Cheney and the penknife

The vice president is a busy man, but not too busy to obsess over the news.

Published May 25, 2006 2:24PM (EDT)

A decade or so ago, we briefly shared a house with a young Republican who armed himself with a pen and a ruler before sitting down to read the morning newspaper. By the time we awoke and opened the paper, every single word that might infuriate a conservative -- "taxes," "immigration," "affirmative action," "Hillary Clinton" -- had been carefully underlined in bright red ink.

We thought it was a little creepy. And then we read about Dick Cheney.

In the grand jury testimony Patrick Fitzgerald filed Wednesday night, Scooter Libby describes his old boss as a grown-up version of our annotating housemate. Asked about the copy of Joseph Wilson's July 6, 2003, Op-Ed that Cheney seems to have filled with notes to himself or someone else, Libby testified that the vice president of the United States "often cuts out an article and keeps it on his desk somewhere and thinks about [it]."

Now, we suppose it's better to obsess over the news than to ignore it, as the president has famously claimed to do, but there's still a Nixonian, crazy-old-man-in-a-bunker feel to the way the second most powerful man in the world goes about reading the newspaper.

"He will often cut from a newspaper an article using a little pen knife that he has and put it on the edge of his desk or put it in his desk and then pull it out and look at it, think about it," Libby testified. Libby said that the whole routine "will often happen." How long does Cheney keep the articles he cuts out? "Sometimes a long time," Libby said.

Libby suggested that Cheney is a little secretive about the articles he selects. Asked if there's a stack of such articles on the corner of the vice president's desk, Libby said: "He doesn't always keep it on the corner of his desk. He keeps it underneath papers or in a briefcase or something. I've seen him produce them from different places." How many articles does Cheney have going at a time? "Oh, one or two," Libby said. "I mean, you'd see stacks of paper [on his desk], and you wouldn't know what was in the stack of paper. I'd never seen bunches of them, but I have seen two or three."

Libby said he doesn't remember seeing the vice president's annotated version of Wilson's Op-Ed, but he sure remembers that the piece got under Cheney's skin.

Prosecutor: Did the vice president indicate that he was upset that this article was out there which falsely, in his view, attacked his own credibility?

Libby: Yes, sir.

Prosecutor: And do you recall what it is that the vice president said?

Libby: I recall that he was very keen to get the truth out. He wanted to get all the facts out about what he 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. He wanted to get it all [out]. That, that I recall.

Snippets of Libby's testimony appear in the Washington Post and the New York Times this morning. It's going to be a busy day for the vice president.

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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