel Lawrence Walsh will later write: “The Select Committees viewed this as an isolated error. It was not.”
'Case for Deniability' for Reagan - In Walsh’s opinion, Meese is not conducting an investigation at all, but instead is “building a case of deniability for his client-in-fact, President Reagan.” Walsh will characterize Meese’s actions as “an effort to obstruct a congressional inquiry.” In 2006, authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein will write, “The two strands of an illegal policy came together in that memo.” The authors refer to the US arms sales to Iran and the diversion of the profits from those sales to the Contras. [New York Times, 11/19/1987; United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, 8/4/1993; PBS, 2000; Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 66]
Entity Tags: Charles Hill, Edwin Meese, Caspar Weinberger, Ronald Reagan, Robert C. McFarlane, Oliver North, Federal Bureau of Investigation, George Herbert Walker Bush, George Shultz, Jake Bernstein, Contras, Donald Regan, Lou Dubose, Lawrence E. Walsh, John Poindexter
Timeline Tags: Iran-Contra Affair
Warren Rudman and Daniel Inouye. [Source: Time & Life Pictures / Getty Images]Both the House and Senate name special committees to investigate the Iran-Contra affair. [New York Times, 11/19/1987]
Avoiding Impeachment - The two investigations will quickly merge into one joint, unwieldy committee. Neither Speaker of the House Jim Wright (D-TX) nor Senate Majority Leader Robert Byrd (D-WV) have any intention of allowing the investigations to become impeachment hearings against President Reagan (see December 19, 1986). They decide to combine the House and Senate investigations in the hopes that the investigation will move more quickly and limit the damage to the presidency. They envision a bipartisan committee made up of wise, sober lawmakers able to prevent the investigation from becoming a witch hunt. Wright will remember telling the Republican minority leadership, “You appoint and we appoint and we can maintain some control.”
Choosing Chairmen, Members - Byrd chooses Senator Daniel Inouye (D-HI), a decorated World War II veteran who had served on the Senate Watergate Committee (see February 7, 1973) and the Senate Intelligence Committee. In turn, Inouye names Warren Rudman (R-NH), a former federal prosecutor, as his vice chairman, promising to share all the powers and responsibilities of the chairmanship with him. According to authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein, Rudman “would overshadow” the self-effacing Inouye. For the House side, Wright names conservative Lee Hamilton (D-IN) to chair that portion of the committee. Both Hamilton and Inouye have a deep conviction that to accomplish anything of lasting import, decisions must be arrived at in a bipartisan fashion. Wright names several powerful Democratic committee chairmen to the House committee; their responsibilities as committee chairmen will interfere with their ability to devote the proper time and effort to the investigation. House Minority Leader Robert Michel (R-IN) chooses his members with a very different agenda in mind. Michel, himself a relatively moderate Republican, chooses Dick Cheney (R-WY) as the ranking member of the House investigation. Cheney is well-informed about intelligence and foreign affairs, and, in Dubose and Bernstein’s words, “ruthlessly partisan.” In addition, Cheney will function as the White House “mole” on the committee, alerting White House officials as to the thrust and direction of the investigation and allowing them time to prepare accordingly. Michel salts the House committee with right-wing ideologues, including Henry Hyde (R-IL) and Bill McCollum (R-FL). Few of Michel’s House committee members have any intention of pursuing the facts behind Iran-Contra; instead, they are bent on undermining the Democrats on the committee and ensuring that the committee achieves few, if any, of its goals.
Loss of Leverage - From the outset, Wright and Byrd’s opposition to any consideration of presidential impeachment, no matter what evidence is unearthed, loses them their biggest advantage in the proceedings. Not only will committee Republicans feel more confident in pulling the investigation away from sensitive and potentially embarrassing matters, the committee will ignore important evidence of Reagan’s own involvement in the Iran-Contra decision-making process, including recordings of telephone conversations showing Reagan discussing financing the Contras with foreign leaders. Hamilton in particular will be an easy mark for the ideologues in the Republican group of committee members; his biggest worry is whether Reagan “would be able to govern” after the investigation, and his relentless bipartisanship makes him easy for the committee Republicans to manipulate and sway. As for the Republicans, even fellow GOP committee member Rudman will become disgusted with their naked partisanship and their refusal to pursue the facts. “It was obvious that Dick Cheney and others were more interested in protecting the president than in finding out what had happened,” Rudman will later recall. Dubose and Bernstein add that Cheney has another agenda as well: preserving the powers of the presidency against Congressional encroachment.
Cheney's Influence - Cheney has always succeeded in lulling his opposition with his unruffled demeanor. He is able to do the same thing on the investigative committee. “We totally misread the guy,” a Democratic staffer later recalls. “We thought he was more philosophical than political.” [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 68-69]
Entity Tags: Robert C. Byrd, James C. (‘Jim’) Wright, Jr., Jake Bernstein, Henry Hyde, Daniel Inouye, Contras, Bill McCollum, Joint House-Senate Iran-Contra Committee, Lee Hamilton, Ronald Reagan, Robert Michel, Warren Rudman, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Lou Dubose
Timeline Tags: Iran-Contra Affair
The Democratic and Republican leaders of Congress’s joint Iran-Contra investigation begin meetings to discuss the logistics of the upcoming public hearings (see May 5, 1987). Speaker of the House Jim Wright (D-TX) later recalls that House committee chairman “Lee Hamilton and I bent over backwards to be fair to the Republicans.” Many of the committee Republicans are not predisposed to return the favor. Moderate Republican Warren Rudman (R-NH), the co-chairman of the Senate committee, recalls that deep divides were forming between the committee’s moderate Republicans and the more hardline Republicans led by Dick Cheney (R-WY). “The meetings were very, very intensive,” Rudman will recall. Cheney helps put together the Republican committee members’ staff, and includes a number of hardline Reagan loyalists: the Justice Department’s Bruce Fein; the former assistant general counsel to the CIA, David Addington; and others. Notably, it is during the Iran-Contra hearings where Cheney and Addington form their lasting professional association.
Artificial Deadline - The first battle is over the length of the hearings. Cheney’s hardliners want the hearings over with quickly—“like tomorrow,” one former staffer recalls. Hamilton will recall: “Did I know Dick wanted to shorten it? Yes, I knew that.” Committee Democrats, fearful of extending the proceedings into the 1988 presidential campaign and thusly being perceived as overly partisan, agree to an artificial ten-month deadline to complete the investigation and issue a final report. Authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein later write that the deadline is “an invitation to the administration to stall while simultaneously burying the committee under mountains of useless information.” When, in the fall of 1987, the committee receives large amounts of new information, such as White House backup computer files, Cheney’s hardliners will succeed in insisting that the committee adhere to the deadline.
