Vice President Dick Cheney on Tuesday vigorously defended the Bush administration’s use of secret domestic spying and the expansion of presidential powers, saying “it’s not an accident that we haven’t been hit in four years.”
Talking to reporters aboard his government plane as he flew from Islamabad, Pakistan to Muscat, Oman on an overseas mission, Cheney said he believes the power of the presidency has indeed contracted since the Vietnam and Watergate era.
He said he believes the American people support President Bush’s terror-fighting strategy. “If there’s a backlash pending,” because of reports of National Security Agency surveillance of calls originating within the United States, he said, “I think the backlash is going to be against those who are suggesting somehow that we shouldn’t take these steps to defend the country.”
Cheney talked about terrorism and national security amid a burgeoning controversy at home over President Bush’s acknowledgment of a four-year-old administration program to eavesdrop — without court-approved warrants — on international calls and e-mails of Americans and others inside the United States with suspected ties to the terrorist network al-Qaida.
Some legal experts described the program as groundbreaking. And until the highly classified program was disclosed last week, those in Congress with concerns about the National Security Agency spying on Americans raised them only privately.
Said Cheney: “I believe in a strong, robust executive authority and I think that the world we live in demands it. And to some extent, that we have an obligation as the administration to pass on the offices we hold to our successors in as good of shape as we found them.”
Lawmakers from both parties have objected to the revelation and are discussing a congressional investigation. Cheney said the opposition is politically unwise.
Cheney spoke from his private cabin at the end of a trip aimed at boosting support for the war on terror.
Cheney decided to cut short a tour of the Middle East and Asia to return to the United States to take part in critical session-ending business in the Senate.
The vice president also told reporters that in his view, presidential authority has been eroded since the 1970s through laws such as the War Powers Act and anti-impoundment laws.
“Watergate and a lot of the things around Watergate and Vietnam both during the ’70s served, I think, to erode the authority I think the president needs to be effective, especially in the national security area,” Cheney said. But he also said the administration has been able to restore some of “the legitimate authority of the presidency.”
Cheney said the White House helped protect presidential power by fighting to keep secret the list of people who were a part of his 2001 energy task force. The task force’s activities attracted complaints from environmentalists, who said they were shut out of discussions on developing a national energy policy while corporate interests were present. A protracted lawsuit ensued.
“I believe that the president is entitled and needs to have unfiltered advice in formulating policy,” Cheney said. “He ought to be able to seek the opinion of anybody he wants to and that he should not have to reveal, for example, who he talked to that morning. That issue was litigated all the way up to the Supreme Court and we won.”