In July 2000, after serving as the head of then-Texas Governor George W. Bush’s vice presidential search committee, Dick Cheney was announced as the Republican vice presidential nominee. As the vice presidential vetter, Cheney required at least 11 potential candidates to fill out “an extraordinarily detailed, 83-question form” delving into their backgrounds.
Bush’s staff assured the press at the time that Cheney “subjected himself to the same kind of scrutiny” as the other contenders. But a new book by Washington Post reporter Barton Gellman reveals that Cheney “never filled out his own questionnaire.” Gellman explained what happened on Tuesday in an interview with NPR’s Terry Gross:
GELLMAN: Well, secrecy and discretion have always been very big for Dick Cheney and because he was not formally a candidate and in fact kept denying interest, kept denying that he was a candidate, he never filled out the vetting form. At the time, when Cheney’s selection was announced, the campaign’s spokespeople claimed he did put himself through the same process as everyone else and I’ve established that that’s simply not true. He didn’t fill out the questionnaire, which would have called for a giant box load of documents to be delivered.
In 2000, the Bush campaign claimed that it was “Bush himself who did the final, most sensitive background check” on Cheney while then-campaign manager Joe Allbaugh “oversaw the examination of Mr. Cheney’s voting record and public history.” But Cheney refused to turn over much of the pertinent information. Gellman writes in his book:
The story left untold was that no one had access to Cheney’s tax or corporate records, and no one but his own doctor read a word of his medical files. Cheney, who had employed a man named James Steen for many years as his personal archivist, did not submit even his public speeches, interviews, testimony, and voting record to Allbaugh, who ostensibly was combing them for red flags. [Angler, p. 23]
In an interview with Harper’s, Gellman describes Cheney’s selection process as “a kind of prologue to the play of the Bush-Cheney years.” “Cheney worked in strict secrecy and sidestepped the scrutiny he imposed on others,” said Gellman.
Speaking to Gross, Gellman noted that neither Bush nor Cheney interviewed any VP candidates “before Bush chose Cheney. And then they scheduled interviews afterward in order to conceal that.” Gellman told Harper’s that this foretold Bush and Cheney’s “willingness to use deception to manage the news.”
Visit Gellman’s site here.
GROSS: Bart Gellman, welcome back to Fresh Air. Let’s start with how Dick Cheney became Vice President. You write about how he was head of the selection committee, we knew that, but you also say, he selected himself before approaching other candidates and vetting them. So, in other words, he put the other people through this complicated vetting process, knowing that he’d already selected himself as vice president.
GELLMAN: Well, they’re have been a lot of jokes over the years about Cheney selecting himself. I wouldn’t say exactly that. Bush selected him, but Cheney did maneuver the process and what’s especially interesting to me is that he collected this extraordinarily intrusive vetting material on many candidates and he told several of them, “we’ll be back to you later in the week or later in the month. We’ll talk.” And they didn’t. There were no interviews with Bush, there were no interviews with Cheney before Bush chose Cheney. And then they scheduled interviews afterward in order to conceal that.
GROSS: So, what did he do, what did Dick Cheney do with all of this very sensitive personal material that he collected from the people that he was vetting for vice president?
GELLMAN: Well, he did what he was supposed to do. It’s an intrusive process. You don’t want a vice presidential nominee who has hidden defects, secret surprises or even is blackmail-able. And so every campaign vets them carefully. There are accusations and a storyline in the book, in chapter one, that he misused the material as well.
GELLMAN: One of the candidates, and he was often referred to as on the short list — and in fact Dick Cheney told him he was on the short list — was the governor of Oklahoma, Frank Keating. Keating obviously didn’t get the nod, but when Bush won election and started to form a cabinet, he was considered the front runner to become attorney general. He was a former number 3 in Justice, he was a former FBI agent, assistant U.S. attorney and so on. But Cheney didn’t want him and there was a lot of pressure from conservatives at the Federalist Society and else where to choose Keating. Next thing that happened was that portions of Keating’s vetting file made their way to Newsweek and Keating, in a lengthy interview for the book, blames Cheney for that and explains why he thinks only Cheney could have done it.
GROSS: And at the same time, you say that Cheney didn’t put himself through nearly as rigorous a vetting process as he put everybody else and that some information was withhold like that Halliburton didn’t give up information about Cheney.
GELLMAN: Well, secrecy and discretion have always been very big for Dick Cheney and because he was not formally a candidate and in fact kept denying interest, kept denying that he was a candidate, he never filled out the vetting form. At the time, when Cheney’s selection was announced, the campaign’s spokespeople claimed he did put himself through the same process as everyone else and I’ve established that that’s simply not true. He didn’t fill out the questionnaire, which would have called for a giant box load of documents to be delivered. And when the campaign announced him and began to face the predictable political attacks, Dan Bartlett tells me that they were just caught flat-footed, they had no idea how to answer because they didn’t know Cheney’s detailed record. The other interesting thing about Cheney’s candidacy here is that everyone else had to answer very detailed medical questions and in fact to give a waiver to Cheney allowing him direct access to their medical records. But for the screening of Cheney’s heart condition the campaign relied on assurances from his own doctor and when they sought a second opinion and they announced that Cheney had been cleared for office by a famous heart surgeon in Houston. Well, I found out from the surgeon that he’s never actually met Cheney or reviewed his medical records. He like everybody else relied upon the assurances of Cheney’s own doctor.