A GOP congressional leader who was wavering on giving President Bush authority to wage war in late 2002 said Vice President Cheney misled him by saying that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein had direct personal ties to al-Qaeda terrorists and was making rapid progress toward a suitcase nuclear weapon.
That’s one of the revelations in the new book, “Angler: The Cheney Vice Presidency,” by The Post’s Barton Gellman.
Another is the inside story about how Cheney managed the process that led to his selection as vice president. Gellman reveals that Cheney did not fill out his own questionnaire for potential running mates; that ostensible top contenders for the ticket were not actually interviewed by Cheney or Bush; that the heart surgeon who vouched for Cheney’s health never met him or reviewed his medical records; and that longtime counselor Dan Bartlett warned Bush “we’re getting our asses kicked in the media” because the campaign knew so little about Cheney’s record.
Two former Republican governors, Frank Keating of Oklahoma and John Engler of Michigan, accuse Cheney of leaking closely held information from Keating’s questionnaire in order to damage his bid for a cabinet post. “Dick Cheney coming into my life has been like a black cloud,” Keating tells Gellman.
“Angler” is based on hundreds of previously unpublished interviews with present and former Cheney advisers, senior officials in federal agencies, diplomats, judges, military officers, senators and members of Congress. Among those who spoke on the record to Gellman are Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, National Security Adviser Stephen J. Hadley, White House Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten and his predecessor Andrew H. Card Jr., senior presidential advisers Dan Bartlett and Karl Rove, and numerous high ranking Justice Department alumni, including John Ashcroft and James B. Comey. Cheney and President Bush declined to be interviewed.
Some of the book’s most significant news describes a three-month conflict between the Justice Department and the vice president’s office over warrantless domestic surveillance. In addition to the excerpts published in the Post, Gellman’s account of that program includes a scene in which the top White House national security lawyer begins hearing rumors of “the vice president’s special program.” John B. Bellinger III, who had not been informed of the operation, confronted Cheney’s counsel, David S. Addington.
“I’m not going to tell you whether there is or isn’t such a program,” Addington replied, glowering. “But if there were such a program, you’d better go tell your little friends at the FBI and the CIA to keep their mouths shut.”
Cheney’s accusations about Saddam Hussein, described by former House Majority Leader Richard Armey, came in a highly classified one-on-one briefing in Room H-208, the vice president’s hideaway office in the Capitol Building. The threat Cheney described went far beyond public statements that have been criticized for relying on “cherry-picked” intelligence of unknown reliability. There was no intelligence to support the vice president’s private assertions, Gellman reports, and they “crossed so far beyond the known universe of fact that they were simply without foundation.”
Armey had spoken out against the coming war, and his opposition gave cover to Democrats who feared the political costs of appearing to be weak. Armey reversed his position after Cheney told him, he said, that the threat from Iraq was actually “more imminent than we want to portray to the public at large.”
Cheney said, according to Armey, that Iraq’s “ability to miniaturize weapons of mass destruction, particularly nuclear,” had been “substantially refined since the first Gulf War,” and would soon result in “packages that could be moved even by ground personnel.” Cheney linked that threat to Saddam’s alleged personal ties to al Qaeda, Armey said, explaining that “we now know they have the ability to develop these weapons in a very portable fashion, and they have a delivery system in their relationship with organizations such as al Qaeda.”
“Did Dick Cheney … purposely tell me things he knew to be untrue?” Armey said. “I seriously feel that may be the case…Had I known or believed then what I believe now, I would have publicly opposed [the war] resolution right to the bitter end, and I believe I might have stopped it from happening.”
Gellman writes that Cheney was never the shadow president alleged by critics. He describes a trajectory of power in which the vice president began the first term with “a brief so wide-ranging and autonomous that he was the nearest thing we have had to a deputy president.” But after the near-meltdown at the Justice Department in March 2004, Bush “came to see disadvantages in the arrangement, and over time it changed.”
Even when Cheney lost some of his influence, Gellman reports, he remained effective at slow-rolling initiatives he did not like. One senior foreign policy adviser, Aaron Friedberg, described the tactics as “rope a dope.”
“Angler” recounts a meeting in the Situation Room in which the frustrated president, jamming a finger toward Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, demanded the start of long-delayed criminal proceedings against terrorist suspects held at Guantanamo Bay. “We are going to have a trial,” Bush said, “and the proceedings are going to start by the end of January” 2004. Cheney and Rumsfeld failed to turn up for three consecutive meetings called by Rice to carry out the president’s command.
On their third no-show–a month after Bush’s deadline expired–CIA Director George Tenet exploded in profanity, Gellman reports. And Rice began to cry.
By The Editors | September 16, 2008; 8:02 AM ET
Source: The Washington Post