Video: Vice president Cheney

updated 1/20/2005 5:15:05 PM ET 2005-01-20T22:15:05
TRANSCRIPT EXCERPT

DON IMUS, HOST: Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome to the “Imus in the Morning” program the vice president of United States, Dick Cheney, and Mrs. Cheney. 

Good morning.  How are you guys? 

(APPLAUSE)

So when they asked us to come down, we thought—we didn’t want to come because we don’t get invited to any parties or anything. 

And so we thought, “Well, let’s create a situation where we’ll make a guest request that we can’t possibly get, and then we won’t have to go.”  And so we requested you and you, and so here we are. 

(LAUGHTER)

RICHARD B. CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  It’s, kind of, an awkward moment, isn’t it, Don? 

(LAUGHTER)

IMUS:  Well, no, I’ve embarrassed myself before, which you may have heard about.

(LAUGHTER)

R. CHENEY:  Right. Well, we thought long and hard about it. I mean, we didn’t jump at the chance. 

(LAUGHTER)

But, no, I figured if I was ever going to do the show that there would never be a better morning than this to come spend a little time with a man who lost $20,000 voting on our opponent on the day we get sworn in. 

(LAUGHTER)

IMUS:  I was telling Senator McCain that the opponent no longer speaks to me for some reason.  But I guess I wasn’t as enthusiastic enough supporter. 

R. CHENEY: Maybe not.

IMUS:  Well, I voted for him because I liked him, not because I didn’t like President Bush, which is a huge difference, I think, for a lot of people. 

Well, we know what the president is doing today, but what do you do—do you get sworn in or do we just take your word for it or what? 

(LAUGHTER)

R. CHENEY:  No, it’s a very elaborate ceremony and procedure that we’ve done for some 200 years. 

I actually get sworn in first by the speaker of the House, Denny Hastert, which is a new wrinkle.  It’s been done before.  Sam Rayburn sworn in Lyndon Johnson many years ago. But Denny Hastert’s a close friend.  I’m a man of the House. That’s where I started my career.  And so he’ll swear me in.

Then the chief justice will swear in the president and the president will give his acceptance speech. 

OK.

R. CHENEY:  And then we do all the things the president does.  We go to church this morning after we get through here.  We’ll have a coffee over at the White House, lunch in the Capitol Rotunda and do the parade and so forth. 

IMUS:  What do you do most days?  I mean, do you have a schedule—I mean, it sounds like a goofy question, but do you have a schedule or...

R. CHENEY:  Sure.  No, it’s a good question. There are a lot of vice presidents over the years that haven’t done much. 

(LAUGHTER)

The process we follow—I start out at home in the morning about 7 a.m. with a CIA briefer.  They come and brief me every morning six days a week.  And I go through what’s called the president’s daily brief. 

Then I go into the Oval Office and have a session with him at 8 o’clock where we go over the same brief. I go over it twice, partly because I don’t like to interfere with his time with my questions. So I ask separate questions of my briefer. 

Then we have the director of the FBI in, as well, and look at the domestic threats.  And, again, we do that five or six days a week. 

And then after that, it’s whatever hot.  We’ll have a National Security Council meeting.  We’ve got a lot of policy meetings that we do.  I spend a fair amount of time on the Hill. 

I’m actually, most people don’t realize, a creature of the Senate.  I’m actually paid by the United States Senate.  Vice presidents didn’t even have an office in the executive branch until the Eisenhower administration.  They really are a legislative animal, if you will.  And that’s changed over the years.  But I do spend a lot of time up on the Hill. 

And work the national security policy.  Those are issues the president asked me to get involved in when I first came on board because of my background at defense and so forth.

But I also spend a fair amount of time on domestic issues, and try to wrap up the day by 6 or 7 o’clock at night and then start fresh the next day. 

IMUS:  Do you watch the news at night? 

R. CHENEY:  I oftentimes watch another network. 

(LAUGHTER)

But, no, I’m a fan of the Brit Hume show.  I think Brit does a good job.  And occasionally hit some of the other news shows.  We’re junkies.  We watch the cable shows and so forth. 

IMUS:  We actually like Brit Hume.  I mean, he was great when he was on ABC. 

