White House spokesperson Dana Perino struggled again today to explain why Vice President Cheney was exempted from a presidential order meant to safeguard classified national security information.
Perino stuck by her argument from Friday that President Bush never intended for the executive order to apply to Cheney any differently than it applies to the president’s own office. Asked why Bush was exempted, Perino claimed it would be “awkward” for the president to ask an executive branch agency “to come in and investigate himself.”
On Friday, Perino refused to say whether Cheney is a member of the executive branch. Today, she returned with an answer: like “every vice president,” Cheney has “legislative and executive functions.” Does that mean he is a member of the executive branch? “Look, I’m not a legal scholar,” Perino said, again calling it an “interesting constitutional question.” Watch it:
Perino claimed ignorance about other key questions in this scandal. She said she didn’t know when President Bush had altered the executive order to exempt Cheney, or why the order was amended in 2003.
Also, Perino rejected a call today from Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales recuse himself from the Justice Department’s internal debates over whether Cheney is violating the executive order. “No, I don’t think that’s necessary,” said Perino.
QUESTION: But, Dana, how could the vice president earlier in the administration argue he didn’t have to turn over records about the energy task force, for example, because he was a member of the executive branch?
PERINO: Ask the Supreme Court.
QUESTION: He clearly stated that.
PERINO: You could ask the Supreme Court, who ruled in his favor.
QUESTION: But he did not say, I’m a member of the legislative branch as well, so I don’t have to — I mean, he clearly stated that there was strong executive power and he didn’t have to turn over these records.
Now, when it suits his interests, he seems to be saying a different legal argument.
PERINO: Look, I’m not a legal scholar. And there’s plenty of them that you can find in Washington, D.C.
But just that very point that you’re making there shows that he has functions in both the executive branch and the legislative branch.
QUESTION: But he didn’t mention those dual functions in the earlier legal arguments at the beginning of the administration. He only used the executive branch argument.
PERINO: Look, you can try to call his office and try to get more information. I’m not opining on his argument that his office is making.
What I can tell you is that the president did not intend for him to be treated separately from himself in this executive order regarding the ISOO office.
QUESTION: So, also though, you mentioned a moment ago that the vice president gets his paycheck from the Senate.
Does the White House then also believe he should get funding for the Vice President’s Office from the legislative branch instead of from the executive branch?
PERINO: I don’t know. These are not decisions…
QUESTION: But you just noted that. You just noted that he gets his paycheck…
PERINO: The reason I noted that is because I’m trying to illustrate the point that he has roles in both the legislature and in the executive branch.
QUESTION: But the National Archives documents they want have to do with his executive branch functions. I mean, the secret documents, one assumes, are from his duties as vice president.
PERINO: If you — in the executive order, the president and the vice president are discharged separately from agencies, in which — it would be awkward if the president, who was the supervisor of this office, was asking that office to come in and investigate himself.
And in this executive order, the president is saying that the vice president is not different than him.
QUESTION: And when did he decide that, just in 2003?
I mean, he…
PERINO: In terms of the executive order? I need to go back…
QUESTION: He did it for a couple of years before that. He just was doing that out of the good of his heart, or…
PERINO: I think so.
(inaudible) also has a 30-year history, which is part of why the National Archives oversight office is concerned because other presidents had provided — other White Houses had provided this information. And so it really is a break with a pattern.
Why is that necessary?
PERINO: I don’t know why the E.O. was amended in 2003. And I can try to go back and find out.
What I do know is that when the president wrote this E.O., it’s clear in the reading of it that he does not intend for the vice president to be seen as separate from himself. And they are not asking someone who is subordinate to them to come in and investigate them. And I think that the ISOO office has had only a complaint about the Vice President’s Office, not about other places within the executive branch.
And so that can be resolved either by the Justice Department or, as I am telling you as the president’s spokesman, he did not intend for the vice president to be seen as separate from himself.
QUESTION: Was the president satisfied that Alberto Gonzales has not responded yet after five, six months of a request by this office to have this issue mediated?
PERINO: I think — I have not asked the president if he’s concerned about that. And I would ask you to call over to Justice Department to find out about their…
QUESTION: Should Alberto Gonzales recuse himself because he was White House counsel?
PERINO: No, I don’t think that’s necessary.
QUESTION: I mean, if the argument was so clear that you’re making about he wasn’t part of the agencies, then why didn’t he make that argument coming back? That’s not the argument he made.
PERINO: I don’t know why he made the arguments that he did.
PERINO: It might not have been clear to them. And I don’t know all the discussions that they had back and forth between the Vice President’s Office and ISOO.
What I’m telling you is that the — in the reading of the E.O. and in asking about the interpretation of it, that’s the answer I’ve got.