David Addington, Cheney’s former Counsel and current Chief of Staff, is increasingly mired under the dark cloud that hangs over the Vice President. Addington’s name appears on the subpoena sent yesterday to the Office of the Vice President. And he’s the guy tasked with dreaming up increasingly dubious explanations for why Cheney doesn’t have to comply with the regulations mere mortals must obey.
The WaPo’s series on Cheney provided a great deal of new detail of Addington’s methods–his badgering of bureaucratic opponents, his ghost-writing of memos and orders. But I’d like to consider one other aspect of his personality–as a witness–because it may be relevant again soon. Of all the informative or amusing or unbelievable witnesses that appeared at Scooter Libby’s trial, IMO Addington was by far the most fascinating.
I knew, before the trial, that Addington’s testimony could be devastating for Libby. As I showed, you needed no more than Addington’s testimony and Libby’s own notes to prove that Libby was lying when he claimed to be surprised, on July 10, that Joe Wilson had a wife. So I expected Addington to be hostile, to shade his answers and offer no more than necessary; this was how John Hannah (Libby’s other replacement) acted, for example. But that’s not what Addington did.
It was as if Fitzgerald would start each question with a small nudge and Addington would set off, babbling and mumbling and wandering and offering more than Fitzgerald had requested. Here is just part of Addington’s response to Fitzgerald’s question about whether Addington remembered Scottie McClellan exonerating Rove publicly (I’m transcribing the quote from this handy book by guys named Waas and Lomonaco).
Yes. And essentially–the reason this sticks in my mind is I had a conversation not too many days later with Dan Bartlett, who was then the assistant to the President for communications. And by this point, something had been said–I frankly don’t remember what–again, by the press office, and it included Mr. Libby this time. And I made the comment to Mr. Bartlett, you know, I don’t know why you are making these statements about, you know, this case–and I will explain why in a second.
But his reaction was, “Well, your boss is the one that wanted us to do it.” And then I shut up.
But my reaction to that was, you know, I’m in my 20th year in government, and there are three things press offices generally shouldn’t do in the government. One is don’t talk about intelligence sources and methods because if you say no, no, no, no, no, denying, you set up a pattern that if somebody ever picks up a particular intelligence source and says, “Is that the intelligence source?”–and you say, “Well, I can’t confirm or deny it,” you’ve said no. So you basically just can’t talk about intelligence sources and methods because your patterns of answers are going to reveal things.
And the third thing you don’t talk about is what’s going on in a criminal investigation because, frankly, you don’t know. And to go out and say somebody did or didn’t do something–you have no way of knowing that. You haven’t conducted any investigation. That’s what the government gets to do.
…all delivered in this mumbling wandering quiet voice. In response to a very specific question (did Scottie McClellan publicly exonerate Rove), Addington offered up the following information:
- McClellan later exonerated Libby, too
- McClellan did so at the behest of Dick Cheney
- Addington thought such statements were wrong–one of the worst things a press office could do
- The government “gets to” investigate potential criminal violations committed by top members of the Administration
- And oh, by the way, you should also never ever discuss sources and methods publicly because the last thing you’d want to do is reveal that kind of highly classified intelligence information–you know, kind of like an Agent’s identity?
And when Fitzgerald wanted to redirect this verbal diarrhea of damning testimony, it was as if he only needed to nudge Addington gently, after which Addington would babble off in that new direction until Fitzgerald stopped him. He seemed to have neither a filter nor embarrassment about what the White House had done. And in addition to framing White House activities from Fall 2003 in even more damning light than Fitzgerald could have done by himself, Addington also offered up that OVP was wildly stamping all the evidence turned over to investigators with their “Treated as Top Secret/SCI” stamp. In short, Addington, not Fitzgerald, made the argument that the Administration obstructed the investigation into the leak of Plame’s identity.
One more thing. Addington was testifying here about events that occurred when he was Vice President’s Counsel. Thanks to the indictment of Libby, he is now Cheney’s Chief of Staff, which means he’s surely compartmented into things that he wasn’t before, when Libby was Chief of Staff. Which could make him a very interesting witness indeed.
Now, given what we’ve seen of Congressional questioning so far this term, I’m painfully aware that we don’t have many Patrick Fitzgeralds sitting around Congress, with the ability to make the most of a witness like this. I’m going to start lobbying now to make sure that Chuck Schumer and Sheldon Whitehouse are the only ones who get to question Addington, in the event we get him in a witness chair.
But when that day comes, it may be a very interesting day indeed.
Photo credit: WaPo’s photo series accompanying the Cheney series; the photo has been cropped.