R. CHENEY:  Yes, he’s good.

IMUS:  We still have him on occasionally. 

IMUS:  Mrs. Cheney, I was talking with Evan Thomas yesterday, and he described your husband as “gloomy,” implying that he walks around the house muttering to himself and sitting in these darkened rooms contemplating the end of the world. What is he like around the house? 

LYNNE CHENEY, WIFE OF VICE PRESIDENT CHENEY:  Well, I’m just thinking that, you know, coming from Evan Thomas, this is a little bit of the pot calling the kettle black.

(LAUGHTER)

I mean, Evan’s not exactly your most cheerful observer of the world. 

IMUS:  Well, I don’t know if he meant it—I didn’t get the feeling he meant it in a disparaging sense.  I just meant that he meant that the vice president was... but, I mean, he’s not going around with a lamp shade on his head, is he? 

L. CHENEY:  No.  You know, in fact, Dick tries to get home at a reasonable time.  We often exercise while we’re watching Brit Hume and sometimes one of the other networks.  And have our grandchildren over on the weekends frequently. 

He’s a terrible, doting grandfather, you know.  If the children want something to eat after 8 o’clock at night, they know they can always go around me and get to grandpa and he’ll peel them an apple or pop popcorn. 

So, no, you know.  But we’ve lived through some pretty serious times.  I don’t think anybody would have guessed four years ago what these last four years have been like. 

But serious times call for serious assessments, and maybe that’s what Evan meant. 

IMUS:  Mr. Vice President, when you were defense secretary for President Bush 41, I guess the perception—well, the perception was that you were a fairly—what’s the right word?—reasonable guy. 

For example, you were against invading Iraq, thinking that taking down Saddam Hussein—suggesting that we get bogged down there and we’d be there forever.

And then the perception, whether it’s accurate or not, is that now, in some people’s minds, you’re Slim Pickings on that missile in “Dr. Strangelove.”

(LAUGHTER)

And if even a part of that is accurate...

(LAUGHTER)

... is that a transformation that took place or—I mean, exactly where are you? 

R. CHENEY:  Well, the situation back in 1990-1991, of course, was we’d liberated Kuwait, we’d devastated the Iraqi armed forces.  We had a specific mandate from the Congress, from the United Nations and that we’d signed up to with our allies that we’d go liberate Kuwait.  But it said nothing about taking Iraq. 

Plus we then put in place at the end of that war some very tough conditions that Saddam Hussein signed up and agreed to meet.  We didn’t know at the time that, over the next 12 years, he’d violate every single one of them. 

Of course, the other thing that happened that was, I think, important in changing my view was 9/11, in that we were suddenly faced with the prospects that a handful of people, relatively unsophisticated approach, could come into the United States and do devastating work.  Because they killed 3,000 of our people that morning; more than we lost at Pearl Harbor.

And you had to add to that the evidence we found increasingly that the Al Qaeda types wanted to get their hands on deadlier weapons, chemical or biological agents or even nuclear weapons, to use against us.  And that kind of an attack against the United States could destroy a city and hundreds of thousands of people.

So the situation changed fairly dramatically.  And as I say, that coupled with the fact that Saddam Hussein had spent 12 years violating all of the conditions that he signed up to when we agreed to end the conflict back in 1991 changed my thinking about how long we could tolerate a man who’d started two wars, who’d produced and used weapons of mass destruction in the past, and who gave every evidence that once those sanctions were lifted he’d be right back in business again. 

IMUS:  Mrs. Cheney, when the vice president was on “Meet the Press” telling Tim Russert about the reconstituted nuclear program in Iraq and suggesting that we’d be greeted as liberators there, did you think, “Oh, God, he’s got into the Kool-Aid again,” or...

(LAUGHTER)

L. CHENEY: Well, no, because, you know, the questions and the responses were actually a little bit more nuanced than that.  But I think that what Dick was reflecting was the generally accepted opinion at the time.  It would be a great program, you know, to go back and get transcripts/recordings of all the people who were absolutely convinced that Saddam’s nuclear program had been reconstituted, that he represented a danger to the United States that was quite immediate. 