Jousting with the Special Prosecutor - The committee also has trouble co-existing with the special prosecutor’s concurrent investigation (see December 19, 1986). The special prosecutor, Lawrence Walsh, wants a long, intensive investigation culminating in a round of prosecutions. The committee worries that in light of Walsh’s investigation, key witnesses like Oliver North and John Poindexter would refuse to testify before the committee, and instead plead the Fifth Amendment. Rudman and committee counsel Arthur Liman want Walsh to quickly prosecute North for obstruction of justice based on North’s “shredding party” (see November 21-25, 1986). Rudman believes that he can get his Republican colleagues to agree to defer their investigation until after North’s trial. But Walsh declines. Rudman later says: “Walsh might have been more successful if he had followed our suggestion.… But he had this grand scheme of conspiracy.” As such, the committee has a difficult choice: abort the investigation or grant North immunity from prosecution so he can testify. Cheney and his hardliners, and even some Democrats, favor not having North testify in deference to his upcoming prosecution. “People were all over the place on that one,” Rudman will recall. Hamilton is the strongest proponent of immunity for North. “He believed that North had information no one else had,” a staffer will recall. Hamilton and the moderate Republicans are more interested in finding the details of the Iran-Contra affair rather than preparing for criminal prosecutions. The committee eventually compromises, and defers the testimony of North and Poindexter until the end of the investigation. Another committee staffer later recalls, “Hamilton was so fair-minded and balanced that in order to get agreements, he gave ground in areas where he shouldn’t have.”
North Deal 'Dooms' Investigation - Dubose and Bernstein later write, “The deal the committee struck with North’s canny lawyer, Brendan Sullivan, doomed Walsh’s investigation and the hearings.” The committee offers North “use immunity,” a guarantee that his testimony cannot be used against him in future prosecutions. The committee also agrees, unwisely, to a series of further caveats: they will not depose North prior to his testimony, his testimony will be strictly limited in duration, the committee will not recall North for further testimony, and he will not have to produce documents to be used in his testimony until just days before his appearance. [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 70-72, 77]
Entity Tags: Oliver North, Jake Bernstein, David S. Addington, Bruce Fein, Brendan Sullivan, Arthur Liman, James C. (‘Jim’) Wright, Jr., John Poindexter, Joint House-Senate Iran-Contra Committee, Lawrence E. Walsh, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Warren Rudman, Lee Hamilton, Lou Dubose
Timeline Tags: Iran-Contra Affair
Richard Secord receives whispered advice from his attorney, Thomas Green, during his testimony. [Source: Bettmann / Corbis]Public testimony begins in the joint House and Senate investigations of the Iran-Contra affair. General Richard Secord (see November 19, 1985) is the first witness (see May 5, 1987). [New York Times, 11/19/1987]
'Hero's Angle' - The televised hearing area in Room 325 of the Senate Office Building, built to accommodate over two dozen committee members, their staff, witnesses, lawyers, and television reporters and camera operators, features a series of two-tiered stages. Film director Steven Spielberg will later tell Senate counsel Arthur Liman that from a visual viewpoint, the staging is a terrible mistake; the witnesses appear on television “at the hero’s angle, looking up as though from a pit at the committees, who resembled two rows of judges at the Spanish Inquisition.” Authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein will note with some sardonicism that the committee’s two lawyers could not have been better choices to play television villains. Liman is “a nasal-voiced New York ethnic with ‘spaghetti hair,’” and House counsel John Nields is “a balding lawyer with long locks down to his collar who couldn’t keep his distaste for the witnesses from creeping into his voice.”
Opening Statements; Cheney Blames Congress, Not the White House - The hearings open with the usual long-winded opening statements from the various committee members. Representative Dick Cheney (R-WY), the leader of the Republican hardline contingent, makes it clear from the outset where he intends to go in the investigation. “Some will argue that these events justify the imposition of additional restrictions on presidents to prohibit the possibility of similar occurrences in the future,” he says. “In my opinion, this would be a mistake. In completing our task, we should seek above all to find ways to strengthen the capacity of future presidents and future Congresses to meet the often dangerous and difficult challenges that are bound to rise in the years ahead.” He then introduces his counter-argument: Congress’s dithering, not the Reagan administration’s clear violation of the law, is the crux of the problem with the Iran-Contra affair. “One important question to be asked is to what extent did the lack of a clear-cut policy by the Congress contribute to the events we will be exploring in the weeks ahead?” Cheney and his colleagues will argue that because Congress had supported the Contras in the past, its decision not to continue that support was an unforgivable breach, “a form of actionable negligence,” in Dubose and Bernstein’s words, that made it necessary for the Reagan administration to establish “a parallel support network as a ‘bridging’ mechanism until Congress could be brought around to a sensible policy.” Oliver North will echo this concept in his own testimony (see July 7-10, 1987), driving committee Vice Chairman Warren Rudman (R-NH) to retort: “The American people have the Constitutional right to be wrong. And what Ronald Reagan thinks, or what Oliver North thinks or what I think or what anybody else thinks makes not a whit if the American people say, ‘Enough.’” [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 72-75]
Entity Tags: Richard Secord, John Nields, Jake Bernstein, Contras, Arthur Liman, Joint House-Senate Iran-Contra Committee, Reagan administration, Lou Dubose, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Steven Spielberg, Oliver North
Timeline Tags: Iran-Contra Affair
Former CIA Director William Casey (see February 2, 1987) dies as a result of his inoperable brain cancer. Casey was a key figure in the Iran-Contra machinations. Authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein will later write, “In death he would become a helpful scapegoat for Oliver North and a resting place for missing information that would have filled out the contours of the scandal.” [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 70] Casey had been named as one of the architects of the scheme to use profits from illegal arms sales to Iran to secretly fund the Nicaraguan Contras (see May 5, 1987). He had been hospitalized since April 25, and unable to testify in the Iran-Contra hearings. The immediate cause of death is what doctors call “aspiration pneumonia,” which may mean that Casey inhaled food or food particles in his lungs that set up a toxic chemical reaction. A physician not involved in Casey’s treatment says that Casey may have had trouble swallowing properly. The hospital in Glen Cove, Long Island refuses to give any more details. Despite the swirling Iran-Contra controversy, President Reagan says of his longtime colleague and friend: “His nation and all those who love freedom honor today the name and memory of Bill Casey. In addition to crediting him with rebuilding America’s intelligence capability, history will note the brilliance of his mind and strategic vision, his passionate commitment to the cause of freedom and his unhesitating willingness to make personal sacrifices for the sake of that cause and his country.” [New York Times, 5/7/1987]
Oliver North testifying before the Iran-Contra Committee. [Source: Bettmann / Corbis]Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North testifies before the joint House-Senate Iran-Contra investigative committee. During the course of his testimony, he says he does not know if President Reagan had any knowledge of the diversion of funds from Iranian arms sales to the Nicaraguan Contras (see December 6, 1985 and April 4, 1986). North also testifies that William Casey, the recently deceased CIA director (see May 6, 1987), knew of and approved the diversion of funds to the Contras. North admits that the Iranian arms sales were initially designed to help facilitate the release of the American hostages being held by Hezbollah. [New York Times, 11/19/1987]
Tour de Force - North’s testimony is a “tour de force,” in the words of authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein, that allows Republicans the opportunity to reverse the field of the hearings and go on the offensive instead of defending the conduct of the Reagan administration. North, a Marine lieutenant colonel, wears his full-dress Marine uniform throughout his entire testimony with rows of ribbons festooning his chest. Handsome and full of righteous patriotism, he is striking on television, and contrasts well with the nasal, disdainful committee lawyers (see May 5, 1987) who spend four days interrogating him.
Need to Free Hostages Trumps Law - For the first two days, North and House counsel John Nields spar for the cameras. North says that Casey had directed him to create the so-called “Enterprise” (see November 19, 1985 and February 2, 1987), the clandestine organization that supported the Nicaraguan Contras with money, weapons, and sometimes US personnel. North admits to shredding untold amounts of evidence after the operation came to light (see November 21-25, 1986). He also admits to lying to Congress in previous testimony. But all of his actions are justified, he says, by the need to get Iran to free the American hostages. “I’d have offered the Iranians a free trip to Disneyland if we could have gotten Americans home for it,” he declares in response to one question about US arms sales to Iran. Senate counsel Arthur Liman will later write, “He made all his illegal acts—the lying to Congress, the diversion [of funds from Iranian arms sales to the Contras], the formation of the Enterprise, the cover-up—seem logical and patriotic.”
