by Michael Winship
In October 1973, with President Nixon ensnared in the Watergate imbroglio, the sideshow known as the vice presidency of Spiro T. Agnew came to an abrupt end. He resigned from office and pled no contest to federal charges of tax evasion.
A plea bargain allowed him to avoid prosecution on allegations that in his previous job as governor of Maryland he accepted some $30,000 in bribes (A cheap date compared to California Congressman "Duke" Cunningham, who resigned Monday, confessing he'd scooped up $2.4 million in kickbacks from a defense contractor.).
Agnew got a $10,000 fine, disbarment and three years' probation. America got a new vice president, Gerald Ford.
At the time, I was working at George Washington University, just a few blocks from the White House. I remember that within minutes of Agnew's stepping down, the kids at the campus newspaper (for various reasons, appropriately named "The Hatchet") had printed and distributed handbills featuring Agnew's mug behind prison bars.
The caption read, "One Down, One to Go."
Recently, among more imaginative elements of the left, there has been some talk about impeaching President Bush. Indeed, according to a survey conducted early this month by Zogby International -- for the activist coalition AfterDowningStreet.org -- 53 percent of those polled agreed with the statement, "If President Bush did not tell the truth about his reasons for going to war with Iraq, Congress should consider holding him accountable through impeachment."
The current, Republican-dominated Congress makes this a seeming impossibility. Besides, wouldn't it make more sense to do an end run around the middleman and get right to the problem? Or, as a current bumper sticker suggests, "Skip Bush -- Impeach Cheney."
As vice presidents, both Cheney and Agnew embraced a pro-big business mentality and a flair for attack dog rhetoric -- it was Spiro, after all, who, courtesy of speechwriter William Safire, gave an unsuspecting world, "nattering nabobs of negativism," and, God help us, "Ultra-liberalism today translates into a whimpering isolationism in foreign policy, a mulish obstructionism in domestic policy, and a pusillanimous pussyfooting on the critical issue of law and order."
But Agnew and Cheney's paths diverge radically when it comes to wielding real power. Agnew fell into the more traditional interpretation of the vice presidency, the office that Vice President "Cactus Jack" Garner famously described as worth no more than "a pitcher of warm spit," although I doubt he said "spit." Or, as Woodrow Wilson's more genteel veep, Thomas Riley Marshall, was fond of saying, "A woman had two sons. One ran away and went to sea; the other was elected Vice President of the United States. Neither was ever heard of again."
Not so with Cheney. In the words of former Reagan chief of staff Ken Duberstein, for the first time, "We've had a president and a prime minister." In this week's issue of The New Yorker, Seymour Hersh writes that a former defense official told him the president has "become more detached, leaving more issues to Karl Rove and Vice President Cheney. 'They keep him in the gray world of religious idealism, where he wants to be anyway,' the former defense official said."
Cheney has controlled the reins more tightly and secretively than any vice president in history, to the extent that, according to a report from the Center for Public Integrity, he and his staff have even "been exempting themselves from long-standing travel disclosure rules followed by the rest of the executive branch... As a result... the public is kept largely unaware of where he and his staff are traveling, with whom they are meeting and how much it costs, even though tax dollars are covering the bill."
Within Cheney's penchant for secrecy are suggestions of abuses of power far beyond the all-too-familiar accusations of finagling billions of dollars' worth of contracts for his old pals at Halliburton.
We now know, for example, that contrary to the denials of oil company executives when they testified before the Senate Commerce Committee a couple of weeks ago, their representatives did indeed meet with Cheney's secret energy task force at the beginning of President Bush's first term. According to the Government Accountability Office, they gave "detailed energy policy recommendations."
No wonder Commerce Committee Chairman Ted Stevens of Alaska refused Democrats' request to swear in the execs. We thought it was to avoid a photo op of them standing en masse, right hands raised. Now, it seems, it may have been to evade charges of perjury.
We still don't know exactly what transpired at the Cheney task force meetings, from which environmental groups conspicuously were excluded. Lawsuits filed by the Sierra Club and Judicial Watch were unsuccessful at extracting the information, although they did succeed in getting hold of some task force documents, which -- months before 9/11 and two years before the Iraqi war -- included a map of Iraq's oil deposits and a list of "Iraq Oil Foreign Suitors," the various overseas companies seeking a piece of the country's petroleum pie. Mr. Vice President, please explain.
In just the last few weeks, four media investigations have divulged -- beyond what already was known or suspected -- how Cheney, his former chief of staff Scooter Libby, and their own national security team creatively interpreted or ignored intelligence reports on their way to the invasion of Iraq.
A three-part series in the leftist Italian newspaper La Repubblica reported that a double agent forged documents alleging Iraq's interest in purchasing yellowcake uranium from Niger, and that aluminum tubes the United States claimed were for Iraqi centrifuges used in nuclear weapons construction were actually for rockets. Not new news, but we now learn that the Italian military knew this because it equipped Iraq with the rockets.
As Judith Coburn writes on TomDispatch.com, these two "key administration arguments for war in Iraq were concocted and known to be bogus by Italian intelligence and discredited by the CIA, the Defense Intelligence Agency and State Department officials until Vice President Cheney pounded CIA Director George Tenet and Secretary of State Colin Powell into submission."
Intelligence expert James Bamford, writing in Rolling Stone, reports that an Iraqi named Adnan Ihsan Saeed al-Haideri told the CIA he helped bury chemical, biological and nuclear weapons all over Iraq. On November 20, the Los Angeles Times presented exhaustive coverage of the Iraqi defector nicknamed "Curveball," who told German intelligence he was involved in the construction of Iraqi mobile germ weapons labs.
As the publications noted, both men were lying -- they were attempting to bluff their way into receiving Western visas. But in spite of warnings that their stories were total concoctions, the administration used the bogus info to help justify war.
And last Tuesday, Murray Waas, writing in the National Journal, reported that in spite of Cheney's continuing efforts to link 9/11 with the war in Iraq, he, the president and other high-ranking officials were told, in a highly classified briefing, "Ten days after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks... that the U.S. intelligence community had no evidence linking the regime of Saddam Hussein to the attacks and that there was scant credible evidence that Iraq had any significant collaborative ties with Al Qaeda."
Nonetheless, Cheney went on demanding intelligence that fit his rationale for war. "This is very good indeed," he wrote in the margin of one such cooked report. "Encouraging... Not like the crap we are all so used to getting out of CIA."
Add all of this to the vice president's involvement in the Valerie Plame mess (he was one of those who informed Scooter Libby of Ms. Plame's CIA employment) and his efforts against the Senate vote to ban torture of enemy combatants in American custody, and you've got actions reminiscent of some of the impeachable conduct cited in the case of Richard M. Nixon, especially "making or causing to be made false or misleading statements for the purpose of deceiving the people of the United States."
He's also headlining a fundraiser for Tom DeLay in Houston next Monday, so what the hell, let's throw that in, too.
In his play, "Stuff Happens," dramatist David Hare has a character playing Dick Cheney complain that the United States overly kowtows to British prime minister Tony Blair. "It's a good rule," he says. "When the cat shit gets bigger than the cat, get rid of the cat."
As far as the real Cheney goes, maybe we should heed the advice of his fictional counterpart.
November 30, 2005 (http://www.albionmonitor.com) All Rights Reserved. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to use in any format.
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