IMUS:  Are you nervous when he goes on programs? 

L. CHENEY:  No, absolutely not. 

IMUS:  Not at all? 

L. CHENEY:  No.  Not really.  I mean, maybe 20 years ago, I was. 

But we’ve been in politics a while.  I’ve grown quite confident in, you know, Dick’s ability to meet any questions, including ones that the I-man might have.

(LAUGHTER)

IMUS:  Mr. Vice President, several months ago, when the communists from the press asked the president at a press conference if he could think of any mistakes he’d ever made, and the president said he couldn’t, and then he recently told Barbara Walters that there were a couple things that he wished he hadn’t said. 

So my question for you is, can you think of any mistakes you’ve made?  Maybe we can focus on, say, the Iraq war or things that you’ve said.  We could maybe think about Patrick Leahy or...

(LAUGHTER)

R. CHENEY:  Actually that was one of my better received comments.

(LAUGHTER)

Had a lot of support for that. 

IMUS:  We heartily endorsed that, by the way.      (LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

R. CHENEY:  No, if I were to think back on things that turned out differently than I would have expected, when you talk about Iraq, one of the things I’m still struck by is the devastation, the lasting consequences, if you will, of what happened in ‘91 with respect to the Iraqi population that we found once we toppled Saddam Hussein’s regime and got into Iraq.  

R. CHENEY:  The brutality that he used in 1991 to put down the revolt at the time I think just had devastating consequences in terms of the ability of the Iraqi people to recover from his rule.  It’s taken a very long time for them to come back, to take control of their own affairs. 

I think the hundreds of thousands of people, literally, that were slaughtered during that period of time, including anybody who had the gumption to stand up and challenge him, made the situation tougher than I would have thought. 

I would chalk that up as a miscalculation, where I thought things would have recovered more quickly. 

IMUS:  Do you and the president feel like you got your chain jerked on the weapons of mass destruction?  I mean, everybody thought they were there. 

R. CHENEY:  Well, I think—I’m not quite as sharp in my judgment as others.  Clearly, he had no stockpiles, and we were told he did have stockpiles, obviously by our intelligence.  But he had a lot of other things.  He had the technology, he had the people who’d done it before.  If you read the Duelfer report in detail, he kept open labs and the intelligence service that were still doing ongoing research and so forth.  And he clearly had the intentions, once sanctions were lifted, that he would go back—be back in business again.  So I think all of that has to be calculated and what we had to look at as well too. 

The other thing I’d say is, it’s intelligence.  It’s intelligence that you’re collecting against a regime that’s doing everything they can to deny you information, and we had prior track record. 

One of the things that I’ve always remembered was that, in the run-up to the ‘91 Gulf War, I was briefed, when I was secretary of defense, on the status of his nuclear program then.  And we believed he had a nuclear program, but the estimate was that he was several years away from producing a weapon.  We found out after we got into Iraq, in fact, that he probably was less than a year away from having a nuclear weapon.  In other words, that time around, the intelligence community had underestimated how robust his nuclear program was. 

And you’re never going to have perfection, you can’t have absolute certainty.  If it was easy to do we could have a computer to make those decisions.  The president has to make those decisions on the best information he has, and I think that’s what we did. 

IMUS:  I’m not trying to be self-effacing, but we really aren’t as sophisticated as, say, Brit Hume or Tim Russert or any of these people, but the original mission in Iraq seemed to be to prevent them from blowing up Cleveland.  And then it became—and correct me if I’m wrong—and then it became to create this democracy there.  So when did that—is that right— and how did that change? 

R. CHENEY:  Well, I can understand why some people have the view that it was all about WMD.  That was part of the case because of his obvious track record. 

The second key ingredient was the fact that he did have an association with terror. 

IMUS:  And you guys said it was about that, too. 

R. CHENEY:  Right.  He was paying suicide bombers to kill Israelis, he’d hosted Abu Nidal for years in Baghdad.  He’d supported the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.  And there was also evidence that he also had a relationship with Al Qaeda.  There was debate with respect to how deep the relationship was, but George Tenet was on the Hill testifying that that relationship with Al Qaeda went back 10 years, to the early ‘90s, and there’s evidence to support that. 

