Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Cheney Really Was The President In All But Name


I've come late to Barton Gellman's 2008 thriller, Angler-- the Cheney Vice Presidency. The Washington Post staff writer won a Pulitzer for covering Cheney for the paper in 2007 and Angler expands on that work. The book is beyond gripping... also beyond horrifying when you consider what this inherently evil and seditious man was able to achieve against American democracy with a team of right-wing fanatics. Even before the startlingly partisan Supreme Court stopped the vote count in Florida and awarded Bush-Cheney the White House, Cheney had sewn up control for himself using the old Reagan-era adage "personnel is policy." In Gellman's words, "In those crucial six weeks before the Supreme Court called the election on December 12, he was by any measure the dominant force in creating the Bush administration to be... Cheney's commanding role on major appointments was without precedent."

It was understood from day one that Cheney wasn't going to be the vice president who went to funerals and political fund-raisers. He arrived determined to exercise complete control over, in Mary Matalin's words, "a preordained policy portfolio" that spanned "the economic issues, the security issues and the energy issues." Bush could be president of whatever was left. Example: on 9/11, while Bush was in a Florida classroom reading My Pet Goat to elementary school kids, Cheney blatantly lied that he had been given the authority to order the Air Force to shoot down hijacked planes. When questioned by Rumsfeld why pilots were ordered to shoot down American civilian aircraft, Cheney admitted going around him and boasted "It's my understanding they've already taken a couple of aircraft out." So how did this supremely evil man get control of America? Looking into that is how Gellman begins Angler.

The story of former Oklahoma Governor Frank Keating, a crony of Bush's who he thought would make a good vice president, is especially compelling. "Dick Cheney coming into my life," says Keating now, "has been like a black cloud." And Keating is hardly the only prominent Republican who feels that way. Right after Bush clinched the nomination, Keating felt he had a good shot at a major cabinet position or even the VP slot.
He was fifty-six years old, telegenic and tough and going places. Bush admired the way Keating handled himself in 1995, when homegrown terrorists in a Ryder van blew up the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building across town. The two men had a friendly football rivalry, liked to bet on Sooners- Longhorns games, and watched each other’s back in national politics. Bush supported Keating to chair the Republican governors; Keating endorsed Bush for president early on. More than endorsed him-- Keating vouched for Bush with right-to-lifers, who needed the reassurance, and he delivered his Oklahoma political machine. All that and the right kind of résumé-- special agent in the FBI, U.S. attorney, senior posts in Washington at Treasury, Justice, and Housing. True, Keating did not offer a whole lot of balance to the ticket. He was an oil-state fiscal conservative, hawkish on the death penalty and union-busting “right-to-work” laws. Too much like Bush, most probably. Still, a person might wonder.

... People would talk about all kinds of names, Cheney said matter-of-factly, but most of them would be decoys. Three, maybe four, were genuine. Keating’s was one of those, Cheney said. The next day a thick envelope arrived. Inside was the most demanding questionnaire the Oklahoma governor had ever seen.

Keating knew Cheney, trusted him. He had helped recruit Cheney five years before to chair the memorial committee for Oklahoma City bombing victims. Later, Cheney headlined a fund-raiser for Keating’s reelection campaign. “My relationship with Cheney was a good one, a correct one, and one that I thought was aboveboard and transparent,” Keating recalled. “It turned into a very unpleasant association.”

What happened after that was prologue to the play of Cheney’s two terms as vice president. Amid stealth and misdirection, with visible formalities obscuring the action offstage, Cheney served as producer for Bush’s first presidential decision. Somewhere along the way he stepped aside as head of casting, taking the part of Bush’s running mate before anyone really auditioned. And he dodged most of the paperwork, bypassing the extraordinary scrutiny he devised for other candidates.

