As noted here, Murray Waas published the essence of the FBI’s interview with Dick Cheney concerning the Valerie Plame matter just before Christmas. In light of what we have now learned, it’s worth recalling that the Bush Justice Department repeatedly refused to share these notes with Congressional oversight, and finally responded to Freedom of Information Act requests with a claim that the interview notes had been classified, at Dick Cheney’s request, as “secret.” The Justice Department’s letter can be found here, and Jason Leopold discusses the weakness of the claim of secrecy here. Apart from the intrinsic value of the Plame interview–in which we get a good sense of why prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald essentially labeled Cheney an unindicted co-conspirator in both his opening and closing statements at the trial leading to the conviction of Cheney’s chief of staff, Scooter Libby–the whole affair also points to Cheney’s outrageous manipulation of national security classifications. Why did he instruct that Justice classify and withhold this document, and why did they comply with what was obviously a bogus request? There are two competing explanations, neither of which has anything to do with national security. The first is to avoid the obvious political embarrassment that would flow from Cheney’s admission of what was essentially criminal conduct, even if, for whatever reasons, the prosecutor decided for the time being not to charge it. The other is to obsure the fact of the crime itself. These explanations are not mutually exclusive, of course. The incident also shows how he manipulates the Office of Legal Counsel. Bart Gellman, in his definitive Cheney biography, Angler, notes that Cheney believed that OLC was the critical link in the Justice Department chain and that he was obsessed with planting his pod-people there. The letter on the FOIA request demonstrates the utility of this strategy.
Yesterday, Cheney told the Caspar Star-Tribune that he frankly couldn’t understand why Americans didn’t like him. He has actually registered favorability ratings in single digits in some public opinion polls. But doesn’t this episode provide a perfect explanation? Cheney resorted to a criminal act to retaliate against a perceived political opponent, and then wielded his heavy hand to keep everything secret, corrupting the criminal justice system and abusing the national security classification system in the process. That’s only the beginning of his offenses (not taking into account the introduction of torture and launching a war that cost more than 4,000 American lives and over $3 trillion in U.S. treasure, for instance), but it’s already plenty of reason to reckon him the worst vice president ever, even though, unlike Spiro Agnew and Aaron Burr, he has so far escaped prosecution.