All the best details from Barton Gellman's new book on Vice President Dick Cheney.

All the best details from Barton Gellman's new book on Vice President Dick Cheney.

All the best details from Barton Gellman's new book on Vice President Dick Cheney.

How to read juicy books.
Sept. 18 2008 5:26 PM

Cheney Unchained

The best details from Barton Gellman's new book on the vice president.

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Pages 231-32: Cheney, Gellman contends, "did not press for war with Iraq because Saddam really topped the list of 'grave and gathering threats,' as he led the Bush administration in asserting." According to Cheney's deputy assistant for national security affairs, Aaron Friedberg, the vice president wanted to show that "we were able and willing to strike at someone. That sends a very powerful message."


Page 250: Although Cheney was one of the chief architects of the war, he had his doubts. Directly before the invasion, military historian Victor Davis Hanson said Cheney was "reflective, quiet, sober. … He was very depressed about both the options of going to war and not going to war. He didn't think either were good options."

Torture Guidelines

Page 177: John Yoo, who worked in the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel from 2001 until 2003, rejected only one proposed investigation technique on legal grounds. He said that "the CIA could not bury a subject alive, even if it planned to dig him back up in time."

Warrantless Wiretapping

Page 292: National Security Agency Director Michael Hayden was worried he'd get hauled before a congressional committee over his agency's surveillance program. When Deputy Attorney General Jim Comey got his first briefing on the subject, Hayden said, "I'm so glad you're getting read in, because now I won't be alone at the table when John Kerry is elected president."

Page 308: David Addington, Cheney's legal counsel, hated keeping the FISA court even partially in the loop about the NSA's surveillance program. He once said, "We're one bomb away from getting rid of that obnoxious court."

Page 294: After Jack Goldsmith of the Office of Legal Counsel refused to certify the NSA's program, David Addington tried pressure tactics: "If you rule that way, the blood of the hundred thousand people who die in the next attack will be on your hands."

Page 322: The top echelon of the Justice Department came very close to resigning over the NSA controversy. Mark Corallo, John Ashcroft's communications director, told Gellman that Bush's presidency couldn't have survived the ordeal. "You know, one guy resigns on principle and it can be uncomfortable, it can even be damaging. If six or seven of your top lawyers—and, excuse me, think about this. And this is the truth. If John Ashcroft resigned, the entire political leadership of the Justice Department goes with him. … We would have all walked out the door, because we would have said, 'If this is big enough for Ashcroft to resign over, we're all out of here.' … The rush to hearings on the Hill, both in the House and Senate, would be unbelievable. The media frenzy that would have ensued would have been unlike anything we've ever seen. That's when you're getting into Watergate territory."

Page 318: After months of squabbling with David Addington over the NSA program, Jim Comey had a one-on-one meeting with Bush about his misgivings. The president, it seems, had been left entirely out of the loop over the controversy; he complained to Comey, "I just wish you weren't raising this at the last minute." He didn't realize that Comey, along with every other political appointee at the Justice Department, was on the brink of resignation.

Succession Plan

Cheney and his staffers, especially legal counsel David Addington, were obsessed with the possibility of a "decapitating attack on Washington"—that is, what would happen if the president were to die.

Page 154-155: David Addington carried the Constitution in his suit jacket as well as note cards with "all the executive orders and statutes on succession."

Page 158: Addington didn't like the idea that the speaker of the House and the president pro tempore of the Senate are included in the order of succession. An unnamed Cheney admirer told Gellman that the vice president and his staff had "plans" for an alternate succession, "and their plans were going to be by fiat."

Juliet Lapidos is a staff editor at the New York Times.