Keating filled out the questionnaire, handed over volumes of his most confidential files. In time he would have cause to regret that.
Lamar Alexander, Bill Frist,Tom Ridge, John Engler, John Kasich, Chuck Hagel, John Danforth and Jon Kyl were the rest of the Cheney short list. Each one was asked to submit to a thorough investigation into his life. None of them was ever seriously interviewed and none was ever a serious contender for VP. All there props in a little game that brought America into the clutches of Dick Cheney.
Not even Bush’s closest aides were allowed inside the machine that Cheney built to sift the vice-presidential contenders. Not Dan Bartlett, not Karen Hughes, not Karl Rove, and not Joe Allbaugh, Bush’s former chief of staff and campaign manager. Sometimes Bush would tell his people about a candidate or a piece of advice he heard, like the letter from Dan Quayle on behalf of Lamar Alexander. (Quayle pitched Alexander as the kind of right-to-lifer who doesn’t scare off swing voters. Rove cared a lot more about the base than the swing, but he phoned Quayle to let him know that Bush had shared his note.) There were plenty of things Bush could not have told his retinue, though, because he did not know all the fine points himself. He was a big-picture man, comfortable with broad objectives, broadly declared. He had given Cheney marching orders, described the qualities he wanted in his Number Two. He left most of the legwork to the older man, taking briefings when his vetter had something new to say. Cheney lived in a different world. He had spent his professional life in places where ends and means collide, where the choices are often zero-sum and outcomes ride on the details.

Only three people were privy to the dossiers that Cheney assembled. One was his older daughter, Liz Cheney, thirty-three, a politically active lawyer who had left the State Department for private practice. Another was David J. Gribbin III, a loyal retainer since high school who had followed Cheney to Congress, the Pentagon, and Halliburton. The third was David Addington, the gifted and ferocious attorney who had been Cheney’s intellectual alter ego since the Iran-Contra hearings of 1987.

Addington and Liz Cheney wrote an exhaustive questionnaire, the language honed to pierce attempts at evasion. In precise legal prose, it asked about things a person might not tell his best friend—addictions, infidelities, crimes proved and unproved, plagiarism, bad debt, mental illness, embarrassing failures to pass a licensing test. Even by the bare-it-all standards of American politics after Watergate, the questions from the Cheney team were strikingly intrusive. For a Top Secret clearance in the U.S. government, which entrusts the holder with information that could do “exceptionally grave damage to the national security,” an applicant must answer thirty questions, generally limited to events of the past seven years. The Cheney form had close to two hundred questions under seventy-nine headings, requiring answers that covered the whole span of adulthood. “By definition, this is a process that looks very deeply into the lives of public figures,” Gribbin recalled. “It’s an extraordinarily sensitive process.”

Some of Cheney’s inquiries were more or less standard in the vetting of potential running mates. Presidential campaigns had accumulated lengthy checklists over the years, adding fresh queries in each election to guard against the scandals of the last. Mental health became fair game when a history of electric shock therapy drove Thomas Eagleton off the Democratic ticket in 1972. Spouses came in for scrutiny after Geraldine Ferraro, Walter Mondale’s 1984 running mate, was dogged by questions about her husband’s tax returns. Two years later, William Rehnquist made a contribution to the checklist when his confirmation as chief justice of the United States was imperiled by news that he once owned property under a deed forbidding sale to Jews. Clarence Thomas’s confirmation hearing in 1991 revealed the political risk of a sexual harassment charge. Beginning in 1993, when Zoe Baird was forced to withdraw as nominee for attorney general, candidates for high office had to answer for the green cards and tax returns of their domestic employees. Other political scandals, great and small, lent precedent to Cheney’s questions about defaults on child support or student loans, controversial business clients, and links to foreign governments or donors.

Even so, the structure of Cheney’s questionnaire bespoke unusual distrust of those who filled it out, with a corresponding demand for access to primary evidence. Cheney and his team were not prepared to accept a doctor’s summary of the candidate’s present health and medical history, which traditionally focused on fitness for the rigors of office. They asked for copies of all medical records, complete with clinical notes and laboratory results. Unlike investigators for U.S. security clearances, who tell applicants they may withhold information about “marital, family, or grief counseling, not related to violence by you,” the Cheney team also sought details of any visit, for any reason, to a “psychiatrist, psychologist, therapist or counselor.”

Another distinguishing feature of Cheney’s review was its expansion of the usual scope of inquiry. Cheney asked about the military service records, the criminal histories, and other intimate details of parents, children, siblings, spouses, and in-laws as well as the vice presidential contenders themselves. He asked about not only professional sanctions and allegations of malpractice but also “misconduct in school”; not only whether the candidate had been charged with a crime but also whether he had been identified as a suspect or witness; not only about recorded civil judgments and admissions of wrongdoing but also about no- fault settlements and cases sealed by a court.

