Wish I had had time to write about this earlier.
Earlier this week the news was that Vice President Cheney had defied a presidential order requiring government agencies that handle classified national security information to submit to oversight by an independent federal watchdog. This caused quite a stir so President Bush did the only thing he could do.
He deferred to Cheney.
Bush now claims the same exemption from his own oversight order.
The executive order that Bush issued in March 2003 covers all government agencies that are part of the executive branch and, although it doesn't specifically say so, was not meant to apply to the vice president's office or the president's office, a White House spokesman said.
Actually reading the order it expressly states the exact opposite.
Yesterday the White House sent out spokeswoman Dana Perino to somehow defend Dick Cheney’s claim that his office somehow exists outside the Executive Order (EO) that governs the preservation of classified data, a directive which applies to all Executive Branch officials.
She actually dismissed the whole topic as “a little bit of a nonissue,” Perino said President Bush “gets to decide whether or not [Cheney] should be treated separately, and he’s decided that he should.” She then suggested there was textual evidence in the 2003 Executive Order to support the claim that it was not applicable to Cheney:
PERINO: If you look on page 18 of the EO, when you have a chance, there’s a distinction regarding the Vice President versus what is an agency. And the President also, as the author of an EO, and the person responsible for interpreting the EO, did not intend for the Vice President to be treated as an agency, and that’s clear.
Last night, MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann reported that his staff fact-checked Perino’s claim, looked at page 18 of the order, and found Perino’s claim to be false:
OLBERMANN: No exemption at all for the Vice President on page 18. So we emailed the White House, which referred us to section 1.3 — which is about something else altogether — and 5.2 — which makes no mention of the Vice President. In fact, there is no exemption for the President or the Vice President when it comes to reporting on classified material.
Sec. 6.1(b) of Bush’s 2003 executive order governing classified material explicitly states that it applies to any “‘Executive agency…any ‘Military department’…and any other entity within the executive branch that comes into the possession of classified information.” Olbermann concluded that Cheney’s defiance must lead to the following conclusion: “He’s no longer an entity of any kind.”
In the executive order, Bush stressed the importance of the public's right to know what its government was doing, particularly in the global campaign against terrorism. "Our democratic principles require that the American people be informed of the activities of their government," the executive order said.
But from the start it turns out, Bush considered his office and Cheney's exempt from the reporting requirements, White House spokesman Tony Fratto said in an interview Friday. Cheney's office filed the reports in 2001 and 2002 -- as did his predecessor, Al Gore -- but stopped in 2003.