He's barely known outside Washington's corridors of power, but David Addington is the most powerful man you've never heard of. Here's why:
In national security circles, Addington is viewed as such a force of nature that one former government lawyer nicknamed him "Keyser Soze," after the ruthless crime boss in the thriller The Usual Suspects. "He seems to have his hand in everything," says a former Justice Department official, "and he has these incredible powers, energy, reserves in an obsessive, zealot's kind of way." Addington declined repeated requests to be interviewed for this story.
Addington's admirers say he is being demonized unfairly. "This is a new war, an unconventional war," says an informal Cheney adviser, Mary Matalin. "When you are making new policy to meet new challenges, you are going to get vicious opposition."
Few would have predicted that Addington, 49, would become such a lightning rod. Tall, bearded, and imposing, Addington has the look, says former White House associate counsel Bradford Berenson, of "a rumpled bureaucrat crossed with a CIA spook." The son of a career military official, Addington was born and raised in the nation's capital and was in the eighth or ninth grade when he read Catherine Drinker Bowen's Miracle at Philadelphia: The Story of the Constitutional Convention, May to September 1787.
"The next battlefield." Thus began a lifelong love affair with the U.S. Constitution. Even today, Addington carries a copy in his pocket and doesn't hesitate to wield it to back up his arguments. "The joke around here," says a senior congressional staffer with a chuckle, "is that Addington looks at the Constitution and sees only Article II, the power of the presidency." Berenson, Bush's former associate counsel, says that's because Addington is so intensely security minded: "He's absolutely convinced of the threat we face. And he believes that the executive branch is the only part of the government capable of securing the public against external threats." Addington, Berenson adds, is a national security conservative with a twist. "He's not the intellectual legal conservative of the Federalist Society type," Berenson says, referring to the group of conservative lawyers esteemed by the likes of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, "for whom judicial restraint is the holy grail. He's much more of a Cold War conservative who has moved on to the next battlefield."
Addington began his government career 25 years ago, after graduating summa cum laude from the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service and with honors from the Duke University Law School. He started out as an assistant general counsel at the CIA and soon moved to Capitol Hill and served as the minority's counsel and chief counsel on the House intelligence and foreign affairs committees. There, he began his long association with Cheney, then a Wyoming congressman and member of the intelligence panel. Addington and Cheney--who served as President Gerald Ford's chief of staff--shared the same grim worldview: Watergate, Vietnam, and later, the Iran-contra scandal during President Reagan's second term had all dangerously eroded the powers of the presidency. "Addington believes that through sloppy lawyering as much as through politics," says former National Security Council deputy legal adviser Bryan Cunningham, "the executive branch has acquiesced to encroachment of its constitutional authority by Congress."