Targeting Covert Operations - Nields’s preferred line of questioning—covert operations—makes many committee members uncomfortable. Some House Democrats want to use the investigation to further their own goals of limiting covert actions, and others simply want the truth to be revealed. In contrast, House Republicans are united in opposition to any details of covert operations being revealed on national television and thus hampering the president’s ability to conduct future operations as needed. After the first day of North’s testimony, committee member Dick Cheney (R-WY) exults on PBS that North “probably was as effective as anybody we’ve had before the committee in coming forward very aggressively and stating what he did, saying why he did it, arguing that he was in fact authorized to take the activities that he did.”
Leaky Congress Unfit to Know of Covert Ops, North Contends - North echoes Cheney’s position that the question is not whether White House officials broke the law, but whether Congress was fit to consider the question of national security at all. North goes so far as to question the propriety of the hearings themselves: “I believe that these hearings, perhaps unintentionally so, have revealed matters of great secrecy in the operation of our government, and sources of methods of intelligence activities have clearly been revealed, to the detriment of our security.” North’s message is clear: Congress is not fit to handle covert operations or, by and large, to even know about them. Best for the legislature to allow the White House and the intelligence community to do what needs doing and remain quiet about it. North’s contention that Congress has leaked vital national security information is shot down by Senate committee chairman Daniel Inouye (D-HI), who not only forces North to admit that he has no evidence of his contention, but that the White House, not Congress, is the main source of leaked classified information. Indeed, North himself has leaked information (see July 7-10, 1987). Inouye’s co-chair, Warren Rudman (R-NH) will later say: “The greatest leaks came out of the White House. North and company were the biggest leakers of all during that period.” [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 75-78] Nields, addressing North’s implication that the NSC has no obligation to tell the truth to Congress, says towards the end of his session with North: “We do believe in a democracy in which the people, not one lieutenant colonel, decide important policy issues, don’t we? … You denied Congress the facts North had admitted to lying about the government’s involvement with the Hasenfus plane. You denied the elected representatives of the people the facts.” [Boston Globe, 7/9/1987]
Impact on Public Opinion - Results will differ on North’s popularity with viewers (see July 9-31, 1987).
Entity Tags: William Casey, Warren Rudman, Ronald Reagan, Oliver North, Joint House-Senate Iran-Contra Committee, Arthur Liman, Bush administration (41), Contras, Daniel Inouye, Hezbollah, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, John Nields, Jake Bernstein, Lou Dubose
Timeline Tags: Iran-Contra Affair
On the last day of Oliver North’s testimony to the Joint House-Senate Iran-Contra Committee (see July 7-10, 1987), ranking Republican Dick Cheney handles the questioning. Authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein will observe that the questioning is more of “a duet than an interrogation.”
Praise from Cheney to North - Cheney opens by praising North’s handling of the hearings, saying, “I know I speak for a great many people who have been watching the proceedings, because the Congress has been absolutely buried in the favorable public reaction to your testimony and phone calls and telegrams” (see July 9-31, 1987). North has taken to stacking piles of supportive telegrams on his witness table; what he and Cheney do not tell those watching the hearings is that Western Union is offering a half-price special on pro-North telegrams sent to the committee.
Obvious Orchestration - Dubose and Bernstein later write that Cheney and North’s session is so perfectly carried out that it seems scripted and rehearsed, “complete with programmed queries and answers not available to everyone else.” Committee co-chairman Warren Rudman (R-NH) later says, “It was apparent to me that there was coordination going on.” Bruce Fein, the Republican staff’s chief of research, later admits that there was indeed such collaboration, though he says it was nothing more than “coordinat[ing] strategy.” Cheney and North’s duet paints North as nothing more than a guy who wanted “to cut through red tape” to save Nicaragua from Communism. North takes the opportunity to portray the selfless hero: “Hang whatever you want around the neck of Ollie North… but for the love of God and the love of this nation, don’t hang around Ollie North’s neck the cutoff of funds to the Nicaraguan resistance again. This country cannot stand that, not just because of Nicaragua, but because of all the other nations in the world who look at us and measure by what we do now in Nicaragua, the measure of our whole commitment to their cause. To things like NATO, to things like our commitment to peace and democracy elsewhere in the world.”
'Turnaround from Defense to Offense [Is] Complete' - Dubose and Bernstein later write, “The two men were now in the zone, a parallel radical-right fantasyland, blissfully ignoring the damage to America’s reputation caused by the administration’s support for the Contras and its willingness to barter weapons for hostages with Iran and Hezbollah.” Cheney and North ignore the World Court’s condemnation of the US mining of Nicaraguan harbors, the Contras’ attacks on civilian targets such as medical centers while refusing to engage the Sandinista forces themselves, which had inflamed outrage in Europe, and the ridicule that Iranian hardliners had subjected US attempts to open negotiations. Cheney’s questioning strategy is so successful that he is able to offer North his remaining time to present a slideshow on why funding the Contras is so important. Dubose and Bernstein later write, “The turnaround from defense to offense was complete.” [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 75-78, 80]
Dick Cheney’s official photo as Secretary of Defense. [Source: US Department of Defense]Former Representative Dick Cheney (R-WY) becomes secretary of defense under President George H. W. Bush. [US Department of Defense, 11/24/2005] Cheney is the second choice; Bush’s first consideration, former Texas senator John Tower, lost key Senate support when details of his licentious lifestyle and possible alcoholism became known. Cheney was the choice of, among others, Vice President Dan Quayle and National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft, who both feel that Bush needs someone in the position fast, and the best way to have someone move through the confirmation process is to have someone from Congress. Although Cheney never served in the military, and managed to dodge service during the Vietnam War with five student deferments, he has no skeletons in his closet like Tower’s, and he has the support of Congressional hawks. His confirmation hearings are little more than a formality.
Cheney Leaves the House, Gingrich Steps In - Cheney’s House colleague, Republican Mickey Edwards, later reflects, “The whole world we live in would be totally different if Dick Cheney had not been plucked from the House to take the place of John Tower.” Cheney was “in line to become the [GOP’s] leader in the House and ultimately the majority leader and speaker,” Edwards will say. “If that [had] happened, the whole Gingrich era wouldn’t have happened.” Edwards is referring to Newt Gingrich (R-GA), the future speaker of the House who, in authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein’s own reflections, “ushered in fifteen years of rancorous, polarized politics.” While Cheney is as partisan as Gingrich, he is not the kind of confrontational, scorched-earth politician Gingrich is. According to Edwards, no one can envision Cheney moving down the same road as Gingrich will.
Successful Tenure - As the Pentagon’s civilian chief, many will reflect on Cheney’s tenure as perhaps his finest hour as a public servant. “I saw him for four years as [defense secretary]. He was one of the best executives the Department of Defense had ever seen,” later says Larry Wilkerson, who will serve in the Bush-Cheney administration as chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell. “He made decisions. Contrast that with the other one I saw [Clinton Secretary of Defense Lester Aspin], who couldn’t make a decision if it slapped him in the face.” Cheney will preside over a gradual reduction in forces stationed abroad—a reduction skillfully managed by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Colin Powell.
