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:
Win or lose, those who know him say Addington simply outworks his adversaries. Even when lightning caused a fire that nearly destroyed his home, Addington missed just a day of work. His office piled high with paperwork, eschewing a secretary, Addington is impossible to reach by phone, but he E-mails colleagues at all hours of the day and night about urgent government business and, sometimes, his own arcane intellectual pursuits, like British high court decisions and Australian Supreme Court rulings. "It's clear," says a former White House official, "that he has a wellspring of information to back up that wellspring of opinion." Addington's capacity to absorb complex information is legendary. "My joke about David Addington is this is a guy who can throw the U.S. budget in the air," says Gribbin, "and before it hits the ground, mark it with up with his red pen."
A voracious consumer of information, Addington keeps tabs on judicial selections, U.S. attorney nominations, and political polls. He is, says his former colleague Nancy Dorn, "granular" and "microscopic," adding: "There was no issue too small, his eyes would catch it. It used to drive me crazy. But that's what you need."
Addington's position in Cheney's office--at "the sausage end of the sausage-making machine," as one former Justice official describes it--allows him to wield enormous influence because he is typically the second-to-last lawyer to vet documents be-fore they land on the president's desk. "David was exceptionally good," says Cunningham, the former deputy legal adviser to the National Security Council, "at keeping his powder dry until the last minute." Addington's bottom line, those who know him say, is ensuring that even if the administration loses on a policy issue, the principle of executive power is protected. "He was very disciplined about knowing and articulating the difference," says Cunningham, "between constitutional legal issues and policy issues."
That became evident when Addington began his first big legal battle, in early 2001, after Cheney refused to release documents relating to a controversial energy task force that he headed. Two private watchdog groups and Congress sued to find out whether energy industry lobbyists improperly sat on the task force and influenced administration policy. In a series of letters to David Walker, the comptroller general of the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, Addington argued that neither Congress nor the courts could "intrude into the heart of executive deliberations," because it would inhibit the "candor" necessary to "effective government." Addington argued strenuously that no matter what the political or policy outcomes, protecting the information sought by the task force was the right thing to do. "They gave up short-term political expediency," Berenson says, "for the larger constitutional principle." More than three years later, Addington's judgment was vindicated by the Supreme Court, which refused to order the Bush administration to release the documents.
Tough guys. The 9/11 attacks became the crucible for the administration's commitment to restoring presidential power and prerogative. In the national security arena, the expansive view is that the president, as commander in chief, has the inherent authority to exercise vast powers to secure the nation from external threats.