Questions About Cheney CIA Story

Okay, I have a few non-political, that is non-partisan, questions about an alleged Bush Administration cover-up of a CIA program that, if implemented, would have authorized killing foreign leaders.

My questions go beyond the legality of such a program or about whether it was right for the former administration to conceal it from the Congress.

I hope that those more steeped in constitutional law than I am can answer my questions.

First, this question: How did Vice President Dick Cheney, who reportedly ordered the cover-up, come to exercise such authority? As a practical matter and one of history, I understand, of course, that Cheney, at least for much of George W. Bush’s first term, exercised tremendous influence in the White House and in the administration. But so far as I know, except when the President is incapacitated, the Vice President possesses no executive (or operational) authority. If these reports are true though, Vice President Cheney exercised power which, I believe, belongs only to the President. Am I reading the Constitution correctly?

My second question then, is this: If Mr. Cheney exercised executive power, what would that do to his argument that he wasn’t required to maintain records of his activities as the law stipulates for members of the executive branch because, he said, the Vice President is not part of the executive? (Cheney’s position was rejected by at least one court.) If not a member of the executive branch, by what possible authority could a Vice President claim to be able to exercise executive authority?

As I say, these aren’t partisan questions. If Joe Biden, Walter Mondale, Al Gore, Spiro Agnew, or Richard M. Johnson were found to have exercised executive authority, it would lead me to the first question, at least, and had any of them asserted, as Cheney did, that he was not a member of the executive branch, it would also raise the second.

Any ideas?

[This has been crossposted at my personal blog.]

[UPDATE: My use of the term "foreign leaders" was a faux pas. I apologize.]

Author: MARK DANIELS