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:
But even some pro-presidential lawyers in the administration argued in favor of exercising caution with that approach. "My advice was that we need to take the least aggressive position consistent with what we need to do," says a former Justice Department official. "It lets you build on it, and it doesn't make you look so extreme." That was the crux of the post-9/11 debate.
In the months after the attacks, the White House made three crucial decisions: to keep Congress out of the loop on major policy decisions like the creation of military commissions, to interpret laws as narrowly as possible, and to confine decision making to a small, trusted circle. "They've been so reluctant to seek out different views," says one former official. "It's not just Addington. It's how this administration works. It's a very narrow, tight group."
That core group consisted of Bush's counsel and now attorney general, Alberto Gonzales; his deputies, Timothy Flanigan and David Leitch; the Pentagon's influential general counsel, William Haynes; and a young attorney named John Yoo, who worked in the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel.
Whether or not he became the de facto leader of the group, as some administration officials say, Addington's involvement made for a formidable team. "You put Addington, Yoo, and Gonzales in a room, and there was a race to see who was tougher than the rest and how expansive they could be with respect to presidential power," says a former Justice Department official. "If you suggested anything less, you were considered a wimp." Others say Addington and Flanigan influenced Gonzales, who lacked their national security background.
Addington had close ties to Yoo, Haynes, and Flanigan. Yoo was Addington's protege and Hayne's squash buddy. Haynes, whose friendship with Addington dates back nearly two decades, was backed by Rumsfeld and his neoconservative deputies Stephen Cambone and Paul Wolfowitz. Addington and Flanigan had also become close, having experienced 9/11 from an extraordinary vantage point--Flanigan from the White House Situation Room, Addington by Cheney's side at the President's Emergency Operations Center in a bunker underneath the complex. In the weeks and months after the attacks, says a former White House official, the two men would often take secret trips to undisclosed locations together, including the Guantanamo naval base in Cuba, where the Pentagon began holding hundreds of detainees. One time, they even showed up together on a nuclear submarine.
Addington, clearly, was a force behind the scenes in the legal skirmishing within the administration. "There'd be lurches in policy; we wouldn't know what was going on," says Admiral Guter. "Haynes would have meetings at the White House with Gonzales and Addington, and he'd come back and give the next iteration of what we were doing, and we'd scratch our heads and say, 'Where did that come from?'"
One of Addington's most important allies in asserting presidential power was the OLC's Yoo. Traditionally, OLC staffers tend to be longtime career lawyers who ensure that the tenor of the legal opinions rendered is devoid of political overtones. After 9/11, however, OLC lawyers drafted a series of opinions that many career Justice Department attorneys viewed as having traduced the office's heritage of nuanced, almost scholarly, legal analysis. Addington, according to several Justice Department officials, helped Yoo shape some of the most controversial OLC memos.