It's often said on late-night TV that given Dick Cheney's cardiovascular problems, George W. Bush is just a heartbeat away from the presidency. In his new book, Angler, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Barton Gellman suggests that this joke contains more than just a grain of truth. By immersing himself in details about national security and numerous other hot-button issues that the president was too lazy or too incurious to study, Cheney often managed to position himself as the real "decider."
For those of you who are too lazy or too incurious to read Gellman's lengthy exposé, Slatehas put together a breezy executive summary. Grab a copy of Angler from the nearest bookstore and skim along.
How To Hire Yourself
As is well-known, Bush tapped Cheney to head his VP search during the 2000 campaign. Cheney asked a few contenders to fill out lengthy questionnaires, turn over copies of all medical records, and reveal any events that might leave them "vulnerable to blackmail or coercion." He pocketed this sensitive information and then tapped himself. As a result, no one ever vetted the veep.
Page 22: Cheney short-listed a few rival candidates, but Bush never "held a face-to-face interview for the job" with any of them.
Page 23: David J. Gribbin, an old friend of Cheney's who was on the initial vetting committee, told Gellman: "I don't know who vetted Cheney or what process they used. It was not something I was involved in or that anybody ever told me. At some point there was a decision that all these names were going to be set aside, and they were going to select Cheney. It was a shock to me."
Page 25: Bush claimed he commissioned an independent review of his running mate's fitness, but that's not quite true. Denton A. Cooley, an acquaintance of Bush senior and the founder of the Texas Heart Institute, called up Cheney's physician, who offered a "personal assurance that his [patient's] cardiac status was sound." Cooley never looked "at Cheney's films, electrocardiac data, or any other records."
Deadly Dick and the Star Chamber
Page 160: Cheney earned several nicknames at the White House. Bush just called him "Veep"; after his hunting accident he was known as "Deadly Dick." The most prevalent was "Dark Side," but perhaps the most apt was "Management," as in, "Better check with Management first."
Page 74: According to Cheney staffer Candi Wolff, "a lot of people" called Cheney's Senate office "the Star Chamber" after the court that heard treason cases in medieval England. She added: "Like it was some torture thing. It was this feeling of … if you have to go see him you must have been bad."
Page 244: Gellman writes that, on a typical day, Cheney would wake up at 5:45 a.m. to browse "newspapers during his workout on an elliptical trainer." At 7 a.m., Scooter Libby would arrive, and then a CIA analyst would walk "them through the President's Daily Brief"—a classified newsletter on recent intelligence. He'd attend the same briefing an hour later at the Oval Office and draw Bush's attention to subjects he found interesting.
Page 189: After serving as Condoleezza Rice's legal adviser for three years, John Bellinger realized that "every time he wrote a memo to his boss, a blind copy was routed to the vice president's office." According to another official, Cheney's chief of staff, I. Lewis Libby, "made the [blind copy] arrangement with Steve Hadley, Rice's deputy. It was not advertised, and neither was it reciprocated: what happened in Cheney's office stayed in Cheney's office."
The Road to Iraq
Pages 217-19: In September 2002, House Majority Leader Dick Armey said publicly that he saw no need for war with Iraq, so Cheney called him into his office for a little chat. "For a full hour he walked the majority leader through a blood-chilling narrative, the graphics produced on cue by a military aide. The vice president by then had dialed up his public rhetoric, warning not only that Saddam had an arsenal but that 'the United States may well become the target.' " Armey told Gellman, "The upshot of the briefing is, it's a gathering threat that's really more imminent than we want to portray to the public at large. … [The Iraqis] were developing weapons, they were miniaturizing weapons, developing packages that could be moved even by ground personnel." Armey left the meeting feeling "a very deep sadness" about his relationship with Cheney and suspecting that he'd "just got a good BS'ing," but he voted for war anyway.