Cheney role as power broker in spotlight again

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney was back this week in a place he intensely dislikes: the spotlight.

Vice President Dick Cheney is joined by National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley (L) and Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte (R) during an event in the Oval Office, June 25, 2007. REUTERS/Larry Downing

Cheney’s penchant for secrecy and his unprecedented role within the Bush administration have been a key topic at recent White House news briefings, in some cases drowning out subjects from Iraq to immigration to the Middle East.

A newspaper series on how Cheney wields his power and his feud with an obscure record-keeping agency have stirred the latest controversies.

Cheney, a master at the Washington power game, is depicted as operating behind the scenes and pushing hard-line views on issues such as the treatment of terrorism suspects in a four-part series in the Washington Post that began on Sunday.

The vice president also is facing scathing criticism from lawmakers for refusing to provide records requested by the an office in the National Archives regarding the handling of classified documents.

The Post series portrays Cheney as bypassing top officials at the State Department, Justice Department and the National Security Council to gain the upper hand in battles over the handling of terrorism suspects at the military prison at Guantanamo Bay and other issues.

“Cheney and his allies, according to more than two dozen current and former officials, pioneered a novel distinction between forbidden ‘torture’ and permitted use of ‘cruel and inhuman or degrading’ methods of questioning,” the Post said.

White House spokesman Tony Fratto said Cheney performs his role “precisely as the president would like him to.”

Cheney, like others in the administration, has lost some policy debates and won others, Fratto said. “The only person who wins all of the policy debates is the president.”

On the economic side, the Post said, Cheney trumped not only the U.S. Treasury secretary but also then-Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan in advocating a bigger 2003 tax-cut package than Greenspan thought prudent.

Democrats accuse the vice president of trying to cast himself as a “fourth branch of government” because of his legal argument in resisting the record-keeping request. His office told the National Archives that it was not an “entity within the executive branch.”

Critics have ridiculed the notion that the vice president’s office is “unique” from other parts of government because he has a largely ceremonial role as president of the Senate in addition to his executive-branch duties.

“It comes as no surprise that the ‘imperial president’ and his vice president are once again trying to dodge scrutiny with a ridiculous claim that Dick Cheney is not part of the executive branch of government,” said Sen. John Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat.

Rep. Rahm Emanuel, an Illinois Democrat and a member of the U.S. House of Representatives leadership, proposed cutting funding for Cheney’s office unless he clarifies which branch of government he is part of.

The White House has backed Cheney’s view he does not have to provide the data on classified documents requested by the archives office but distanced itself from an effort to cast the vice president’s office as a separate branch of government.

The mandate for the record keeping is covered under an order Bush himself issued and the president always intended for Cheney to be exempt from it, the White House said.

Cheney spokeswoman Lea Anne McBride said it was not “necessary to go through the law and history” of the vice president’s role because Bush had already decided that Cheney does not need to provide the records.