Wednesday, June 27, 2007

From the Deeply Absurd to the Utterly Ridiculous

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Mike Allen at The Politico writes that the Democrats have "forced" Dick Cheney to give up his "Fourth Branch of Government" argument for why his office is not covered by classified information oversight requirements:

Dick Cheney's office is abandoning a justification for keeping the Vice-President's secret papers out of the hands of the National Archives.

Officials working for Cheney had tried to claim he is separate from the executive branch, but they will no longer pursue that defense, senior administration officials tell The Politico.

The decision follows a threat by Rep. Rahm Emanuel (Ill.), the No. 3 House Democrat, to try to cut off the office’s $4.8 million in executive-branch funding.
David S. Addington, Cheney’s chief of staff and counsel, wrote in a three-paragraph letter to Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) on Tuesday that the executive order on classified national security information does not give the archivists authority over the president or vice president.

Addington said that therefore it “is not necessary in these circumstances to address the subject of any alternative reasoning.”

That amounted to throwing in the towel, according to administration officials speaking on condition of anonymity. The White House has no plans to reassert the argument there is any vice presidential distinction from the executive branch, the officials said.

How does Allen reach that conclusion? This isn't "throwing in the towel" -- it's replacing one outrageous argument with another.

Steve Benen calls Allen's claim -- with admirable tact, I think -- "rather misleading":
In a rhetorical sense, I suppose some of this is true. Last week, the White House and the OVP argued that Cheney was neither part of the executive nor the legislative branch. This week, they’ve decided to stop using the ridiculous argument. To this extent, sure, they threw in the towel.

But Allen’s report characterizes this as some kind of major reversal, when in fact, the Bush gang is simply giving up on one vapid talking point and replacing it with another. That’s not capitulation; that’s more of the same.

What’s the new talking point? That the executive order in question specifically exempts Cheney and Bush from oversight on handling classified materials. Does the executive order include such an exemption? Not at all — the new argument is sheer nonsense. Cheney’s lawyers came up with a new defense by fabricating a provision that doesn’t exist.

“Throwing in the towel” suggests Cheney and his team have come around to a more reasonable position. That isn’t even close to being true — they’re still lying, they still won’t comply with the executive order, they’re still opposed to oversight, and they still won’t even acknowledge that they’re part of the executive branch. Allen sees a “flip-flop.” If only that were true.

Indeed, Allen’s report says Cheney’s “decision follows a threat by Rep. Rahm Emanuel (Ill.), the No. 3 House Democrat, to try to cut off the office’s $4.8 million in executive-branch funding.” This suggests that the OVP has backed down in the face of congressional pressure.

But that’s wrong, too. The problem, as far as congressional Dems are concerned, is Cheney’s resistance to oversight and decision to exempt himself, without justification, from an executive order. That’s why Emanuel & Co. are talking about using the power of the purse, not Cheney’s use of a silly talking point.

Here is the WaPo's explanation of the Bush administration's new flapdoodle reasoning:
Vice President Cheney's office offered its first public written explanation yesterday for its refusal to comply with an executive order regulating the handling of classified material, arguing that the order makes clear that the vice president is not subject to the oversight system it creates for federal agencies.

In a letter to Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), Cheney Chief of Staff David S. Addington wrote that the order treats the vice president the same as the president and distinguishes them both from "agencies" subject to the oversight provisions of the executive order.

Addington did not cite specific language in the executive order supporting this view, and a Cheney spokeswoman could not point to such language last night. But spokeswoman Lee Anne McBride said the intent of the order, as expressed by White House officials in recent days, was "not for the VP to be separated from the president on this reporting requirement."

Addington did not repeat a separate argument that has been previously advanced by Cheney's office: that it is not strictly an executive branch agency but also shares legislative functions because the vice president presides over the Senate. That argument has drawn ridicule in recent days from Democrats and on late-night television.

Addington suggested in his letter that it was not necessary to rehash that dispute. "Given that the executive order treats the Vice President like the President rather than like an 'agency,' " he wrote, "it is not necessary in these circumstances to address the subject of any alternative reasoning, based on the law and the legislative functions of the vice presidency. . . ."

So now, instead of the absurd claim that the vice-president is not part of the executive branch, we get the ludicrous claim that the vice-president and the president were specifically exempted from the executive order's oversight requirements -- even though the executive order does not state any such exemption:
I’m afraid we’re dealing with crazy people. The executive order, Cheney’s office now argues, makes a distinction between Bush and Cheney on the one hand, and executive-branch agencies on the other. Asked where the executive order says this, Cheney’s office refuses to say.

But here’s the thing: we can read the executive order. Sec. 6.1(b) of the document 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.” To exempt Cheney, the White House has to argue that he a) doesn’t have access to classified information; or b) is not an entity within the executive branch. Those are the only two options.

Yesterday, Addington tried to create a new option, insisting that the E.O. had language that doesn’t exist. Maybe it was written in disappearing ink? Maybe you need special 3-D glasses to read these hidden provisions?

As painfully stupid as this argument is, it’s the official new White House line. Here’s Tony Snow at yesterday’s briefing:
“Well, keep in mind, what you’re talking about here is an executive order that involves compliance within the executive branch, but it also says that basically for the purposes of the executive order, the President and the Vice President’s offices are not considered ‘agencies’ and, therefore, are not subject to the regulations.”

These folks really must think we’re idiots. They can tell us that a document says something it clearly does not say, and maybe we won’t know better. I know this gang likes to create its own reality, but this is ridiculous. It’s a written document, publicly available for anyone to read. It’s easy to prove they’re lying.

In other words, with their backs up against the wall, Cheney and the Bush gang have taken to simply making things up, fabricating parts of an executive order out of whole cloth.

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