Bringing Aboard the Neoconservatives - Cheney asks one of Tower’s putative hires, Paul Wolfowitz, to stay; Wolfowitz, with fellow Pentagon neoconservatives Lewis “Scooter” Libby and Zalmay Khalilzad, will draft the Pentagon’s 1992 Defense Planning Guide (DPG) (see February 18, 1992), a harshly neoconservative proposal that envisions the US as the world’s strongman, dominating every other country and locking down the Middle East oil reserves for its own use. Though the DPG is denounced by President Bush, Cheney supports it wholeheartedly, even issuing it under his own name. “He took ownership in it,” Khalilzad recalls. Cheney also brings in his aide from the Iran-Contra hearings, David Addington (see Mid-March through Early April, 1987), another neoconservative who shares Cheney’s view of almost unlimited executive power at the expense of the judicial and legislative branches. [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 87-95]
Entity Tags: Lester Aspin, George Herbert Walker Bush, David S. Addington, Dan Quayle, Colin Powell, Brent Scowcroft, Jake Bernstein, Lawrence Wilkerson, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, John Tower, Newt Gingrich, Zalmay M. Khalilzad, Mickey Edwards, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Lou Dubose, Paul Wolfowitz
Timeline Tags: US Military
Defense Secretary Dick Cheney takes a leading role in drawing up the plans for the US invasion of Iraq (see December 1990). He is appalled by what he calls the “lack of creativity” of the initial plans, drawn up by a number of senior generals. Cheney and Joint Chiefs Chairman Colin Powell spend days poring over the plans, with Cheney pressuring both Powell and the generals to make wide-ranging changes. But the generals respect Cheney’s input. “He wasn’t a micromanager like McNamara,” one general later recalls, referring to former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, who planned much of the US’s Vietnam strategies. “And he wasn’t arrogant like [former Defense Secretary Donald] Rumsfeld. He wanted this one done right.”
Overwhelming Force - Cheney joins Powell in advocating the “enhanced option,” adding 100,000 more troops to the initial invasion force to bring troop strength up to nearly half a million US forces slated to go into Iraq. Powell and Cheney have no intention of being undermanned by Iraq’s large ground forces. And Cheney wants to slough off the remnants of what many call the “Vietnam syndrome.” He wants a resounding victory. “The military is finished in this society if we screw this up,” he tells Saudi Arabia’s Prince Bandar (see August 5, 1990 and After). While Powell and Cheney see eye-to-eye on most invasion-related issues, they do disagree on one fundamental issue: the possible use of the Army’s tactical nuclear arsenal (see Mid-August, 1990). (Nuclear weapons will not be used in the Iraq invasion.)
Limited Role of Congress? - Cheney sees no reason for Congress to have anything more than a peripheral role in the entire affair (see December 1990). Authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein later write: “Despite the fact that going to war with Iraq would be a larger undertaking than the D-Day invasion of Normandy, Cheney argued that the president did not need the consent of Congress. He seemed more understanding of King Fahd’s polling of the royal family and calling Arab leaders (see August 5, 1990 and After) than he was of [President] Bush’s willingness to go to Congress for consent” (see January 9-13, 1991). [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 101-102]
Dick Cheney and Joe Lieberman debate in Danville, Kentucky. [Source: On The Issues (.org)]During the single vice-presidential debate of the campaign, between Republican Dick Cheney and Democrat Joseph Lieberman, Cheney makes a number of assertions about his business experience that Lieberman does not challenge. No specific question is asked about Cheney’s tenure as CEO of Halliburton, but one is asked by the moderator, PBS newscaster Jim Lehrer, about “partisanship.” In the words of authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein: “Cheney used his answer to burnish a myth that largely exists to this day. In it, he stars as the triumphant CEO, a self-reliant insider-turned-outsider who competently and ethically grew his company while increasing shareholder value. While politically useful, it happens to be a lie.” In the debate, Cheney says: “I’ve been out of Washington for the last eight years and spent the last five years running a company [sic] global concern. And been out in the private sector building a business, hiring people, creating jobs. I have a different perspective on Washington than I had when I was there in the past.” Dubose and Bernstein will note that Lieberman, a pro-corporate politician himself, fails to challenge Cheney’s self-assessment. Lieberman does make one wry observation: when Cheney challenges the common wisdom that most Americans are financially better off now than at the beginning of President Clinton’s tenure, Lieberman retorts: “I think if you asked most people in America today that famous question that Ronald Reagan asked, ‘Are you better off today than you were eight years ago?’ Most people would say yes. I’m pleased to see, Dick, from the newspapers that you’re better off than you were eight years ago, too.” Cheney replies, “I can tell you, Joe, the government had absolutely nothing to do with it.” Dubose and Bernstein call Cheney’s retort “a whopper of a falsehood—and one more that Lieberman failed to dispute.” Cheney has become a multi-millionaire during his tenure at Halliburton, and will continue to receive compensation from the firm years after he becomes vice president. During Cheney’s five-year term as Halliburton CEO, the company had suffered due to what Fortune magazine will call his “poor leadership.” However, the large profits Halliburton made under Cheney came largely from government contracts. [Commission on Presidential Debates, 10/5/2000; Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 104-106]
Incoming Vice President Dick Cheney is already working to formulate the new administration’s energy policy, and to do so he is calling on a variety of CEOs and lobbyists for the oil, gas, and energy corporations. Authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein will later observe that Cheney’s “visitor log began to look like the American Petroleum Institute [API]‘s membership list. This was no coincidence.” In early January, an oil and gas lobbyist brings a group of industry executives to the API’s Washington offices to put together a wish list for Cheney and the administration. Shortly after the inauguration, the same lobbyist, J. Steven Griles, will be named deputy secretary of the interior and assigned to work with the Cheney energy task force (see May 16, 2001). Griles will become the conduit for API members to funnel their recommendations directly to the task force. [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 7]
Peabody Energy logo. [Source: BNet (.com)]Ira F. Engelhardt and Fred Palmer, the CEO and vice president of Peabody Energy, meet with Andrew Lundquist, the director of Vice President Cheney’s energy task force (the National Energy Policy Development Group—see May 16, 2001). Also at the meeting are Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham and Bush economic adviser Lawrence Lindsey. Peabody, the world’s largest coal company, is preparing a stock offering. The task force’s coal policy recommendations will directly impact the stock market’s response to Peabody’s IPO. The task force releases its recommendations (see May 16, 2001) less than a week before Peabody releases its stock offering on May 21. In part because the energy policy strongly emphasizes the use of coal, Peabody raises $420 million by going public—$60 million more than stock analysts predicted. Authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein will write, “The task force was, in effect, flogging a stock offering.” [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 17-18]
President George Bush, following the lead of Vice President Dick Cheney, prepares to renege on his campaign promise to cap carbon dioxide emissions (see September 29, 2000, March 8, 2001, and March 13, 2001). The promise is later described by authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein as “the environmental centerpiece of [his] presidential campaign.” Christine Todd Whitman, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, later says on CNN, “George Bush was very clear during the course of the campaign that he believed in a multipollutant strategy, and that includes CO2.” Initially, Bush stood by his pledge even as House Republicans Tom DeLay (R-TX) and Joe Barton (R-TX) attacked it as being bad for business. But on March 1, Cheney receives a personal note from energy lobbyist and veteran Republican operative Haley Barbour, headed “Regarding Cheney Energy Policy & Co.” The note reads in part: “A moment of truth is arriving in the form of a decision whether this administration’s policy will be to regulate and/or tax CO2 as a pollutant.… Demurring on the issue of whether the CO2 idea is eco-extremism, we must ask, do environmental initiatives, which would greatly exacerbate the energy problems, trump good energy policy, which the country has lacked for eight years?” Cheney moves quickly to respond to Barbour’s concerns. [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 19]
Disturbed by President Bush’s impending reversal of his pledge to cap carbon dioxide emissions (see September 29, 2000), Environmental Protection Agency head Christine Todd Whitman meets with Bush to attempt to change his mind. But Bush cuts her off: “Christine, I’ve already made my decision.” He says he has written a letter to Senator Chuck Hagel (R-NE—see March 13, 2001). Notably, as Whitman is leaving the Oval Office, she sees Vice President Cheney pick up the letter to Hagel from a secretary (see March 8, 2001). That same day, Cheney meets with Hagel and then addresses the Senate Republican Conference, announcing to that body that the administration no longer supports carbon dioxide caps. Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill later calls Cheney’s actions “a clean kill,” reminiscent of the bureaucratic manipulations Cheney had become so good at during the Nixon and Ford administrations. Authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein sum up Cheney’s modus operandi: “No fingerprints. No accountability. Cheney collaborated with four senators who were working against White House policy, then persuaded the president to join them.” [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 20]
Vice President Cheney meets with Enron CEO Kenneth Lay as part of Cheney’s secretive energy task force (the National Energy Policy Development Group—see May 16, 2001). Though Cheney may not know it, Enron is on the verge of collapse, with liabilities far outweighing assets and heavily doctored earnings statements. Enron’s only income generation comes from the unregulated energy markets in California and other Western states (see January 23, 2001). Enron traders are gouging the California markets at an unprecedented pace; as authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein later write, Enron is “taking power plants off-line to create shortages, booking transmission lines for current that never move[s], and shuttling electricity back and forth across state lines to circumvent price controls,” among a plethora of other illegal market manipulations.