So there was this combination of a link to terror, as well as the track record with respect to weapons of mass destruction, as well as having started two wars, as well as having slaughtered hundreds of thousands of people.  And we had every reason to believe that if he were left to his own devices, that he would, in fact, again become a significant threat, not only to the region, but to others, including the United States.

And that was our assessment of the situation at the time, and I think it was valid. 

Now, what happened the reason the WMD, I think, got so much notice was because it was a quantifiable, measurable kind of thing and when we got into the United Nations, it became the focal point of the debate.  The resolutions that were offered, 1441, for example, that was approved in the fall of 2002, focused specifically on his failure to come clean on his weapons of mass destruction, which he’d been required to do by the resolution that he’d signed back in ‘91.

And that was an argument that you could have and you could get people on board and say, “Yes, that’s right; he’s never come clean.” But there were a lot of other arguments and reasons too.

R. CHENEY:  Once you decided to go into Iraq and take down the government, you then had an obligation to stand up something in its place.  You couldn’t just take it down or walk away or you’d have a failed state like we had in Afghanistan previously.  And so then it becomes very important, what are you going to do?  Well, obviously, going to stand up a representative government, a democratically elected government that is capable of governing Iraq, that is capable of providing for the security for the Iraqi people, that isn’t a threat to its neighbors, and that never again becomes a safe haven for terror, or a locale where you’ve got a rogue government developing the world’s deadliest weapons. 

And so all of those factors affected both our decisions in terms of what we decided to do, but also, obviously, shaped our policies ever since.  Our goal now is to get the Iraqis in the business of governance, and we’ll do that with an election here in about 10 days, and then also get them in the business where they can defend themselves.  We’ve done that, our mission is complete, and we can bring our boys home. 

IMUS:  Mrs. Cheney, during the vice presidential debate when your husband debated Senator neck brace—Edwards, you know, I try to focus on what the context of what they were saying, but at one point when your husband was sitting there rubbing his hands, I actually feared for the safety of Senator Edwards.  And then your husband has—I’m being respectful, but your husband has this—I don’t know if you’ve ever noticed, but he has, kind of, this Elvis thing he does with his lip. 

  I really hadn’t noticed.  Could you show me? 

IMUS:  Well, no, I can’t do it.  And then Senator Edwards has that thing on his lip, and so—and I couldn’t focus on what they were—you know, so...

L. CHENEY:  We were sitting in the front row and thought it was a terrific debate.  And some of the after-action commentary was, you know, really, I thought funny, and incisive and to the point.  My—who’s the fellow that works for The Boston Globe?  Mike Barnicle, said something like, “You know, when this debate was over, the vice president had done every thing but say, ‘Now give me the car keys and go home,’ you know”?  I’m sure I’m giving you a little bit of a biased point of view here, but...

IMUS:  No, that’s exactly what happened there so.      Mr. Vice President, when Senator Edwards brought up your daughter, you were pretty gracious in your response, but, boy, seemed to me anyway like you were seething.  Were you? 

R. CHENEY:  Yes. 

IMUS:  How did you feel?  I guess the same, right? 

L. CHENEY:  Yes. 

IMUS:  Has there ever been a time—I actually expected you to say, "No, it was fine." That was a pretty good answer, wasn’t it?  Was there ever a time you wanted to be president? 

R. CHENEY:  There was a time when I thought about it, and back after I finished my tour as secretary of defense in 1993, I gave serious thought on the 1994 election cycle to running in ‘96 for president myself, set up a political action committee, went out and did about 160 campaigns around the country in that 1994 cycle, did all those things you would do to, sort of, test the waters and see if there was any support out there, and then sat down over the holidays, this would have been the Christmas of ‘94, with the family, and made the basic decision that I really wasn’t prepared to do all those things I’d have to do to go out and mount a successful campaign for president, that I’d had a great 25 years in public life, and that it was time to move on and do other things.  I was still young enough to have another career, so I went off to private life. 

