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Cheney vs. National Archives

In early June 2006, J. William Leonard, the National Archives’ director of information security oversight, wrote David Addington, Vice President Richard Cheney’s chief of staff, stating that Cheney was “willfully” violating Executive Order 12958, signed in 1995 by President Bill Clinton (see below and on the following page). The order implemented a “uniform system for classifying, safeguarding, and declassifying national security information.” Cheney was also ignoring a 2003 directive by President Bush that specifically requires any agency “within the executive branch” to make records of “security classification activity” available to the Archives.

Cheney’s rationale for noncompliance is that the vice president’s office is not an agency of the executive branch. “The reporting requirement does not apply,” Cheney’s spokeswoman (yes, he has one; her name is Lea Anne McBride) explained last year to the Chicago Tribune, because the Office of the Vice President “has both legislative and executive functions.” The vice president’s office has made the same argument to keep secret its travel expenses and even the identities of the people who work there.

Leonard disputed Cheney’s claim in his letter and offered to refer the question to the attorney general (Page 2), but Addington never replied. Leonard again wrote Addington (Page 3) and, finally, to Alberto Gonzales (Pages 4 to 6). Again, no reply. But after the press derided Cheney for spinning riddles, Addington wrote Sen. John Kerry (page 7) with a new justification for withholding the information: The president’s office and the vice president’s office are indistinguishable.

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