Ignoring California's Energy Crisis - Unable to make a profit between buying Enron’s energy at staggering prices and then selling it at regulated rates, one of California’s two largest utility companies has filed for bankruptcy and the other has accepted a government bailout. California is in a calamitous energy crisis. Governor Gray Davis is pleading for rate caps that would help both utility companies and consumers. But price caps are the last thing Lay wants. Once in Cheney’s office, Lay gives Cheney a three-page memo outlining Enron’s recommendations for the administration’s national energy policy Cheney’s group is developing. Prominently featured in the memo is the following recommendation: “The administration should reject any attempt to deregulate wholesale power markets by adopting price caps.” Almost every recommendation in the Lay memo will find its way into the energy task force’s final report. Cheney may not know that Enron is in such dire financial straits, but he does know that energy prices in California have gone from $30 to $300 per megawatthour, with periodic jumps to as high as $1,500. He also knows that Enron’s profits in California, along with other power producers, have gone up 400% to 600%.
Price Caps in Spite of Lay, Cheney - Lay does not get his way; the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission will override Cheney’s arguments and impose price caps on energy traders working in California. The state’s energy prices are brought under control, Enron’s trading schemes—luridly given such sobriquets as “Death Star,” “Fat Boy,” and “Get Shorty”—are brought to an end, and Enron collapses six months later (see December 2, 2001). Cheney will have a measure of revenge by forcing one of Lay’s adversaries on FERC, Curtis Hebert, out of his position (see August 14, 2001).
Avoiding Scrutiny and Oversight - This meeting and others are cleverly designed to avoid legal government oversight. According to the Federal Advisory Committees Act (FACA), the energy task force should be subject to public accountability because private parties—in this case, oil and gas industry executives and lobbyists—are helping shape government policy. Cheney’s legal counsel, David Addington, devises a simple scheme to avoid oversight. When a group of corporate lobbyists come together to create policy, a government official is present. Suddenly, FACA does not apply, and the task force need not provide any information whatsoever to the public. Dubose and Bernstein will later write: “It was bold as [artist] Rene Magritte’s near-photographic representation of a pipe over the inscription ceci n’est pas une pipe—‘this is not a pipe.’ Fifteen oil industry lobbyists meet in the Executive Office Building and one midlevel bureaucrat from the Department of Energy steps into the room—and voila, ceci n’est pas une foule de lobbyists. Because one government employee sat in with every group of lobbyists, a committee of outside advisers was not a committee of outside advisers.” Between Addington’s bureaucratic end-around and Cheney’s chairmanship of the working group giving the entire business the cloak of executive privilege, little information gets out of the group. “The whole thing was designed so that the presence of a government employee at a meeting could keep the Congress out,” a Congressional staff lawyer later says. It also keeps the press at bay. [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 3-4, 10]
Entity Tags: National Energy Policy Development Group, US Department of Energy, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Kenneth Lay, Jake Bernstein, Enron Corporation, David S. Addington, Curtis Hebert, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Gray Davis, Lou Dubose, Federal Advisory Committees Act
Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record
ABC reporter Ted Koppel asks Vice President Dick Cheney about meetings with his “pals” from the oil and energy industries (see January 29, 2001 and April 17, 2001 and After). Koppel is referring to the attempts by Congress to be given the names of the participants in Cheney’s energy task force meetings. Cheney says: “I think it’s going to have to be resolved in court, and I think that’s probably appropriate. I think, in fact, that this is the first time the GAO [Government Accountability Office] has ever issued a so-called demand letter to a president/vice president. I’m a duly elected constitutional officer. The idea that any member of Congress can demand from me a list of everybody I meet with and what they say strikes me as—as inappropriate, and not in keeping with the Constitution.” Authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein will later write, “The vice president was deftly turning a request for records into a constitutional struggle between the legislative and executive branches.” Representative Henry Waxman (D-CA), who issued the original requests before turning them over to the GAO, will put his demands for information on hold because of the 9/11 attacks and the war in Afghanistan, but the case will indeed end up in court (see February 22, 2002). [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 11-12]
Vice President Dick Cheney is interviewed on NBC’s Meet the Press to discuss the Bush administration’s position on Iraq and the alleged threat Iraq poses to the world. “[B]ased on intelligence that’s becoming available—some of it has been made public [referring to the recent New York Times story—see September 8, 2002 ]—… he has indeed stepped up his capacity to produce and deliver biological weapons,… he has reconstituted his nuclear program to develop a nuclear weapon,… there are efforts under way inside Iraq to significantly expand his capability.… [H]e now is trying, through his illicit procurement network, to acquire the equipment he needs to be able to enrich uranium to make the bombs.… There’s a story in The New York Times this morning… [I]t’s now public that, in fact, he has been seeking to acquire, and we have been able to intercept and prevent him from acquiring through this particular channel, the kinds of tubes that are necessary to build a centrifuge. And the centrifuge is required to take low-grade uranium and enhance it into highly enriched uranium, which is what you have to have in order to build a bomb. This is a technology he was working on back, say, before the Gulf War. And one of the reasons it’s of concern,… is… [that] we know about a particular shipment. We’ve intercepted that. We don’t know what else—what other avenues he may be taking out there, what he may have already acquired. We do know he’s had four years without any inspections at all in Iraq to develop that capability.… [W]e do know, with absolute certainty, that he [Saddam Hussein] is using his procurement system to acquire the equipment [aluminum tubes] he needs in order to enrich uranium to build a nuclear weapon.” Cheney says the US intends to work with the international community, but hints that the US is willing to confront Saddam without international support. “We are trying very hard not be unilateralist,” he says. “We are working to build support with the American people, with the Congress, as many have suggested we should. And we are also as many of us suggested we should, going to the United Nations, and the president will address this issue.… We would like to do it with the sanction of the international community. But the point in Iraq is this problem has to be dealt with one way or the other.” [Meet the Press, 9/8/2002; Washington File, 9/9/2002; Washington Post, 2/7/2003; Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 10/27/2003; New York Times, 10/3/2004] Authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein will later write of Cheney’s remarks: “Taken together [with Cheney’s recent speech to the VFW—see August 26, 2002], the vice president’s warnings made a compelling case for war. They were, however, entirely untrue. Yet they reframed the terms of the Iraq debate, leading the public to the conclusion that the question should not be ‘if’ but rather ‘when’ the nation goes to war in Iraq.” [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 176]
District Court Judge John Bates rules against the General Accounting Office (GAO), the investigative arm of Congress, in its attempt to force Vice President Cheney to disclose some of his Energy Task Force documents (see January 29, 2001 and May 16, 2001). The judge writes, “This case, in which neither a House of Congress nor any congressional committee has issued a subpoena for the disputed information or authorized this suit, is not the setting for such unprecedented judicial action.” [Associated Press, 12/9/2002] Bates is a Republican who worked as the deputy independent counsel to Kenneth Starr in the Whitewater investigation, and was appointed to the bench by President Bush in 2001. [Savage, 2007, pp. 112] The GAO later declines to appeal the ruling (see February 7, 2003). In a similar suit being filed by Judicial Watch and the Sierra Club, the Bush administration has successfully delayed deadlines forcing these documents to be turned over. [Associated Press, 12/6/2002] That case will eventually be decided in the administration’s favor (see May 10, 2005).
