The vice president has run utterly amok and must be stopped.
He has advocated and authored signing statements that declare the president's intent to disregard provisions of bills he has signed into law that he proclaims are unconstitutional, for example, a requirement to obtain a judicial warrant before opening mail or a prohibition on employing military force to fight narco-terrorists in Colombia. The signing statements are tantamount to absolute line-item vetoes that the Supreme Court invalidated in the 1998 case Clinton v. New York.
The vice president engineered the National Security Agency's warrantless domestic surveillance program targeting American citizens on American soil in contravention of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978. He concocted the alarming theory that the president may flout any law that inhibits the collection of foreign intelligence, including prohibitions on breaking and entering homes, torture, or assassinations. As a reflection of his power in this arena, today the Senate Judiciary Committee subpoenaed Cheney's office, as well as the White House, for documents that relate to the warrantless eavesdropping.
The vice president has orchestrated the invocation of executive privilege to conceal from Congress secret spying programs to gather foreign intelligence, and their legal justifications. He has summoned the privilege to refuse to disclose his consulting of business executives in conjunction with his Energy Task Force, and to frustrate the testimonies of Karl Rove and Harriet Miers regarding the firings of U.S. attorneys.
Cheney scorns freedom of speech and of the press. He urges application of the Espionage Act to prosecute journalists who expose national security abuses, for example, secret prisons in Eastern Europe or the NSA's warrantless surveillance program. He retaliated against Ambassador Joseph Wilson and his wife, Valerie Plame, through Chief of Staff Scooter Libby, for questioning the administration's evidence of weapons of mass destruction as justification for invading Iraq. Mr. Cheney is defending himself from a pending suit brought by Wilson and Plame on the grounds that he is entitled to the absolute immunity of the president established in 1982 by Nixon v. Fitzgerald. (Although this defense contradicts Cheney's claim that he is not part of the executive branch.)
The Constitution does not expressly forbid the president from abandoning his chief powers to the vice president. But President Bush's tacit delegation to Cheney and Cheney's eager acceptance tortures the Constitution's provision for an acting president. The presidency and vice presidency are discrete constitutional offices. The 12th Amendment provides for their separate elections. The sole constitutionally enumerated function of the vice president is to serve as president of the Senate without a vote except to break ties.
In contrast, Article II enumerates the powers and responsibilities of the president, including the obligation to take care that the laws be faithfully executed. A special presidential oath is prescribed. Section 3 of the 25th Amendment provides a method for the president to yield his office to the vice president, when "he is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office." There is no other constitutional provision for transferring presidential powers to the vice president.
Yet without making a written transmittal to Congress, President Bush has ceded vast domains of his powers to Vice President Cheney by mutual understanding that circumvents the 25th Amendment. This constitutional provision assures that the public and Congress know who is exercising the powers of the presidency and who should be held responsible for successes or failures. The Bush-Cheney dispensation blurs political accountability by continually hiding the real decision-maker under presidential skirts. The Washington Post has thoroughly documented the vice president's dominance in a four-part series running this week. It is quite a read.
In the end, President Bush regularly is unable to explain or defend the policies of his own administration, and that is because the heavy intellectual labor has been performed in the office of the vice president. Cheney is impeachable for his overweening power and his sneering contempt of the Constitution and the rule of law.
Bruce Fein is a constitutional lawyer with Bruce Fein & Associates Inc. and author of Constitutional Peril: The Life and Death Struggle for Our Constitution and Democracy.
Photograph of Dick Cheney by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.