All Eyes on Cheney

By Dan Froomkin
Special to
Monday, April 26, 2004; 10:48 AM

Vice President Cheney will be doing a lot of thrusting and parrying this week.

It starts today, as Cheney travels to the same college in Missouri where Winston Churchill first warned in 1946 of a Soviet "Iron Curtain" descending across Europe.

Cheney will attack John F. Kerry as too weak to be president in a time of war.

Tomorrow, it's defense mode, as the Supreme Court hears arguments about Cheney's energy policy task force and whether industry lobbyists were so deeply involved in the decisionmaking that its proceedings should not be protected by executive privilege.

Thursday, of course, is the much-anticipated and much-ridiculed joint appearance before the 9/11 commission, where Bush and Cheney will answer questions together.

And all week long, Cheney will be enduring a coordinated assault by the Kerry campaign, which sees him as an easier target than his more popular boss.

Mike Allen and Jim VandeHei write in The Washington Post: "Cheney is expected to deliver a major address in Missouri today charging that Kerry's record shows he would be unsuitable to serve as commander in chief in an era that requires an unwavering leader who can recognize gathering threats and is willing to speak out against them, even when that is difficult or unpopular. Aides said Cheney will say the president must set a clear and consistent foreign policy, and support a military strong enough to use decisive power as a last resort. . . .

At the same time, Allen and VandeHei write, Kerry "and the Democratic Party will open a week-long assault on Vice President Cheney today in hopes that tarring him as promoting secrecy and controversial policies will erode confidence in President Bush."

Energy Task Force Case

Joan Biskupic writes in USA Today: "The Supreme Court on Tuesday will consider whether Vice President Cheney must release internal documents that detail the membership of a task force that met privately while helping to form President Bush's energy plan. . . .

"The case that comes before the justices reflects increasing public concern over government secrecy and the stealthy influence of wealthy lobbyists."

Linda Greenhouse in the New York Times likens the energy case to two other cases the court will hear this week, about the detention of those who the administration has classified as enemy combatants.

"Just as the administration is arguing in the detainee cases for the exercise of presidential authority without judicial interference in policies related to the war on terrorism, it is making sweeping claims in the energy case for the existence of a constitutionally protected 'zone of autonomy' for presidential advice received in the ordinary course of proposing legislation."

Also in USA Today, Biskupic profiles Justice Antonin Scalia, who refused to recuse himself from the energy case after it turned out he had gone duck-hunting with the vice president recently.

"In a 21-page memo in which he scoffed at the notion that he would not be impartial in deciding the case involving Cheney, a longtime friend, Scalia wrote: 'If it is reasonable to think that a Supreme Court justice can be bought so cheap, the nation is in deeper trouble than I had imagined.'"

But Debra Rosenberg writes in Newsweek that "privately, the justice feels bruised. He was stung by the actions of . . . friends on the Hill. And he grew dismayed that he'd become the butt of late-night jokes. . . .

"He still refuses to cede any legal ground over the Cheney case, believing it would set a terrible precedent to recuse under political pressure. But, NEWSWEEK has learned, he has said privately that if he had it to do over again, he'd skip the duck hunt."

Susan Milligan and Maud S. Beelman add this little coda, in the Boston Globe: "The executive director of Vice President Dick Cheney's energy task force, whose closed-door meetings with industry executives enraged environmentalists and prompted a Supreme Court showdown this week, became an energy lobbyist just months after leaving the White House, records show."

That Joint 9/11 Appearance

Dana Milbank writes in The Washington Post about what much of official Washington is assuming: "That the White House requested the joint appearance, scheduled for Thursday, so Cheney could coach Bush on his answers. While Bush has declined to explain the rationale for the joint meeting, Democrats charge that Cheney would be a 'ventriloquist,' and even a number of independent observers say it appears that the two men are trying to keep their stories straight. . . .

"Bush aides have offered a somewhat more detailed explanation. Officials said they see the session as a way to tie together the testimony of many other administration officials. They also said that while the commissioners are free to address any subject, they expect the panel to focus on the actions on Sept. 11, and that because the two men were in separate locations, though in constant contact, presenting the narrative jointly would allow for a comprehensive chronology rather than two largely redundant accounts."

(Incidentally, Bob Woodward, appearing on Meet the Press, said Sunday: "I'll bet they won't go together. I think they'll realize that this reinforces a notion." You've got to wonder if Woodward knows something.)

Today's Calendar

While Cheney's slugging it out on national security today, Bush is talking economy.

Deb Riechmann writes on the Associated Press wire: "Tying high-tech innovation to prosperity, President Bush is using a speech in a swing state to address an election-year vulnerability: a sluggish job market that hasn't rebounded with the national economy.

"In a speech Monday in Minnesota, Bush is urging Congress to slap a permanent ban on taxes consumers pay for high-speed Internet hookups called broadband. He also is touting proposals to make electronic medical records the norm and move hydrogen fuel technology from the lab to the showroom. . . .

"After the speech, the president attends a Republican fund-raiser -- his fourth such event in a week -- at a private residence in Edina, a well-heeled suburb in the Twin Cities."

AFP notes: "The trip coincides with a new uptick in retail gasoline prices. . . .

"Prices at the pump went up a total of 35 cents a gallon since before Christmas, threatening to put a crimp on the fledgling economic recovery that could hold the key to Bush's re-election on November 2."

Woodward Redux

Mike Allen, in The Washington Post, examines why the White House decided to actually promote Woodward's book, rather than savage it.