Cheney Pushes Back - Unfortunately, the ruling’s claim of no Congressional involvement is somewhat misleading. The original request for information came from two ranking House members, Henry Waxman (D-CA) of the Committee on Government Reform and John Conyers (D-MI) of the Energy and Commerce Committee (see April 19 - May 4, 2001). Waxman and Conyers followed standard procedure by writing to David Walker, head of the GAO, to request information about who was meeting with the task force and what the task force was doing (May 8, 2001. Instead of complying with the request, Cheney’s legal counsel, David Addington, replied that the task force was not subject to the Federal Advisory Committee Act, and therefore not bound by law to provide such information (see May 16 - 17, 2001). Addington later challenged the GAO’s authority, saying that it was trying “to intrude into the heart of Executive deliberations, including deliberations among the President, the Vice President, members of the President’s Cabinet, and the President’s immediate assistants, which the law protects to ensure the candor in Executive deliberation necessary to effective government.” The GAO was not asking for such information; former Nixon White House counsel John Dean will write in 2004, “It was clear [Addington] was looking to pick a fight.”
Tug of War - The GAO advised Addington that it did indeed have the legal power to examine the deliberations of such entities as the task force, and provided Addington both the statutory law and the legislative history, which flatly contradicted Addington’s refusal. The GAO also noted that it was “not inquiring into the deliberative process but [was] focused on gathering factual information regarding the process of developing President Bush’s National Energy Policy.” The GAO even narrowed the scope of its original request, asking only for the names of those who had worked with the task force, and the dates (see July 31, 2001). But this provoked further resistance from Cheney and his office, with Cheney publicly stating on numerous occasions that the GAO was unlawfully trying to intrude into the deliberative process. Walker’s patience ran out in January 2002, and he notified the White House and Congress that the GAO was taking the administration to court (see February 22, 2002).
Hardball in Federal Court - Usually the case will be handled by lawyers from the Justice Department’s Civil Division. But this case is much more important to the White House to be left to the usual group of attorneys. Instead, this lawsuit is one of the very few to be handled by a special unit operating under the direct supervision of Deputy Solicitor General Paul Clement and Clement’s boss, Solicitor General Theodore Olson. Olson, the lawyer who spearheaded the team that successfully argued the December 2000 Bush v. Gore case that awarded George W. Bush the presidency. Dean later learns that this special team was created specifically to find and handle cases that they can take to the Supreme Court in order to rewrite existing law, mostly laws that restrict the power of the presidency (see January 21, 2001). Many career attorneys at the Justice Department will become so offended by the existence and the agenda of this special legal team that they will resign their positions. The administraton sent a strong signal to Judge Bates when it sent Olson, who has argued many times before the Supreme Court, to argue the government’s case in his court. Dean will write that Bates, a recent Bush appointee and a veteran of the Whitewater investigation, “got the message.” He knows this case is slated to go to the Supreme Court if it doesn’t go the way the White House wants.
Standing the Law On Its Head - According to Dean, Bates turns the entire body of statutory law overseeing the GAO and its powers to compel information from the executive branch on its head. He rules that the GAO lacks the “standing to sue,” saying that it doesn’t have enough of a legal stake in the controversy to have a role in trying to compel information. Bates, flying in the face of over eight decades of law and precedent, rules that, in essence, the GAO is merely an agent of Congress, and because neither the GAO nor Walker had suffered injury because of the task force’s refusal to comply with its request, the GAO has no legal recourse against the executive branch. Bates hangs much of his ruling on the fact that Congress has not yet subpoenaed the White House for the task force information. Thusly, Bates guts the entire structure of enforcement authority the GAO has as part of its statutory mandate. Bates does not go as far as the Justice Department wants, by not specifically ruling that the entire GAO statute is unconstitutional, but otherwise Bates’s ruling is a complete victory for the White House. [Dean, 2004, pp. 76-80] Authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein later write that “Bates’s ruling creates a legislative Catch-22 for Democrats.” Because the GOP is the majority party, and because GOP Congressional leaders refuse to subpoena the White House on virtually any issue or conflict, no such subpoenas as Bates is mandating are likely to ever be granted by Republican committee chairmen. [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 14] In 2007, author and reporter Charlie Savage will write that Bates’s ruling severely eroded the GAO’s “ability to threaten to file a lawsuit [and] damaged the congressional watchdog’s capability to persuade executive branch agencies to comply with its requests for information.… Bates had established a principle that, if left undisturbed, could change the attitudes of executive branch officials when the GAO asked for documents they did not want to disclose.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 112-113]
Entity Tags: John Dean, Lou Dubose, Paul Clement, Sierra Club, John Conyers, US Supreme Court, US Department of Justice, Theodore (“Ted”) Olson, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, John Bates, Judicial Watch, Henry A. Waxman, Bush administration (43), Charlie Savage, David Walker, David S. Addington, Government Accountability Office, Energy Task Force, Jake Bernstein, Federal Advisory Committee Act
Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record, Civil Liberties
Map of Iraqi oil fields included in released documents. [Source: Judicial Watch]The conservative government watchdog group Judicial Watch releases documents recently turned over by the US Commerce Department through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. The documents show some of the activities of the secretive energy task force chaired by Vice President Dick Cheney (the National Energy Policy Development Group—see May 16, 2001). Cheney and the White House successfully blocked Congress from learning even the most basic information about the task force’s activities (see February 22, 2002). The Commerce Department documents include maps of Iraqi oil fields and oil infrastructure, and other charts showing Iraqi oil and gas projects, and a document entitled “Foreign Suitors for Iraqi Oilfield Contracts.” Other maps and documents show detailed information about oil fields and infrastructure in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. All of the documents are dated March 2001. Judicial Watch has sought these documents under FOIA since April 2001, and only secured them after a federal judge ordered their release in March 2002. (The Judicial Watch lawsuit was consolidated with a similar suit from the Natural Resources Defense Council.) Why the government waited over a year to release the documents, even after a court order compelling them to do so, is unclear. “These documents show the importance of the Energy Task Force and why its operations should be open to the public,” says Judicial Watch’s Tom Fitton. “This was not about national security. This was about an undersecretary talking to a lobbyist.” [Judicial Watch, 7/17/2003; Judicial Watch, 7/17/2003; Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 14-15] Authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein call the Iraqi oil field documents “stunning,” and ask: “Why were the vice president and a group of oilmen poring over maps of Iraq long before there was any pretext to invade the country? Iraq’s oil was technically embargoed and under UN control—why make plans for divvying up oil reserves?” Dubose and Bernstein believe that Cheney may have been planning for US control of Iraq long before the Bush administration’s public push for war with that nation. Fitton is not so sure, but says worriedly: “We don’t know because we weren’t given the context. We have no way of knowing what they were deliberating.” [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 14-15] Judicial Watch, with other public interest groups such as the Sierra Club, will continue to seek information about the Cheney task force (see December 15, 2003 and April 27, 2004).
