The Cheney-Perino trifecta

Can you refuse to comment, issue a denial and claim ignorance all at once?

By Tim Grieve

Published June 25, 2007 7:46PM (EDT)

The Washington Post says in its four-part series on Dick Cheney that the vice president and his legal team purported to gut the rules on how the United States treats detainees in 2001 -- and that neither then Secretary of State Colin Powell nor then National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice even knew what had happened until nearly two years later.

Asked about the charge today at the White House, Dana Perino pulled off an incredible hat trick of spin. All at once, she declined to comment on the report, insisted that it wasn't true and declared that she knew nothing about what had actually happened.

Behold this thing of beauty:

Reporter: [The Post's] story today portrays the vice president's team as basically helping to draft that memo about how detainees are going to be held and tried, etc., where the limits are on torture, and that basically it took two years before the secretary of state, Colin Powell, and the national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, even knew that this memo had been written; this vast policy on the war on terror, the secretary of state and the national security adviser did not know for two years. Is the president comfortable with the vice president essentially cutting out two of his top national security officials on this critical policy?

Perino: Look, I'm not privy to internal deliberations of that level. I don't know. And I am not -- I'm not going to comment on any type of internal deliberations.

Reporter: Does he really think that's the way a White House should operate?

Perino: Look, I've been around, not as long as a lot of people, but long enough to see how the process works here. And I can assure you that the debate is vigorous and it is held -- people have strongly held views and they voice them, and they voice them loudly. And I am very comfortable with the process that we have in terms of how those debates get settled.

Reporter: But how can you say it's a vigorous debate if the secretary of state and the national security adviser were not involved in the debate for two years?

Perino: I'm not commenting . . .

Reporter: So how can you make the claim, if you're commenting . . .

Perino: I'm commenting on my personal experience at the White House.

Reporter: But how can you make the claim that there's a vigorous debate? The top two national security officials were not involved in that debate. How can it be...

Perino: I don't know that to be true, so I'm not commenting.

Reporter: Could you send out [here someone] who can? You're stonewalling. Is the president a member of the executive branch? Is he answerable to any law, to any executive order? I mean, what is this? What's going on here?

Perino: The president, of course, is head of the executive branch...

Reporter: Any accountability to the American people?

Perino: Absolutely.

Tim Grieve

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

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