"Angler" - A Study of the Conduct of the Fourth Branch of Government

The Washington Post is on the second part of a four-part series detailing the nature of the Cheney Vice-Presidency, looking at it's influence on policy and the unprecedented claims of Executive power and immunity it's put forward over the last six years. This is not a hatchet job, but rather a thoughtful, in-depth look at a VP unique in American history, and his methods and goals.

Just past the Oval Office, in the private dining room overlooking the South Lawn, Vice President Cheney joined President Bush at a round parquet table they shared once a week. Cheney brought a four-page text, written in strict secrecy by his lawyer. He carried it back out with him after lunch.

In less than an hour, the document traversed a West Wing circuit that gave its words the power of command. It changed hands four times, according to witnesses, with emphatic instructions to bypass staff review. When it returned to the Oval Office, in a blue portfolio embossed with the presidential seal, Bush pulled a felt-tip pen from his pocket and signed without sitting down. Almost no one else had seen the text.

Cheney's proposal had become a military order from the commander in chief. Foreign terrorism suspects held by the United States were stripped of access to any court -- civilian or military, domestic or foreign. They could be confined indefinitely without charges and would be tried, if at all, in closed "military commissions."

"What the hell just happened?" Secretary of State Colin L. Powell demanded, a witness said, when CNN announced the order that evening, Nov. 13, 2001. National security adviser Condoleezza Rice, incensed, sent an aide to find out. Even witnesses to the Oval Office signing said they did not know the vice president had played any part.

The episode was a defining moment in Cheney's tenure as the 46th vice president of the United States, a post the Constitution left all but devoid of formal authority. "Angler," as the Secret Service code-named him, has approached the levers of power obliquely, skirting orderly lines of debate he once enforced as chief of staff to President Gerald R. Ford. He has battled a bureaucracy he saw as hostile, using intimate knowledge of its terrain. He has empowered aides to fight above their rank, taking on roles reserved in other times for a White House counsel or national security adviser. And he has found a ready patron in George W. Bush for edge-of-the-envelope views on executive supremacy that previous presidents did not assert.

I read that last night. compelling and incredibly scary. It's also interesting to see the "administration" isn't quite as monolithic as their lack of transparency makes them out to be. quite a bit of back stabbing going on!

Kind of strengthens my argument that they don't have a coherent policy engine because Bush has essentially delegated those decisions to people who don't work well together. They don't share information, but instead compete. It's looking like Cheney is actually responsible for most of the important policy decisions on foreign and Congressional affairs.

An excerpt from the intro to today's article, describing how Cheney's office over-rode the scientific team that had done evaluations on the effects on endangered species of releasing water from their habitat for farmers use. The farmers got their water, but not only were the endangered fish populations devasted, but the commercial Coho salmon fishery based on the affected river's spawning grounds actually collapsed. Remediation planning is not yet complete and has already cost $75M dollars directly - including funds to pay the farmers not to farm. That does not include losses to the tourism and fishing industries dependent on that salmon fishery, which could be much higher.

This is a good example of how common sense reasoning can fail in evaluating complex situations. Everyone agrees farmers are more important than fish, no matter how endangered. But that's not the actual issue, even though that's how it was framed. The actual issue was what would happen when the water supply undergoes a massive, sudden shift in the area, and that's where the blowback from the decision happened. Turns out if the recommendations from the scientists who were analyzing the effects on the endangered fish were followed, the other fish would not have suffered a similar population crash - and those other fish supported a commercial fishery that has been shut down now for a few years as a direct result of Cheney's decision.

Turns out, the actual debate should have been "farmers or fishermen". Expensive way to buy votes, and profitless in the end.

Sue Ellen Wooldridge, the 19th-ranking Interior Department official, arrived at her desk in Room 6140 a few months after Inauguration Day 2001. A phone message awaited her.

"This is Dick Cheney," said the man on her voice mail, Wooldridge recalled in an interview. "I understand you are the person handling this Klamath situation. Please call me at -- hmm, I guess I don't know my own number. I'm over at the White House."

Wooldridge wrote off the message as a prank. It was not. Cheney had reached far down the chain of command, on so unexpected a point of vice presidential concern, because he had spotted a political threat arriving on Wooldridge's desk.

In Oregon, a battleground state that the Bush-Cheney ticket had lost by less than half of 1 percent, drought-stricken farmers and ranchers were about to be cut off from the irrigation water that kept their cropland and pastures green. Federal biologists said the Endangered Species Act left the government no choice: The survival of two imperiled species of fish was at stake.

Law and science seemed to be on the side of the fish. Then the vice president stepped in.

First Cheney looked for a way around the law, aides said. Next he set in motion a process to challenge the science protecting the fish, according to a former Oregon congressman who lobbied for the farmers.

Because of Cheney's intervention, the government reversed itself and let the water flow in time to save the 2002 growing season, declaring that there was no threat to the fish. What followed was the largest fish kill the West had ever seen, with tens of thousands of salmon rotting on the banks of the Klamath River.

Because of Cheney's intervention, the government reversed itself and let the water flow in time to save the 2002 growing season, declaring that there was no threat to the fish. What followed was the largest fish kill the West had ever seen, with tens of thousands of salmon rotting on the banks of the Klamath River.

Remember, Cheney's a guy that shoots 400 boxed ducks and 1 lawyer before lunch time. So while a "real" Angler might catch ten fish in one good morning, Cheney's killed tens of thousands with one phone call. That's not a horrific affront to science and nature, it's being one hell of a good sportsman.