The US takes part in another round of multilateral negotiations over North Korea’s nuclear weapons program (see April 2003). The US has failed to destabilize the North Korean government, and the North Koreans have been unsuccessful in luring the US into bilateral talks. Instead, both sides agree to “six-way” talks that include Japan, China, Russia, and South Korea.
Heavy Restrictions on US Negotiators - US chief negotiator Jim Kelly is finally permitted to meet one-on-one with his North Korean counterpart Li Gun—for only 20 minutes, and only in the presence of the other delegates. This time, Kelly is allowed to chat briefly with Li in a corner. Kelly is also forbidden from making any offers or even suggesting the possibility of direct negotiations. Kelly’s fellow negotiator, Charles Pritchard, will later recall that Kelly was told to start the chat with Li by saying: “This is not a negotiating session. This is not an official meeting.” Foreign affairs journalist Fred Kaplan will later write: “For the previous year-and-a-half, the State Department had favored a diplomatic solution to the Korea crisis while the Pentagon and key players in the [National Security Council] opposed it. The August meeting in Beijing was Bush’s idea of a compromise—a middle path that constituted no path at all. He let Kelly talk, but didn’t let him say anything meaningful; he went to the table but put nothing on it.” But even this level of negotiation is too much for some administration hawks. During the meetings in Beijing, Undersecretary of State John Bolton gives a speech in Washington where he calls North Korea “a hellish nightmare” and Kim Jong Il “a tyrannical dictator.” Kaplan will observe, “True enough, but not the sort of invective that senior officials generally issue on the eve of a diplomatic session.” An exasperated Pritchard resigns in protest from the administration. He will later say: “My position was the State Department’s envoy for North Korean negotiations, yet we were prohibited from having negotiations. I asked myself, ‘What am I doing in government?’” Pritchard had also learned that White House and Pentagon officials did not want him involved in the talks, dismissing him as “the Clinton guy.” (Pritchard had helped successfully negotiate earlier agreements with the North Koreans during the Clinton administration.) [Washington Monthly, 5/2004] A Chinese diplomat says, “The American policy towards DRPK [North Korea]—this is the main problem we are facing.” [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 241]
Cheney Source of Restrictions - According to Larry Wilkerson, chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell, the restrictions on Kelly come directly from Vice President Cheney. “A script would be drafted for Jim, what he could say and what he could not say, with points elucidated in the margins,” Wilkerson will later explain. The process involves President Bush, Cheney, Powell, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Richard Myers. On at least two occasions, Cheney rewrites the script for Kelly without consulting with the other principals, even Bush. According to Wilkerson, Cheney “put handcuffs on our negotiator, so he could say little more than ‘welcome and good-bye.’” In the words of authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein, Cheney’s “negotiating position was that there would be no negotiations.” [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 185-186]
Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, US Department of State, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Richard B. Myers, Lou Dubose, Fred Kaplan, George W. Bush, Jake Bernstein, Jim Kelly, Donald Rumsfeld, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, Charles Pritchard, Clinton administration, National Security Council, John R. Bolton, Li Gun, Lawrence Wilkerson, Kim Jong Il
Timeline Tags: US International Relations
In an interview on ABC’s “Nightline,” Vice President Cheney takes exception to recent press reports that he was defeated in his opposition to a Congressional anti-torture bill (see December 15-16, 2005). The line on torture is, he says, whether or not a particular act “shocks the conscience.” Cheney says: “Now you can get into a debate about what shocks the conscience and what is cruel and inhumane. And to some extent, I suppose, that’s in the eye of the beholder.” Authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein will later write that Cheney is using the most primitive form of solipsism to say that torture is not really torture. And Cheney is once again evoking fears of terrorist attacks: “There he was, Dick Cheney, nakedly amoral and driven by fear,” Dubose and Bernstein will write. Cheney continues, “We think it’s important to remember that we are in a war against a group of individuals, a terrorist organization that in fact did slaughter three thousand innocent Americans on 9/11; that it’s important for us to be able to have effective interrogations of those people when we capture them.” The implication, Dubose and Bernstein will write, is that further attacks are inevitable—a matter of when and not if—and an evocation of what author Ron Suskind calls “the one percent doctrine… [i]f there was even a one percent chance of terrorists getting a weapons of mass destruction… the United States must now act as if it was a certainty.” Dubose and Bernstein illustrate how keeping torture as a viable interrogation option plays into this mindset: “The end justified any means necessary. It didn’t matter how effective torture was as long as it provided even a remote chance that it might save American lives.” [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 197]
Elizabeth ‘Liz’ Cheney. [Source: Leading Authorities (.com)]The State Department’s Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs (NEA) spends at least $85 million over the year to fuel dissident movements in Iran and Syria. According to authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein, the State Department program “bore similarities to the program to support Ahmed Chalabi and the Iraqi National Congress in the run-up to the war on Iraq” (see (1994), After 1996, and After April 18, 2006). The program has the support of Vice President Cheney, not the least because his daughter, Elizabeth “Liz” Cheney, heads it. Dubose and Bernstein describe the younger Cheney as “smart, competent, hard-working… and compltely unqualified for the job she held: principal deputy assistant for Near Eastern affairs,” or PDAS. Her boss, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Welch, apparently knows better than to attempt to control the younger Cheney. “[S]he’s the vice president’s daughter,” says a State Department source. “There was a kind of parallel universe over there, where David had his projects and Liz had hers. There were some things that David didn’t touch.” The younger Cheney will eventually leave the State Department, but before leaving, she places people throughout the NEA bureau who are ideologically in sync with her and her father, and are intensely loyal. “Until she came in, the NEA bureau always had a variety of people and a variety of perspectives,” the State Department source recalls. “Under [former Secretary of State Colin] Powell, anyone could voice their opinion, make dissenting arguments even if it wasn’t the policy of the administration. That changed when Liz came to be PDAS. It’s now understood that it does you no good to make your views known. In fact, it can even hurt you professionally.… There’s always a fear of the [Pentagon] hawks associated with her father, and she’s obviously talking to her father and his people.” Dubose and Bernstein will write that once the younger Cheney leaves the department in the spring of 2006, “there [will be] a definite policy shift away from military options and toward negotiation with Iran.” [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 183-184]
A photograph of the copy of Wilson’s op-ed annotated by Dick Cheney. [Source: Department of Justice / New York Times] (click image to enlarge)Special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, pursuing charges that former vice-presidential chief of staff Lewis “Scooter” Libby lied to his grand jury about revealing the identity of CIA undercover agent Valerie Plame Wilson (see January 2004, March 5, 2004, and March 24, 2004), introduces into evidence a document that directly implicates Libby’s former boss, Vice President Dick Cheney, in Libby’s allegedly criminal behavior.
