Cheney appears to say that Bush will be remembered fondly on his deathbed
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President George W. Bush will be remembered fondly on his deathbed.
Vice President Dick Cheney appeared to deliver that message on CNN's Larry King Live Tuesday night. When asked if he should take the President's poor poll numbers more seriously, Cheney pointed to the administration of Gerald Ford, in which he also served. