Dick Cheney Claims He – Not Bush – Was The Decider
Dick Cheney is once again telling everyone how much he loves waterboarding and torture. NBC is teasing an in-depth interview about Cheney’s new book, In My Time: A Personal and Political Memoir, which is being released at the end of August. Other bits and pieces are coming out to help promote the sales of the book like this article in the NY Times today: Cheney Says He Urged Bush to Bomb Syria in ’07
During George Bush’s entire presidency the question of how much influence and authority VP Dick Cheney was given was always been part of the discussion. Cheney openly disdained rules, conventions and laws, pushing the concept of the Unitary Executive further than Nixon ever dreamed. Was Cheney making all the important policy decisions? Cheney once believed he was highly qualified to be president and threw out a trial balloon in 1996.
Defense Secretary Dick Cheney said Monday he would consider a presidential run in 1996, adding that he worried about U.S. military cuts planned by President-elect Clinton in the face of instability in Russia.
The Red Scare, how predictable. However, he decided not to run after all.
Fast forward to 2000, Cheney conveniently picked himself for the office after he was named to head the search team to find a Vice President for Bush’s ticket. And there was a lot of controversy about how that all went down. (h/t ThinkProgress)
The news in my book about this process is that Cheney never filled out his own questionnaire; that the heart surgeon who vouched for his health never met him or looked at his records; and that Bush and Cheney never interviewed anyone for the job until Cheney already had it nailed.
But what I find most fascinating in the NY Times article is that Cheney actually reveals personal conversations he had with his president as well as many other top Bush aides and advisers. Plus he’s taking full credit for running the government response to the 9/11 attacks, which makes Bush look weaker than his My Pet Goat seven-minute stare. Cheney was asked by Jamie Gangel of ABC News if Bush would be upset by these reveals, but replied with a nonchalant “no”. But just think about what he is admitting to: as the 9/11 attacks were happening, Cheney has no problem revealing in his book that he was running the government response, completely against protocol.
The book opens with an account of Mr. Cheney’s experiences during the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, when he essentially commanded the government’s response from a bunker beneath the White House while Mr. Bush — who was away from Washington and hampered by communications breakdowns — played a peripheral role. But Mr. Cheney wrote that he did not want to make any formal statement to the nation that day.
“My past government experience,” he wrote, “had prepared me to manage the crisis during those first few hours on 9/11, but I knew that if I went out and spoke to the press, it would undermine the president, and that would be bad for him and for the country.
“We were at war. Our commander in chief needed to be seen as in charge, strong, and resolute — as George W. Bush was.”
Bush should have been in control that tragic day, not Cheney, since he was the elected president and was not incapacitated from doing his duties.
The one question that should be asked of George Bush by the media is did he relinquish command and control to Cheney during those precious minutes and hours after the attacks? If yes, why? If the answer is no – also why? Because these words make it appear that Cheney was indeed much more powerful than Bush was. This was always the rumor and here it is in memoir form and corroborated by the 9/11 Commission Report.
Vice President Dick Cheney was huddled with top U.S. officials in a bunker below the White House on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, when a military aide told him that a hijacked aircraft was 80 miles from Washington and closing in fast. The aide needed to know: Did Cheney want to give warplanes scrambled over Washington orders to shoot it down? Cheney did not hesitate. He authorized fighter aircraft “to engage the inbound plane.”
Perhaps in his haste to act — President Bush was in Florida at the time — Cheney might have shortcut White House protocol, the report said. The normal chain of command for military “engage” orders goes from the president to the Secretary of Defense, and not through the Vice President, it said.
Although Cheney said he conferred with the president before giving the order, the commission staff could not confirm that a phone call took place in that time frame. Several minutes after giving the order, Cheney informed Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld that he had done so. “So we’ve got a couple of aircraft up there that have those instructions at the present time?” Rumsfeld asked. “That is correct,” Cheney replied. “And it’s my understanding they’ve already taken a couple of aircraft out.” That understanding turned out to be mistaken.
By then, three hijacked airliners had already been crashed into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The airliner Cheney ordered shot down had already been forced by passengers to crash in a Pennsylvania field. And another seemingly hostile aircraft turned out to be a Medevac helicopter, headed to the Pentagon.
There was a lot of discussion between the secret service and Bush’s aides about where the President should be because he was vulnerable to looking politically weak for running out of town.
PRESIDENT George Bush Sr came to the defense of his son yesterday amid growing criticism of the president’s decision not to return immediately to Washington after Tuesday’s attacks.