Notated Clipping - Fitzgerald submits an original clipping of a New York Times op-ed written by Plame Wilson’s husband, Joseph Wilson, challenging the Bush administration’s claims that Iraq had attempted to purchase uranium from Niger (see July 6, 2003). The clipping bears notations in Cheney’s own hand, as well as Cheney’s fingerprints. Cheney’s commentary reads: “Have they done this sort of thing before? [Cheney is referring to the CIA’s decision to send Wilson to Niger to investigate the uranium claims—see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002.] Send an amb. to answer a question. Do we ordinarily send people out to do pro bono work for us? Or did his wife send him on a junket?” It is unclear when Cheney made the notes, but prosecutors believe they were taken before the July 14, 2003 column by Robert Novak that outed Plame Wilson (see July 14, 2003). According to Fitzgerald’s filing, Cheney’s copy of the op-ed is now “at the center of the sequence of events leading” to Libby’s alleged perjury and obstruction of justice. [CNN, 5/14/2006; New York Times, 5/14/2006; Newsweek, 5/16/2006]
'Acutely Focused' Attention of Cheney, Libby on Wilson - The filing goes on to state that Cheney’s notes support the idea that Wilson’s op-ed drew the attention of Cheney and Libby, and “acutely focused” their attention on Wilson’s assertions “and on responding to those assertions.… The article, and the fact that it contained certain criticisms of the administration, including criticism regarding issues dealt with by the Office of the Vice President, serve both to explain the context of, and provide the motive for, many of the defendant’s statements and actions at issue in this case. The annotated version of the article reflects the contemporaneous reaction of the vice president to Mr. Wilson’s op-ed article, and thus is relevant to establishing some of the facts that were viewed as important by the defendant’s immediate superior, including whether Mr. Wilson’s wife had sent him on a junket.” [CNN, 5/14/2006; Newsweek, 5/16/2006] Libby testified before the grand jury about the annotated op-ed, and that testimony is now entered into evidence. Libby said he recalled discussing the issues with Cheney, and said of those conversations: “I recall that along the way he asked, ‘Is this normal for them to just send somebody out like this uncompensated, as it says?’ He was interested in how did that person come to be selected for this mission. And at some point, his wife worked at the agency, you know, that was part of the question.” A prosecutor asked Libby, “Was it a topic that was discussed on a daily basis… on multiple occasions each day in fact?” Libby answered, “Yes, sir.” Libby acknowledged that during that time, Cheney indicated that he was upset about the Wilson article and what he considered to be false attacks on his credibility, saying: “I recall that he was very keen to get the truth out. He wanted to get all the facts out about what he [Cheney] had or hadn’t done—what the facts were or were not. He was very keen on that and said it repeatedly. ‘Let’s get everything out.’” During his testimony before the grand jury, prosecutors did not believe Libby’s assertion that Cheney might have “scribbled” notes on the Wilson op-ed on July 14, the day Novak’s column was published. Libby testified: “And I think what may have happened here is what he may have—I don’t know if he wrote, he wrote the points down. He might have pulled out the column to think about the problem and written on it, but I don’t know. You’ll have to ask him.” [National Journal, 1/12/2007]
Cheney's Other Actions - Fitzgerald has already asserted that Cheney had attempted to pass Wilson’s trip to Niger off as a “junket”—essentially a taxpayer-funded excursion with little real purpose—to discredit Wilson’s claims about the Iraq-Niger affair. Fitzgerald has also asserted that Cheney, acting with the approval of President Bush, authorized Libby to disclose some of the classfied portions of the 2002 National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq (see October 1, 2002, June 23, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, and Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003) to reporters to rebut some of Wilson’s claims. The Cheney notes provide, in reporter Michael Isikoff’s words, “significant new context to that assertion.” The notes show that Cheney had “personally raised questions about Wilson’s trip right after the publication of the Wilson column—and five days before Libby confirmed to Time reporter Matt Cooper that he had ‘heard’ that Wilson’s wife… had played a role in sending him to Africa” (see July 13, 2005). [CNN, 5/14/2006; Newsweek, 5/16/2006]
Cheney 'at Center of Campaign to Discredit Wilson' - Authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein later write, “The annotation places Cheney at the center of the campaign to discredit Wilson, aware early on that Wilson’s wife was a CIA agent.” [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 217] Plame Wilson herself will write: “Given Cheney’s vaunted decades of government service, it is frankly unbelievable that he would ask such questions. He would have known that the CIA frequently sends US citizens abroad, on a pro bono basis, to answer specific intelligence questions. It is even quite possible that the CIA debriefed employees of Halliburton, the multinational company that Cheney headed prior to becoming vice president, when they returned from business trips in restricted countries of interest to the United States. Cheney’s marginal notes should be more accurately interpreted as marching orders to staff on how to spin Joe’s story so that Cheney could stay as far from it as possible while simultaneously undermining Joe’s credibility.” (Emphasis in the original.) [Wilson, 2007, pp. 288]
Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Michael Isikoff, Jake Bernstein, Joseph C. Wilson, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Lou Dubose, Valerie Plame Wilson, Office of the Vice President, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Matthew Cooper, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Robert Novak
Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
A retired Army general tells authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein: “The Army is broken. It will take decades to fix.” A Pentagon veteran of the Gulf War who declines to allow his name to be used, he says of that period: “It was different then. The staffs were apolitical. And the military was taken care of. If we made a mistake, we did no irreparable harm. [Vice President] Cheney now seems oblivious to what the military needs. That’s because he trusts [Defense Secretary] Rumsfeld.… So we have an army that is broken. The DOD [Defense Department] is broken. And the process is broken. Rumsfeld has left us with the smallest army since before 1941. First time in the history of the country that we haven’t surged up the Army in time of war. We have never not surged up the Army in time of war. So we redeploy, and redeploy, and redeploy, and break down the Army.… They’re not surging up, and they’re burning through equipment in Iraq. [Cheney and Rumsfeld have done] irreparable harm” to the Army. Larry Wilkerson, the former chief of staff to former Secretary of State Colin Powell, agrees: “They have gone through so much equipment in Iraq,” he tells Dubose and Bernstein. He says the true test the military will face will not be on the battlefield, but in Washington. “The first challenge is going to be the reconstruction bill that will confront the next president. I mean bringing the ground forces, and to a certain extent the Air Force, back to levels pre-Iraq. They have burned up Abrams tanks, Chinook helicopters, all very expensive hardware, at a rate which is astronomical.” Wilkerson believes the Army will also find it very difficult to find large numbers of new recruits to replenish the ranks. [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 221-222]
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