Focus of VP Inquiry Shifts to Attorney General

06.28.07 | 2 min read | Text by Steven Aftergood

Congressional leaders who are investigating the refusal of Vice President Cheney to comply with executive branch procedures for oversight of classification and declassification activity yesterday asked Attorney General Alberto Gonzales (pdf) to account for his sluggish handling of the issue.

Last January, J. William Leonard, the director of the Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO), asked the Attorney General to determine whether the Office of the Vice President is subject to reporting requirements like other executive branch agencies, or not.

A reply is not optional. The executive order states clearly that “The Attorney General, upon request…, shall render an interpretation of this order with respect to any question arising in the course of its administration” (sec. 6.2b).

Yet no such reply has been forthcoming.

“Due to conflicting statements from your department, the status of your review of this matter is unclear,” wrote Reps. Henry Waxman, John Conyers Jr., and William Lacy Clay in their letter to the Attorney General. “More than six months (sic) have passed since Mr. Leonard’s letter to you, and the Information Security Oversight Office has received no response to its inquiry.”

The House letter asked Attorney General Gonzales to reply to a series of questions regarding his review of the Vice President’s status as a classifier.

The Congressmen cited a Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel reply (pdf) to a Freedom of Information Act request from the Federation of American Scientists (first reported by Michael Isikoff in Newsweek this week) indicating that “no documents” had been generated in response to the ISOO inquiry.

On the Senate floor yesterday, Sen. Patrick Leahy extolled the FAS request as a example of the utility of the Freedom of Information Act.

“Just this week, we witnessed the great value of FOIA in shedding light on a controversial policy within the Office of the Vice President regarding the handling of classified information, with news reports that a FOIA request to the Justice Department first revealed that the Attorney General may have delayed a review into the legality of this troubling policy,” Sen. Leahy said in a June 27 statement on the status of the Open Government Act, which has been held up by opposition from a Republican Senator.

In a June 25 letter (pdf), Sen. Dick Durbin asked the Vice President to comply with the requirements of the Executive Order “so that we will not be compelled to take corrective action in our appropriations bill.”