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:
The JAG officers fought back and, with Congress's support, remained independent. But Addington, typically, found another way to prevail. He wrote a memo decreeing that only the general counsel of each service--not the JAGs--could issue final legal opinions. After George W. Bush was elected president in 2000 (Addington sat out the Clinton years, in private practice), Guter warned his colleagues: "I said, 'Stand by, these same people are coming back. And you remember what they tried to do last time.'" After the 9/11 attacks, the JAG officers were marginalized from the decision making on military tribunals and detainee treatment policies. They became among President Bush's most vocal critics within the military.
By then, the odds were tilted overwhelmingly in Addington's favor. In January 2001, he became Cheney's legal counsel and, according to former Solicitor General Theodore Olson, the vice president's "eyes, ears, and voice." Cheney implicitly trusts Addington on judgment calls because they are, in the words of adviser Matalin, "the same kind of person--Addington was always the first among equals when the vice president sought advice. And he has always been the final voice and analysis on what we were discussing." Cheney and his aide are so close, says Nancy Dorn, an Addington colleague from the Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush years, that they "hardly even have to communicate with words."
Addington, his colleagues say, is modest, courtly, and family oriented. He commutes to the White House by Metro when he could easily command a government car, usually eats at the staff table at the White House mess, and spends weekends cheering at his daughters' soccer games. "There are a lot of transactional people in Washington," says Matalin. "He's not one of them. He's a good soul."
According to critics, the reason Addington is such an effective bureaucratic infighter is that he's an intellectual bully. "David can be less than civilized," one official says. "He can be extremely unpleasant." Others say it's because Addington is a superb lawyer and a skilled debater who arms himself with a mind-numbing command of the facts and the law. Still others attribute Addington's power to the outsize influence of Cheney. "Addington does a very good job," says a former justice official who has observed him, "of harnessing the power of the vice president."
But it's a subtle kind of harnessing. Addington, according to current and former colleagues, rarely if ever invokes Cheney's name. An administration official says that it's sometimes unclear whether Addington is even consulting the vice president. But Cheney is always the elephant in the room. "People perceive that this is the real power center," says attorney Scott Horton, who has written two major studies on interrogation of terrorism suspects for the New York City Bar Association, "and if you cross them, they will destroy you."
"Grab bag." If he can dish out the lumps inside the bureaucracy, Addington has also taken a share of his own--in court. Many of the post-9/11 policies--of which Addington was the central architect--have been questioned by federal judges and repudiated by even some of the administration's advocates, including indefinite detention of terrorism suspects without access to legal recourse, creation of military commissions, and aggressive interrogation tactics. "They've inflicted wounds unnecessarily," says a former Justice Department lawyer. "They treated the post-9/11 situation as a grab bag and gave the administration a bad name."