A catchall question near the end asked each contender to specify in writing-- it was just as bald as this-- any event or proclivity that might leave him “vulnerable to blackmail or coercion.”

To guard against omissions, Cheney ensured he had a free hand to tap directly into sources of information that are ordinarily guarded by privacy law. The vetting forms required each candidate to sign a notarized authorization for “Richard B. Cheney or... any person designated by him” to obtain from hospitals, doctors, and insurance companies “without limitation, any medical records” covering “any time period.” Candidates were obliged to sign a similar form permitting the Internal Revenue Service to release their tax returns and schedules, and another for credit reports. They were further asked to request, on Cheney’s behalf, the contents of their FBI files. One of the forms conferred on Cheney and his team, along with anyone who answered their questions, a blanket waiver of “any liability with regard to seeking, furnishing or use of” the confidential information. No expiration date was specified. Cheney hired lawyers at Latham & Watkins to sift the thousands of pages thus produced on each of the candidates. The supervising partner was Philip J. Perry, Liz Cheney’s husband.

On June 8, after two weeks of labor, Keating delivered an eight- inch stack of documents, spilling out of triple- hinged binders that proved unequal to the mass.

“Dear Dick,” he wrote. “I enclose responses to the questionnaire, with supporting material. The Freedom of Information request to the FBI has been transmitted and I will forward the resulting material as soon as I receive it.”

Arrayed for Cheney’s inspection were photographs, Social Security numbers, education and employment histories of his wife, Catherine; his daughter, Carrie, then twenty- six; and sons Kelly and Chip, respectively twenty- four and twenty years old. Keating listed each address since 1962 and each job since 1969. As requested, he attached copies of every speech and every article he had written; interviews and transcripts of testimony; every published story in his files about the ups and downs and controversies of his career. He enumerated assets of $2,587,208.41, breaking down twenty- seven investments to the penny. (Most were mutual funds from Fidelity, Templeton, Janus, Vanguard, and T. Rowe Price.)

Keating’s medical summary described a man of normal weight and robust health, based on annual physicals and his doctor’s assessment of diagnostic tests. He took no prescription drug but Lipitor, which controlled a tendency to high cholesterol. He worked fifteen hour days without ill effect. An ordinary candidate screening would have stopped about there. Keating’s submission, as specified by Cheney, attached scores of pages more-- examination records, electrocardiograms, a scheduled sigmoidoscopy, laboratory results. The files said Keating’s neck and shoulder made it hard to sleep comfortably sometimes; an orthopedist saw signs of wear and tear that might be early arthritis. He recommended ibuprofen and cleared Keating to resume a daily three- mile run. The governor confessed to his doctors that he drank too much coffee, eight to ten cups a day, and did not eat as well as he ought to on the road. He took Geritol. He had a forty-one-inch chest and thirty-four-inch waist. His blood pressure, at 150/90, would bear watching. There was a sick visit on October 26, 1998, when Keating complained of sore throat, fever, and fatigue. (He had been self-medicating, the doctor noted, with hot tea and honey.) An unfortunate meal of catfish in 1996 left him nauseated and weak. Another exam turned up a slight enlargement of Keating’s prostate, but the standard assay for cancer-related antigens found nothing untoward. Elsewhere the files recorded the usual indignities of the human animal under modern medicine, from the shape of Keating’s testicles to the sphincter tone observed in rectal exams. As a physical specimen, Keating stood altogether naked before Cheney’s team.

These were not the disclosures that Keating came to regret. Nor did he have trouble with the small points in his file that might open a national candidate to attack-- draft deferments during the Vietnam War and tempests over ill-chosen words that inspired opponents to dub him “Governor Pop-off.” Keating ascribed the latter to his “sense of humor-- a saving grace in life, if occasionally a liability in politics.”

What brought him low, in the bitter aftermath of his screening by Cheney, were the answers at tabs 69 and 73. The first asked about any potential question of ethics, regardless of merit. The second sought information on any other matter, whether part of the public record or not, that might embarrass the campaign.

