How Cheney keeps his secrets

The Office of the Vice President vs. the National Archives.

By Tim Grieve

Published June 21, 2007 3:29PM (EDT)

A series of letters released today by House Oversight and Government Reform Committee chairman Henry Waxman reveal that Dick Cheney has taken extraordinary steps to exempt his office from a presidential executive order designed to safeguard classified national security information.

As Waxman explains in a letter to Cheney, an executive order George W. Bush has "amended and endorses" requires federal agencies and White House offices to report to the National Archives on the steps they're taking to protect classified information and directs the National Archives to conduct inspections to ensure compliance with the order. Pursuant to that directive, the National Archives tried to schedule an inspection of the Office of the Vice President in 2004.

Cheney's response? His office failed to report to the National Archives and ignored the request for an on-site inspection. In April 2006, a Cheney spokeswoman argued that the reporting requirement of the executive order "does not apply to the Office of the Vice President." Officials at the National Archives followed up by sending two letters to Cheney's staff arguing that the order's requirements do, in fact, apply to the OVP.

Cheney's office never responded.

In January, the National Archives asked Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to step in and render an opinion as to whether the executive order applies to the OVP. Cheney's next move? He reportedly tried to get the executive order amended to exempt his office from the reporting requirement -- and to abolish the office within the National Archives that's supposed to be conducting the inspections.

Waxman characterizes Cheney's moves as "possible retaliation" against the National Archives, and he says the actions of the Office of the Vice President are particularly troubling given its track record when it comes to protecting -- or not -- classified information. Pointing to the Valerie Plame case, Waxman asks for answers from Cheney and tells him: "Your office may have the worst record in the executive branch for safeguarding classified information."

Tim Grieve

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

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