So I addressed it and thought about it long and hard, but, say, then made that decision, and my thinking about this never changed.  I really went off to Texas, enjoyed life down there, and then the president, then governor asked me to get involved, and first asked me to help with the campaign, and I couldn’t do that, because I was working full time, and then he asked me the possibility of running as his running mate, and I begged off the first time, and then he put me in charge of the search, and, well, we all know how that turned out. 

IMUS:  Did you really make any kind of real effort to find somebody else, or...

R. CHENEY:  Well, I can understand why you might ask that question.  No, I did. 

IMUS:  I mean, I know you asked me and Howard Stern, but other than that I don’t know who else you asked.

R. CHENEY: I didn’t think of Howard Stern.  But I—no, we really did a thorough search, and what I found is I worked with him side by side as he talked to me about the presidency and what he wanted to do with it, and as he talked a bout the vice presidency and what kind of individual he was looking for.  I became tremendously impressed with the amount of thought that had gone into it, and this went—took a couple of months. 

Finally we got down to Fourth of July weekend, and I went down to the ranch in Crawford, and we went over the last review of candidates, and we got all through, he looked at me, he said, “You know, you’re the solution to my problem.”  And I agreed that I would go take a look at what I would have to do in order to become a viable candidate.  I had to change my residency.  I had major business commitments and obligations that I had to get out of and so forth, and did all those things, and said that, “Look, I want to come down and tell you all the reasons why I’m not the guy.” 

And so we scheduled a session in Austin where I went down and spent the better part of the day at the governor’s mansion down there with the governor and a couple of his key people, and I went through all the reasons why he shouldn’t pick me—“I’m from Wyoming, and you’re going to carry Wyoming regardless.  It’s only three electoral votes.  I’m in the oil business.  That’s a liability in some quarters. I’ve got health problems.  I’ve had three heart attacks.”  You know, I went through the whole long list. 

And I got all through, and two days later, he called me and said, “I want you to be my running mate.”  So at that point, I signed on, and I haven’t regretted it for a minute.  It’s been the experience of a lifetime. 

IMUS:  Do you want to be president now? 

R. CHENEY:  No. 

IMUS:  Are you the president now? 

R. CHENEY:  No.  But that was a nice try. 

IMUS:  You know, for years I’ve been carrying around these silver briefcases that are—what are they made of, Charles? 

MCCORD:  Aluminum. 

IMUS:  Aluminum.  But it says Halliburton on them.  Is that the same one? 

R. CHENEY:  It’s the same name, but no relation to the company. 

IMUS:  Oh, OK.  Because I thought maybe I could score some points there, because I really love those cases. 

R. CHENEY:  No, they’re great cases, and I’m sure they’re very profitable, but we weren’t making them. 

IMUS:  Back to not Iraq, but Seymour Hersh, in the current issue of The New Yorker, suggesting that you all are up to something in Iran, and I guess my question is—I don’t understand that much about it, but my question is, are we trying to determine what they have? And if we find out that they have a nuclear program, then what? 

R. CHENEY:  Well, we are, I’d say, very concerned about Iran, because for two reasons, again, one, they do have a program.  We believe they have a fairly robust new nuclear program.  That’s been developed by, or being pursued I guess would be the best way to put it, by members of the E.U.—the Brits, the Germans and the French—have been negotiating with the Iranians to get them to allow greater transparency in their program so the outside world can be confident they’re not building weapons, that it’s for peaceful purposes. 

The other problem we have, of course, is that Iran is a noted sponsor of terror.  They’ve been the prime backers of the Hezbollah over the years, and they have, in fact, been—used terror in various incendiary ways to kill Americans and a lot of other folks around the globe, too, and that combination is of great concern. 

We’ll continue to try to address those issues diplomatically, continue to work with the Europeans.  At some point, if the Iranians don’t live up to their commitments, the next step will be to take it to the U.N. Security Council, and seek the imposition of international sanctions to force them to live up to the commitments and obligations they’ve signed up to under the non-proliferation treaty, and it’s—but it is a—you know, you look around the world at potential trouble spots, Iran is right at the top of the list. 

IMUS:  Would that mean us again? 

R. CHENEY:  I think it means a serious effort to use the...

IMUS:  Why don’t we make Israel do it? 