Keating decided, in what he called “an abundance of caution,” to describe a history of gifts to his family from an eccentric New York philanthropist. Keating had met Jack Dreyfus, founder of the eponymous mutual funds, in late 1988. Keating was then the third-ranking Justice Department official in the waning days of the Reagan administration. Dreyfus had suffered depression as a young man and made a spectacular recovery after taking the prescription drug Dilantin, which is government approved primarily for seizure disorders. He became convinced that Dilantin was a miracle medicine, capable of curing ailments across a broad medical landscape, from car sickness to Tourette’s syndrome. Dreyfus had no known financial interest in Dilantin or the company that makes it, but he wrote two books and sank much of his fortune into a foundation to tell its story. When the two men met, Dreyfus bent Keating’s ear on a proposal to promote the rehabilitation of criminals by distributing Dilantin in federal prisons. Keating deflected Dreyfus to the U.S. Bureau of Prisons, which lacked enthusiasm. When Keating left government, he turned down an offer to join the Dreyfus foundation, but the two men became friends nonetheless. “Somebody who thinks celery is a miracle fruit, you know, a lot of people might say, ‘This guy’s strange,’” Keating said. “But Jack is a wonderful guy.”

By the spring of 1990, Keating was back in government as general counsel to Jack Kemp’s Department of Housing and Urban Development. One evening over dinner Dreyfus announced that he was a wealthy man, could do as he liked, and wanted to pay the college costs of Keating’s three children. A jaw-dropping temptation, no doubt. Keating, the G-man turned prosecutor, succumbed. After all, he reasoned, there was no question of personal corruption-- nothing Dreyfus wanted in return, and nothing Keating could do for the man, anyway, in the Housing Department. Those rationales would come to seem naive, even vaguely untoward, in a man who had built his career on uprightness. But he decided to treat the matter as a narrow question of law: Was he allowed to accept the money or not?

Government documents back Keating’s recollection that he asked for a ruling from the Housing Department’s ethics staff. The lawyers had no objection so long as Keating declared the gifts on standard annual disclosure forms and recused himself from any future government business affecting his friend. Gary Davis, general counsel of the Office of Government Ethics, seconded the departmental opinion, finding that the gifts were neither prohibited nor improper in appearance. It is undisputed that Keating reported them every year during his federal employment. Even so, Keating decided that Cheney ought to know.

“What did you do that for?” demanded Catherine Keating, his wife, when he told her what he had written in the Cheney questionnaire. A note of grievance came through seven years later, as Keating recounted the story by telephone. A woman’s voice, soft but insistent, became audible in the background. Keating laughed ruefully and said, “As a matter of fact my Cathy is standing here,” reminding him that she “and my chief of staff and everybody was saying, ‘Why would you put this down? Because it’s not what they’re after.’” The governor believed he was as square as they come, but asked himself, “You know, could an issue be raised? Possibly so.” And with the vice presidency at stake, he ought to be “purely Caesar’s wife.”

... For all the talk of desired qualities-- judgment, experience, gravitas-- the search for Bush’s running mate looked harder at vice than virtue. What unpleasant surprise awaited if this or that contender joined the ticket? Which predictable lines of attack? Where were the hidden defects, the offenses against valuable interest groups? Such are the preoccupations of any national campaign, protecting itself against risk. Cheney had been through the exercise before, when he helped Ford choose Robert Dole as Rockefeller’s replacement. Much later, he told his biographer that the 2000 screening bore out his “experience over the years... that you usually end up with the least worst option.” Dan Quayle, who once passed through the wringer himself and consulted with the Bush campaign from afar, compared the process to enactment of a law. “It’s a lot easier to kill legislation than pass legislation,” he said. “So it’s a lot easier to knock off V.P. candidates than to actually get one through the mill.”

It was Addington who oversaw the disassembly of candidates, cataloging their blemishes and mounting them for inspection. Admirers and critics alike called him a paperwork prodigy, slashing through great volumes of text and carving out points of interest with uncanny speed. Bearded and barrel- chested and standing more than six feet tall, Addington was prone to strong opinions and a pugilistic tone in advancing them. After compiling the records on Keating, Alexander, Frist, Hagel, and the rest, Addington prepared a comprehensive memo on each. “That’s the way presidential and vice presidential processes go,” Alexander said in a conversation in early 2008, as the Democratic and Republican fields were winnowed down to two contenders each. “We can see it going on right now. You take very good people and you begin to poke holes in them.”