"An administration official said Bush aides had learned from their failure to squelch critical books by ignoring or attacking them. So, the aides decided that not only would they not attack Woodward's book, they would promote it. They concluded that the book -- with index entries that included 'Bush, George W.: absence of doubt in . . . optimism of . . . patience of . . . reluctance to go to war of . . . as strong leader' -- largely portrayed him the way they liked to portray him."

Elisabeth Bumiller, in her White House Letter for the New York Times, attributes the embrace to two factors: "First is the belief of Karl Rove, Mr. Bush's chief political adviser, that the book essentially portrays the president as decisive and engaged, and that it will therefore help him get re-elected. . . .

"The second factor is that the campaign is taking a cherry bomb and making cherries jubilee, or engaging in some classic political disinformation."

Washington Post ombudsman Michael Getler finds "answers to some questions from readers about the relationship between Woodward, the Simon & Schuster author, and Woodward, the Washington Post reporter; between Woodward and his editors here; and between timely news in a daily newspaper and less timely news in a book."

Woodward, as mentioned above, was on Meet the Press on Sunday.

"MR. RUSSERT: 'Plan of Attack' -- what do you think the most important information is in this book?

"MR. WOODWARD: Wow, everyone reads it differently. That's what struck me in the week that it's been out. Somebody at Brookings like Ivo Daalder will say, 'It is a devastating indictment of Bush and the way they ran the war,' and Joe Klein in Time magazine today will say, 'Bush jumps off the page as this kind of unflappable leader.' So this was the best effort I could make to find out what really happened."

And he was on CNN's "Reliable Sources" with Howard Kurtz.

"KURTZ: . . . [D]uring Watergate, you and Carl Bernstein were way outside the system and talking to mostly middle level people and piecing together the case, ultimately, against Richard Nixon.

"Now you're interviewing President Bush in the White House residence. You're almost embedded. You're the ultimate insider.

"Is there any danger, Bob Woodward, that you've become the captive of self-serving recollections by these senior officials?

"WOODWARD: But it's -- but it's exactly the same method, because it started with low level, outsider people in the White House, the State Department, the CIA, the Defense Department."

Paul Harris, in the Observer, profiles Woodward and writes: "His book was not so much the achievement of 'investigative journalism' but the 'access journalism' that Woodward has come to personify. Woodward, in fact, is no outsider taking potshots at those in power. He is no gadfly scribe. Woodward has become part of the establishment that he chronicles so thoroughly."

A View of Dissent

Was that Marine One doing a low pass over the massive abortion-rights (and anti-Bush) rally on the Mall yesterday afternoon?

Normally, the president's aides go to great lengths to shield him from protesters. But it's likely Bush had the best view of all yesterday. Here's what he might have seen.

The president, the first lady and Barney the dog were all indeed returning home yesterday afternoon from Camp David by helicopter at the height of the rally. Here's a photo of the president upon arrival.

Cameron W. Barr and Elizabeth Williamson write in The Washington Post that one of the goals of the rally was loudly identifying President Bush as the leading enemy of "reproductive freedom."

Robin Toner writes in the New York Times: "Speaker after speaker declared that President Bush and his allies in Congress were trying to impose an ideological agenda on abortion and family planning programs, both at home and abroad."

It Could Get Ugly

Tuesday morning at 10 a.m., the full Senate Judiciary Committee holds a hearing on the nomination of Brett M. Kavanaugh to be U.S. Circuit Judge for the District of Columbia Circuit.

Kavanaugh, currently White House staff secretary, was formerly associate counsel at the White House -- and a major player in selecting Bush's often controversial judicial nominees.

He is now one himself, and to one of the nation's highest courts.

Kavanaugh was a key member of independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr's team and even wrote the section of the Starr report that outlined possible legal grounds or President Clinton's impeachment.

He's currently one of the White House's ultimate insiders. As staff secretary, he controls the flow of paper into the Oval Office (see And he's engaged to be married to Ashley Estes, the president's personal secretary.

Here's Kavanaugh's resume.

The Bush Oratory

Dana Milbank writes in a Washington Post news analysis: "With skillful use of language and images, President Bush and his aides have kept the American public from turning against the war in Iraq despite the swelling number of U.S. casualties there."

Marketing Bush

Matt Bai writes in the New York Times magazine: "For 2004, Rove's team has devised the most ambitious grass-roots model in the party's history.

"Up close, what Bush is assembling on the local level looks less like a political campaign than what is known in business as a multilevel marketing scheme. In an MLM, like Mary Kay Cosmetics or Tupperware, each independent entrepreneur who joins the sales force -- a Betty Kitchen, say -- also becomes a recruiter who is responsible for bringing in several new entrepreneurs underneath her. The result is a pyramid-like sales structure that broadens to include more and more recruits with each descending level."

Patriot Act Watch

Peter Wallsten writes in the Los Angeles Times: "Only months ago, Democrats were targeting the controversial USA Patriot Act as an ideal issue to use in their campaign against President Bush, assailing the law as an intrusion on civil rights. But in a turnabout, the act has suddenly emerged as a cornerstone of Bush's reelection campaign, while Democratic rival Sen. John F. Kerry and others have toned down their criticism."

Bush and the Environment

Mike Allen writes in The Washington Post: "Bush's decision to attack the Massachusetts senator on the environment, considered a strong issue for the Democrat, reflected a campaign strategy aimed at searing Kerry as a waffler on just about any issue."


Kenneth T. Walsh and Dan Gilgoff of U.S. News compare Bush and Kerry in 1971. "In 1971, Bush's mission seemed much more simple: to have a good time."

© 2004