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:
When Cheney became ranking Republican on the House select committee investigating the Iran-contra scandal, Addington helped write the strongly worded minority report that said the law barring aid to the Nicaraguan contras was unconstitutional because it improperly impinged on the president's power. The argument would become the cornerstone of the Bush administration's post-9/11 policies.
A second critical article of faith for Addington has to do with the presidential chain of command. "He believes there should be the shortest possible distance from the president to his cabinet secretaries, and he does not like staffers or coordinating bodies in that chain of command," says Cunningham, who worked closely with Addington and also was a Clinton administration lawyer.
Guide stars. Addington is a strong adherent of the so-called unitary executive theory, which is cited frequently and prominently in many of Bush's legislative signing statements. The theory holds that the president is solely in charge of the executive branch and that Congress, therefore, can't tell him how to carry out his executive functions, whom to pick for what jobs, or through whom he must report to Congress. Executive power, separation of power, a tight chain of command, and protecting the unitary executive--those became the guide stars of Addington's legal universe.
Addington spent two years in the Reagan White House in a variety of positions. When George H.W. Bush was elected president, Addington moved to the Pentagon to help with the confirmation hearings for Bush's nominee for defense secretary, former Texas Sen. John Tower. Cheney, meanwhile, had just been named the new Republican whip in the House and hired Addington as his new counsel. Addington switched jobs, but within weeks, the Senate rejected the Tower nomination, and Bush tapped Cheney to be his new nominee for defense secretary. Addington dug in, helped Cheney prepare for his confirmation hearings, and subsequently became his special assistant. Addington, says one of Cheney's closest friends and colleagues, David Gribbin, "became the most powerful staffer in the Pentagon" because he processed virtually all the position papers flowing to and from the secretary and deputy secretary. Still, Gribbin says he never viewed Addington as a gatekeeper, but many others did. "If David and I ever tangled," says one former senior Pentagon official, "it was because I may have thought a time or two that he was overzealous in his defense of the prerogatives of the secretary."
Those prerogatives, however, were sacrosanct to Addington. If a staffer submitted a draft memo for President Bush that copied Cheney and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Addington would cross out the latter. "He would say, the president talks to the secretary, and the secretary can do what he wants," says the former Pentagon official. Oddly, Addington "abhorred" the use of Latin phrases in memos, this official says, and would slash them out with his infamous red pen.
It wasn't long before Addington became the military's top lawyer. As the Pentagon general counsel, Addington soon alienated the armed forces' judge advocate generals by authoring a memo ordering the proudly independent corps of career military attorneys to report to the general counsel of each service. "He wanted the military services to be not so independent," says a retired Navy JAG, Rear Adm. Don Guter. "It came under the rubric of civilian control of the military. It's centralization. It's control."