Two things stood out in retrospect about Cheney’s selection for the 2000 ticket, neither understood at the time. The hardest one to explain was that Bush-- who put so much stock in his instinct for people, that knack for decoding a handshake or the quality of a gaze-- did not interview a single candidate before he settled on Cheney. Bush was acquainted with most of them, to one degree or another. But those interactions came “in a very different context,” as Keating put it, in his case “on issues of importance to governors.” Bush never sat the contenders down, never laid eyes on them as they answered points of doubt, never heard out their worldviews or their visions of a White House partnership. Bush and Cheney concealed that omission by maintaining a false suspense in the weeks before the Republican convention began in Philadelphia on July 31. Timing the news for best advantage is routine in any political campaign. In this case the tactic did not so much postpone the news as rewrite it, promoting a tale of scrutiny by Bush that included personal interviews with top contenders.

...Equally meaningful in light of events to come was Cheney’s deft avoidance of the scrutiny he had conducted on the other candidates. “He went down through everybody’s negatives,” Quayle recalled. “And everybody has negatives... And nobody really vetted him on what his negatives were.” Gribbin, for example, was a trusted friend who maintained his own records of work with Cheney across the years. When the author asked him whether anyone requested that he produce those files, or review them, he replied, “No. Heaven and good grief, no.” Gribbin, who had full access to the other dossiers, added, “I don’t have knowledge of who vetted the vetter. I don’t know who vetted Cheney or what process they used. It was not something I was involved in or that anybody ever told me. At some point there was a decision that all these names were going to be set aside, and they were going to select Cheney. It was a shock to me.”

Cheney did not fill out his own questionnaire, a fact obscured in the days after Bush’s announcement. “Secretary Cheney told me he subjected himself to the same kind of scrutiny” as everyone else, campaign spokeswoman Karen Hughes said in a briefing for reporters. Hughes said Allbaugh scrutinized the record of Cheney’s service in the executive and legislative branches, while Bush himself-- a man known even then for aversion to detail-- inspected Cheney’s financial and medical history. Gradually it emerged that all this took place in the space of just over a week. 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 a personal archivist, did not submit even his public speeches, interviews, testimony, and voting record to Allbaugh, who ostensibly was combing them for red flags.

Dan Bartlett, then and later a top communications strategist for Bush, said the campaign was “utterly unprepared” for Cheney and that weeks after the announcement he was still scrambling to uncover basic facts about Bush’s running mate. “We were caught flatfooted,” unable to respond to Democratic attacks on Cheney’s voting record against Head Start, school lunch programs, and the Martin Luther King Jr. national holiday.

... As it happened, Keating had scheduled his own news conference on the day Bush announced that Cheney would join the 2000 ticket. Keating went ahead with the unveiling of his Oklahoma Capitol Dome, a big and popular project. That evening, he accepted an invitation to sing Cheney’s praises on television. “There are really only two people in public life in America, at least on our team, that certainly are stratospheric characters, and that’s Colin Powell and Dick Cheney,” he said on CNN’s Crossfire program. “The rest of us are down with the cumulus clouds. And when Dick Cheney was selected by George, I was enthusiastic about it. This guy has a distinguished record in the Congress, in the administration, he led the country, he certainly led the Department of Defense, was Colin Powell’s boss in the Persian Gulf War, did a great job. A matter of pride for all of us as Americans. He’s been an extraordinarily successful business guy. I was thrilled. I wasn’t disappointed at all, because I never thought I would get it.”

There would be other fish to fry if Bush reached the White House. Bush liked familiar faces around him. Keating had served barbecue with the man at a high school on the Oklahoma- Texas border. By late November, Keating found himself in Palm Beach, counting chads with the other VIP volunteers as the Florida recount ground on. When the Supreme Court called the election for Bush, Keating was on everybody’s lips for a senior cabinet post. Newsweek said he “was on the supershort veep list and could be attorney general or FBI chief.”

