Dick Cheney’s own branch of government

The White House has had to defend Vice President Cheney’s decision to opt out of a presidential order regulating the handling of secret information by the executive branch. Cheney’s reasoning: His office is not really part of the executive branch.

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino insists that this is a “non-issue,” but the vice president’s effort to create a separate branch of government for himself has become one, and given congressional Democrats an opening to launch another investigation.

In 1995, President Bill Clinton issued an order intended to ensure that classified data was properly labeled and stored within executive-branch agencies, and established an Information Security Oversight Office within the National Archives to ensure that it was.

President Bush modified the order in 2003, which, coincidentally or not, was when Cheney’s office, which had complied in 2001 and 2002, stopped cooperating with the oversight office and blocked oversight investigators from the vice president’s offices altogether in 2004.

Following standard procedures, the oversight office appealed to the Department of Justice, where the matter now rests with Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. Cheney aides — in a hardball manner said to be typical of the vice president’s operatives — tried to have the appeals process eliminated. When that failed, they tried to have the oversight office eliminated altogether.

Bush is apparently OK with his vice president ignoring a presidential order. Cheney’s rationale is that because under the Constitution he is president of the Senate — with the sole duty of breaking ties — he is actually a member of the legislative, not the executive, branch.

Cheney might not want to push this line of reasoning too far. The Constitution gives the Senate and House — the legislative branch to which the vice president says he belongs — complete latitude in determining their rules and punishing offenders.

Does the Republican vice president really want the Democratic-run Senate laying down the rules for his office? On the other hand, with this administration you never know.

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