He’s back! Cheney emerges from the shadows

Vice President Dick Cheney, all but invisible since his top aide was indicted in the CIA leak case, is making a public appearance Tuesday in Knoxville, Tenn., but he’s not likely to answer questions about his possible involvement in the scandal.

The Democratic National Committee, among others, has demanded that Cheney step forward and disclose what he knew about plans to reveal the identity of Valerie Plame Wilson, an undercover CIA operative, and whether he instructed his former chief of staff, Lewis “Scooter” Libby, to do so. Democracy Corps, a Democratic strategy group headed by former Clinton political guru James Carville, said Monday that its data shows most voters feel Libby’s actions are “part of a cover-up by the vice president over manufactured intelligence for the Iraq war.”

The vice president’s office has remained silent on those issues and indications are it is unlikely to break its silence anytime soon, citing the legal case against Libby, who was indicted on Oct. 28 on charges that he lied to federal investigators. Cheney has said nothing publicly about the incident, other than to express regret over Libby’s resignation.

Cheney also is taking a beating for trumpeting the administration’s rationale for the war in Iraq, a military confrontation facing dwindling public support. It was Cheney who often took the lead defending the White House position, but he has had little to say in recent weeks, even when he was presenting a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington National Cemetery on Veterans Day.

“Many times since this war began, the people of the United States have learned of heroic actions taken by members of our military,” he said. “There is simply no way to overstate the quality and the bravery of their performance. Difficult missions are still to come, and we cannot know every turn that lies ahead. Yet we can be certain that by the resolve of our country, by the rightness of our cause, and by the character of our fighting forces, we will prevail.”

Otherwise, Cheney has been avoiding the limelight, spending a considerable amount of time at a newly obtained weekend retreat in Maryland. He has been busy on one project _ trying to convince lawmakers to reject legislation sponsored by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., banning the torture of prisoners in U.S. custody.

With Bush touring Asia over the next week, the 64-year-old Cheney is expected to draw more attention. On Tuesday in Knoxville, he is to attend a groundbreaking ceremony for the Howard H. Baker Jr. Center for Public Policy. On Wednesday he will be back in Washington to present the Ronald Reagan Award to former Sen. Malcolm Wallop of Wyoming.

There also is word the vice president might meet with Ahmed Chalabi, Iraq’s deputy prime minister and a man some suspect of misleading the public into war.

Cheney has been drawing the heat away from the beleaguered president in one respect _ popularity. A Newsweek poll released Nov. 12 shows that the vice president is one of the few people in Washington less popular than his boss. While 36 percent say they approve of the manner in which Bush is handling his job, compared to 58 percent who disapprove, a recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll revealed that only 27 percent of those interviewed hold a positive view of Cheney.

(Contact Bill Straub at StraubB(at)shns.com)