Cheney, who was running the transition, had other plans. The law-- its interpretation, its enforcement-- was critical to the exercise of White House power. As Cheney saw things, the attorney general, like every other member of the cabinet, ought to be subordinate to the president. There was only one executive authority in the Constitution. You might hardly know it from the way some attorneys general behaved. To Cheney’s way of thinking, independence and Justice Department experience might not be virtues. In any case, Cheney had another person in mind. John Ashcroft, the former Missouri senator, had just been defeated for reelection by a dead man. That was a rude way of saying it, but euphemism did not capture the chagrin. Ashcroft’s opponent, Democratic governor Mel Carnahan, had perished in a plane crash three weeks before election day, too late to have his name removed from the ballot. He won anyway. (Jean Carnahan, his wife, was appointed in his place.) Ashcroft would be grateful for the Justice post, and he would have a steep learning curve to climb. Ashcroft was accustomed, as well, to minding the party leadership. Or so went the thinking at the time. Later, Ashcroft would surprise the vice president on that point.

Keating wanted the job, and he enjoyed vocal support. That needed watching. Not many constituencies mattered more than the Federalist Society, which had brought its influence to bear on government and legal education since its birth at the dawn of the Reagan revolution. “Most of the conservatives were backing either Keating for Ashcroft,” recalled Leonard Leo, the society’s executive vice president. “I and a number of other Catholics had kind of put our weight behind Governor Keating.” The Oklahoman’s track record in the Justice Department lent confidence that he would be not only conservative but effective. Still, as Leo added in an e- mail: “Frank Keating is a straight shooter. He doesn’t mince words. He would have believed in the unitary executive, but, as AG, certainly would have told the WH what he thought and would have pushed back when there were differences of opinion.” A conservative with comparable views said, “Maybe that’s not what they were looking for.”

Keating’s incautious wit, which had drawn him into hot water before, may have sealed his fate. Shortly before election day 2000, someone asked Keating, a bit naughtily, whether he planned a bid for the vacancy left by Cheney at Halliburton. “No,” Keating replied, smiling. “But I would like to chair the next selection committee.” Years later, a joke like that would become permissible. Cheney told it on himself in February of his final year in office. “My close association with the President goes back to the year 2000, when he asked me to lead the search for a vice presidential nominee,” he deadpanned. The friendly audience at the Omni Shoreham Hotel was laughing already. Cheney didn’t need the punch line, but he paused and then delivered it with nice comic timing: “That worked out pretty well.” The audience roared. The next month, a reporter asked Bush how he would advise John McCain to choose a running mate for 2008. “I’d tell him to be careful about who he names to be the head of the selection committee,” Bush cracked.

Back in the fall of 2000, with the general election looking close, Keating’s jibe had some sting. It got back to Bush-Cheney campaign headquarters. “I was told that my friends in the new administration were not amused,” Keating said.

Keating had risen with Newsweek, and Newsweek brought him down. The magazine’s investigative bulldog, Michael Isikoff, was fresh from a series of scoops in the long-running Clinton-Lewinsky impeachment scandal. Keating was celebrating the Oklahoma Sooners’ Orange Bowl victory in a cottage in the Florida Keys when he got word that Isikoff was looking for him. Now, that could not be anything good. Keating returned the call. Isikoff, as it turned out, had come across a fragment of Keating’s vice-presidential file.

“We have information that the reason you weren’t selected as attorney general is because of these questionable gifts to your kids,” Isikoff said, as Keating recalled the conversation. “From the highest sources, I’ve heard that you didn’t disclose any of this.”

“What?” Keating said. “The only reason you know about it, Mike, is because I disclosed it, and the only person who had the information is Dick Cheney.”

“Well, I can’t tell you how I got this, but what’s your answer?”

