No veep is an island

VICE PRESIDENT Dick Cheney's refusal to comply with a presidential order regulating the handling of classified information might be scary were it not so ludicrous.

Cheney's rejection of mandatory inspections required of all federal offices to make sure they are properly protecting top secret documents defies basic standards of good government and common sense. And his argument that he needn't comply because his office isn't part of the executive branch is specious. Moreover, after clashing with the National Archives' Information Security Oversight Office, which conducts the routine inspections, Cheney's vindictive staff reportedly tried to abolish the unit. That's like trying to disband the Internal Revenue Service for demanding a tax audit. Has the veep taken leave of his senses?

Unfortunately, Cheney's behavior is entirely in keeping with his long-standing views on executive powers, executive privilege and the divine rights of vice presidents. He also has championed policies that have shredded American privacy rights in the name of national security, with methods that have included warrantless wiretaps, e-mail and postal-mail snooping, monitoring library withdrawals, mining data on the telephone and buying habits of millions of citizens and the expanded use of national security letters. But Cheney has been vigilant in defending his own privacy rights. The vice president's office has been operating in stunning secrecy for six years.

For example, according to Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Los Angeles), Cheney refuses to follow an executive branch ethics rule requiring him and his employees to disclose travel paid for by special interests. In fact, he won't even disclose who some of his employees are — though the salaries of these political appointees are paid for by public funds. Contrary to White House practice, the vice president's residence won't release the names of those who come to visit. Cheney has even succeeded in getting President Bush to give him the power to prevent the release of vice presidential papers after Cheney leaves office.

Cheney's inventive argument is that because the vice president also serves as president of the Senate, his is "a unique office" that is not part of but rather "attached to" the legislative branch. Yet the vice president is funded and housed by the executive branch, travels on Air Force Two, enjoys Secret Service protection and seldom appears in his (mostly symbolic) Senate office. And he has never subjected his staff to the even more restrictive Senate rules on handling classified material. Apparently, Cheney sees himself as a fourth branch of government that enjoys all the authority of the presidency but is bound by none of its rules.

On Friday, the White House defended Cheney yet again, saying the president never intended the veep to have to comply with the presidential order. Bush should stop enabling his errant No. 2 and enforce the rule of law.

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