The reductio ad absurdum of Vice President Dick Cheney’s penchant for secrecy has always been his office’s refusal to reveal publicly the names of people who work in his office or even their number. When the government recently published its “Plum Book,” a quadrennial listing of jobs opening up in the federal government, it omitted any reference to jobs in the vice-presidential office, in deference to Cheney’s extreme sensitivity to sunlight. Instead, it repeated as fact a legal doctrine developed by Cheney’s zealous consigliere, David Addington, to resist any scrutiny of his actions, or those of his staff, by the public. This doctrine is at best controversial and at worst utter nonsense. “The Vice Presidency,” it states, “is a unique office that is neither a part of the executive branch nor a part of the legislative branch.” Translation: “What happens in the vice-presidential office is none of your goddamned business.” The same language appeared in the previous Plum Book, published in 2004. (No such language appeared in earlier directories produced by the Clinton administration in 1996 and 2000.)
Cheney found the fish-nor-fowl doctrine a convenient justification to refuse routine oversight of classified documents by the National Archives. When the office responsible for this oversight pressed the matter, Cheney retaliated by moving to eliminate that office. Eventually, a federal judge had to issue a preliminary injunctionordering Cheney not to destroy the classified documents in his office’s possession. The new vice president-elect, Joe Biden, stated in his Oct. 2 debate with Sarah Palin his view of Addington’s constitutional scholarship:
Vice President Cheney has been the most dangerous vice president we’ve had probably in American history. The idea he doesn’t realize that Article I of the Constitution [sic. Biden meant Article II ] defines the role of the vice president of the United States, that’s the executive branch. He works in the executive branch. He should understand that. Everyone should understand that. And the primary role of the vice president of the United States of America is to support the president of the United States of America, give that president his or her best judgment when sought, and as vice president, to preside over the Senate, [and vote] only in a time when in fact there’s a tie vote. The Constitution is explicit.
Imagine, then, my distress when I read the following paragraph in a Page One feature about the new Plum Book in the Nov. 13 Washington Post (” ’Plum Book’ Is Obama’s Big Help-Wanted Ad“):
Many of the positions are highly specific, such as assistant secretary for terrorist financing at the Treasury department. Some, like the jobs that will turn over in the vice president’s office, are not included because the office technically is not part of either the executive branch or the legislative branch. [Italics mine.]
Is Addington now moonlighting as a Post copy editor? It isn’t remotely established that the vice president’s office “technically is not part of either the executive branch of the legislative branch.” All we know is that the outgoing vice president believes it, for transparently self-serving reasons; that the incoming vice president does not believe it; and that to the limited extent the matter has been examined in court, a federal judge isn’t buying it. The Post usually does a pretty good job distinguishing propaganda from fact, but this time it got played for a sucker.