After living with the Bush administration for all these years, one notion has become unalterably clear: Vice President Dick Cheney likes to keep secrets. Even more than that, Cheney himself is a believer in the ultimate privacy of the executive branch. We have seen that over and over again with the refusal to reveal the names of those he met with on energy policy. The importance of confidentiality in the executive branch, he believes, trumps everything else.
But wait a minute. What about this latest imbroglio, in which the vice president's office refused to respond to what seemed like pretty regular questions from the archives about the way in which the vice president's staff was handling internal—and sometimes classified—documents. What we're now learning is that, in 2004, the vice president told the archives it could NOT drop by for even a run-of-the-mill on-site inspection.
Then it gets worse. Not only did the vice president block the inspection, he also tried suggesting that the office trying to conduct the routine oversight be abolished. All of this information was discovered by industrious Democrats led by Rep. Henry Waxman of California. The fact that the revelation was political does not reduce its importance, however. There is a reason for accountability in government, even if you happen to reside in the higher reaches of the executive branch.
But for this argument, Cheney even questions whether his office IS a part of the executive branch. He and his attorney argue that, in fact, the vice president's office is a special breed, which has a dual status in the Constitution—both as a part of the executive and legislative branch. (Remember, the veep presides over the Senate.) It's a legalistic argument that is really too-clever by half. And while they get credit for being imaginative, there is this: Scooter Libby, the vice president's former chief of staff, is now known to have leaked secrets to reporters when it served his boss's purposes. So you can't have it both ways: claiming privilege when it suits you, and leaking when that makes more political sense.
But that's what the vice president is arguing. And so far, at least, he has managed to win.