And so Keating explained his history with Dreyfus. Isikoff’s story did him no favors. The Oklahoma governor, Newsweek wrote, lacked the “skeleton-free closet” that Bush demanded of his nominees. “The man who wanted to be the country’s top cop quietly took cash gifts totaling about $250,000-- largely unreported but legal-- from one of his top political fundraisers,” Isikoff wrote. In fact, as the story acknowledged, Keating had reported the gifts and cleared them with federal ethics officers. But the gifts had not become public knowledge in Oklahoma, which has no such disclosure requirement. The Newsweek story touched off an explosion in Keating’s home state. The legislature launched an investigation. Scores of local stories spoke of Keating’s abandonment even by his great friend George W. Bush. To stanch the bleeding, Keating decided to return all the money to Dreyfus, “a terrible burden on me financially.” By the time reporters examined the federal ethics rulings, the biggest man in Oklahoma was political roadkill, crushed under wheels he never heard coming. No one caught a clear view of the driver.

There was a clue, Keating recalled. In December or early January, he said, long after the campaign returned his disclosure files, Cheney had phoned from transition headquarters. Refresh my memory, he asked, about those college gifts from your friend? “It obviously came from Dick Cheney or one of his people,” Keating said, referring to the Newsweek piece. “To say that it was chickenshit, excuse the expression, is an understatement. It was gratuitous, and it was petty, and it appeared vindictive to me, and it was utterly beneath the dignity of a person of Cheney’s achievement... I mean, Dick Cheney coming into my life has been like a black cloud.”

A fellow governor, John Engler-- a Bush supporter from day one of the campaign-- said he had reluctantly come to agree with Keating. “There’s only one way that it could have emerged,” he said. “I’ve always felt it was somebody other than Cheney himself, but Cheney as impresario of the process-- someone in that process breached the confidentiality that had been promised.”

The story did not go unnoticed in Washington. Keating made no public accusation-- not until his interview for this book-- but he hinted at his suspicion among friends. The rumor spread, and Keating thereby did the vice president a favor he did not intend. He propagated the message, educational and just deniable enough: Don’t cross Cheney. The town was full of important people who had handed the vice president their most personal files-- John Kasich, the House Budget Committee chairman; Tom Ridge, the future secretary of homeland security; Bill Frist, the future Senate majority leader; John Danforth, the future UN ambassador; Jon Kyl, chairman of the Senate Republican Policy Committee and the subcommittee on taxation; Chuck Hagel, a senator inclined to cast dissenting votes on some of the Bush administration’s more controversial requests. “Dick Cheney knows more about me than my mother, father, and wife,” Frist told the Washington Post. Not, he added, that he was complaining or anything.

Keating’s bright future fell behind him. He phoned the White House, asked to speak to the president. It fell to Andrew Card, the new chief of staff, to return the call. Card absorbed Keating’s rage with soothing words of surprise and concern, assuring him of the president’s highest regard. “The president and I had an excellent relationship as governors,” Keating said, from his postpolitical perch as an insurance lobbyist. “And of course when this issue occurred, then the doors were closed and the lights were turned off, and I never talked to him again.”
That's like an introduction to the book-- and an introduction to one of the most-- if not the most-- evil men to ever rule our country. America will probably never recover from what Cheney did to change the country. I suggest you buy the book and read it, although I expect to be writing more about it in coming weeks.

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At 3:35 PM, Blogger Dennis Jernberg said...

What I called Cheney was "shadow dictator", my term for Cardinal Richelieu, who reduced King Louis XIII of France to a crowned puppet. "Shrub 'Dubya' Enron" was Cheney's puppet king, having previously been puppet governor for the man who bought him the presidency, Ken Lay of Enron.

Then when Obama started going all Blue Dog on the people, I transferred the "shadow dictator" title to Goldman Sachs (not its chairman but the company itself). Has much even changed? Like Stalin in Russia, Shadow Dictator Lord Cheney of Halliburton laid the foundation for imperial America's Soviet collapse.

At 4:00 AM, Blogger Stentor said...

If Frank Keating had had any guts, he'd have replied when Cheney asked him about the monetary gifts, "Hey Dick, I know it was you that leaked the information about me to Isikoff at Newsweek, so you know what you petty, vindictive, chickenshit asshole? You can go fuck yourself." One of these days old Dick's going to piss off the wrong person & they're going to stick a shank into him politically. Something will come out that will get his titty in a wringer, & I'm going to laugh long, loud, & hard when it occurs, because it couldn't happen to a more deserving shitbag than him.

At 5:54 AM, Anonymous Bil said...

Terrifying, why am I not surprised?

Great post. Thanks.


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