R. CHENEY:  Well, one of the concerns people have is that Israel might do it without being asked, that if, in fact, the Israelis became convinced the Iranians had significant nuclear capability, given the fact that Iran has a stated policy that their objective is the destruction of Israel, the Israelis might well decide to act first, and let the rest of the world worry about cleaning up the diplomatic mess afterwards. 

We don’t want a war in the Middle East, if we can avoid it.  And certainly in the case of the Iranian situation, I think everybody would be best suited by or best treated and dealt with if we could deal with it diplomatically. 

IMUS:  We already have a war in the Middle East, don’t we? 

R. CHENEY:  Well, we do in Iraq certainly. 

IMUS:  Yes.

Mrs. Cheney, Senator McCain called me last summer sometime, and he said, “You ought to go over to Walter Reed and see these kids over there.”  I’m ashamed to admit this, but I never even thought about it. And so we went, and I was mortified, you know, not at what I saw of these kids, because they’re just—not patronizing to me, but, man, they were just so—as you all know, they were just so courageous, it’s ridiculous. 

But I was really shocked at the facilities there, particularly the gym that they had and so on.  I know they’re mad at me, some of the officers over there, but I mean, they claim they had another gym they didn’t show me, but, well, they should have shown me.  But then Richard Santulli from NetJets, who you all may know, and John Sykes, from MTV called (ph) about these soldiers’ death benefits and so on, which I though was also shocking.

And so my question is—and I understand the celebration going on here in Washington.  I’m not completely stupid, but should we be spending $50 million on—well, wherever the money comes from, for any of—for these balls when these kids are over there at Walter Reed and they have to pay for their own phone calls home? 

L. CHENEY:  Well, I want to congratulate you first of all on your contribution to making sure that there were phone cards over there. There is a program—Dick knows more about it than I—that allows the people who are at Walter Reed to make phone calls without paying for them themselves, but I’d encourage everybody to, you know, to donate to the various causes surrounding Walter Reed.  Dick and I have supported Fisher House, for example. 

These are  -- it’s kind of a Ronald McDonald House, you know, where the families can stay. 

IMUS:  That’s a great program.

L. CHENEY:  Yes, it is a great program, and, you know, it’s a 501C3 -- you can make tax-free contributions to it.  So, you know, that’s another good cause. The Marines have a Semper Fi Fund I know about that we’ve contributed to, that’s also something I encourage people to take a look at.

But you know, I’m just inspired by these people.  They’ve been through devastating times.  I had a number over to the vice president’s house, after they regain a certain mobility, they go on little trips through Washington.  It’s good for your spirit to get out of the hospital.  And, you know, I was just fine with the whole experience, inspired by it, when you see people who have been through such a devastating time, but you know, I didn’t get emotional about it until I shook hands with one young man, and about the first thing he said was, you know, “I can hardly wait to get well because I want to get back to Iraq; I want to complete the mission.”

I mean, this is a—when we commemorate the inauguration of our president today, you know, we are really commemorating this republic. We’re really commemorating this democracy, and the people who fight so that we can continue to be free. 

IMUS:  I know you both have to go.  My final question would be, I know voted for the other guy, you know, but that could all change if we could—and I’m willing to do this for full transparency, if we could make some sort of Armstrong Williams deal. 

(LAUGHTER)

L. CHENEY:  Oh, well, we’ve got one.

R. CHENEY:  We do.  We brought the bribe before you. 

(LAUGHTER)

L. CHENEY: We’ve got it right here.     

IMUS:  Oh, you do?

L. CHENEY:  Yes, we didn’t come empty handed. 

R. CHENEY:  This is very (INAUDIBLE) gifts, some pork chops for Pork Chop Boy. 

(APPLAUSE)

IMUS:  The vice president of the United States and Mrs. Cheney, thank you both very much. 

R. CHENEY:  No, there’s one more. 

IMUS:  Oh, one more?

L. CHENEY:  We brought tofu, because we know Jerger (ph) doesn’t let you eat pork chops. 

(LAUGHTER)

IMUS:  Thank you both very much. 

R. CHENEY:  Thank you, sir.  We enjoy the show. 

IMUS:  Good luck, and congratulations. 

(APPLAUSE)

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