That problem was solved because Cheney told Bush that there was a threat against Air Force One so he should stay out of DC which was reported by the WSJ in 2004 (pdf).
Once airborne, Mr. Bush spoke again on a secure phone with Mr. Cheney, who relayed a new message that changed the president’s mind, White House officials later said. The vice president urged Mr. Bush to postpone his return because, Mr. Cheney said, the government had received a specific threat that Air Force One itself had been targeted by terrorists. Mr. Cheney emphasized that the threat included a reference to what he called the secret code word for the presidential jet, “Angel,” Mr. Bartlett said in an interview.
Although in the days after Sept. 11, Mr. Cheney and other administration officials recounted that a threat had been received against Air Force One, Mr. Bartlett said in a recent interview that there hadn’t been any actual threat. Word of a threat had resulted from confusion in the White House bunker, as multiple conversations went on simultaneously, he said. Many of these exchanges, he added, related to rumors that turned out to be false, such as reports of attacks on the president’s ranch in Texas and the State Department. As for the Air Force One code name, Mr. Bartlett said, “Somebody was using the word ‘angel,’ ” and “that got interpreted as a threat based on the word ‘angel.’ ” (Former Secret Service officials said the code wasn’t an official secret, but a radio shorthand designation that had been made public well before 2001.)
The vice president’s office gave an account differing from Mr. Bartlett’s, saying it still couldn’t rule out that a threat to Air Force One actually had been made. Days after the attacks, Mr. Cheney had said word of the threat had been passed to him by Secret Service agents. But in interviews, two former senior Secret Service agents on duty that day denied that their agency played any role in receiving or passing on a threat to the presidential jet.
An official in Mr. Cheney’s office said in an interview that Mr. Cheney had been mistaken in saying the threat came to him via the Secret Service. The official said that instead, Mr. Cheney had received word of the threat from “a uniformed military person” manning the underground bunker. The official said the vice president and his staff don’t know who the individual was. And the official said that he couldn’t say definitively whether or not a threat had been made. “I’m not in a position to know the answer to that question,” the official in the vice president’s office said.
The Telegraph also reported practically the same news.
The picture changed instantly. No more could the President be accused of sheltering in the safety of far-away Louisiana; now he was a hunted man – the main target. Within a week, though, Ari Fleischer, the White House press secretary, had all but admitted the story was completely untrue.
Who cooked it up? Most fingers point at Mr Cheney. “It did two things for Dick,” says a well-informed Washington official. “It reinforced his argument that the President should stay out of town, and it gave George W an excellent reason for doing so.”
It also gave Cheney some extra maneuvering room. What’s also bizarre, but in hindsight doesn’t come as a surprise is how Cheney’s wife, Lynne kept interfering with the activities as they were unfolding.
But Army Major Mike Fenzel, who is also in the PEOC, complains to him, “I can’t hear the crisis conference [that Clarke has been leading] because Mrs. Cheney keeps turning down the volume on you so she can hear CNN… and the vice president keeps hanging up the open line to you.”
Later on in the day Dick Cheney went against long standing protocol again and commandeered Camp David:
After attending President Bush’s meeting with his principal advisers in the Presidential Emergency Operations Center beneath the White House, Vice President Dick Cheney heads back upstairs, accompanied by his wife Lynne Cheney and his two top aides, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby and David Addington. They all head out onto the White House’s South Lawn and get onto Marine Two, the vice president’s helicopter, being joined on it by a military aide, a communications expert, three Secret Service agents, and Cheney’s doctor. They take off, in violation of long-standing protocol, according to which only the president takes off from the South Lawn.
Only a few of the most senior White House officials are informed of their destination. About 30 minutes later they arrive at Camp David, the presidential retreat in the Catoctin Mountains, about 70 miles from the White House. Again going against tradition, Cheney and his family settle into the cabin usually reserved for the president, Aspen Lodge. Liz Cheney, the vice president’s eldest daughter, and her young family, joins them there. This is the first of many nights that Cheney spends in “secure, undisclosed locations” in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks (see September 12, 2001-2002). [Federation of American Scientists, 10/2/2000; Hayes, 2007, pp. 345-346] He will return to Washington the following morning for an 8 a.m. meeting at the White House (see September 12, 2001).
I wonder how George Bush will feel after Cheney’s book is released because during an attack on US soil, Vice President Dick Cheney appointed himself the Decider in Chief on that crucial day in our history.
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