Addington and the Question of Intent

Vice Presidential Chief of Staff David Addington defended Dick Cheney’s refusal to submit to oversight by the Information Security Oversight Office in a June 26 letter (pdf) to Sen. John Kerry.

“The executive order on classified national security information — Executive Order 12958 as amended in 2003 — makes it clear that the Vice President is treated like the President and distinguishes the two of them from ‘agencies’,” he wrote.

Mr. Addington’s claim is demonstrably false.

By presidential order dated October 13, 1995, the President delegated original classification authority to the Vice President under Executive Order 12958, along with other officials in the executive office of the President and various agency heads.

When the executive order was amended in 2003, that delegation of classification authority to the Vice President was not rescinded or modified. It remains in effect. Consequently, the Vice President’s authority is comparable to that of the Secretary of Defense or the Secretary of State.

Furthermore, as ISOO director J. William Leonard explained in his January 9, 2007 letter to the Attorney General (pdf), a “plain text reading” of the order indicates that the Office of the Vice President is subject to the order’s requirements. He noted that the OVP is granted one particular exemption, concerning the order’s mandatory declassification review provisions.

“This sole explicit reference for the purpose of exempting the OVP from a provision of the Order supports an interpretation that the rest of the Order does apply…. otherwise there would be no need for an exemption,” Mr. Leonard flawlessly argued.

By contrast, reported Michael Abramowitz in the Washington Post (June 27), “Addington did not cite specific language in the executive order supporting [his] view, and a Cheney spokeswoman could not point to such language last night. But spokeswoman Lee Anne McBride said the intent of the order, as expressed by White House officials in recent days, was ‘not for the VP to be separated from the president on this reporting requirement’.”

The President could amend the executive order at a moment’s notice to exempt the Vice President from oversight. Or the Attorney General could render an interpretation of the order that favors the Vice President’s position. But neither action has been taken.

Instead, the White House simply insists that the executive order does not mean what a “plain text reading” says that it means. By doing so, it degrades the machinery of government.

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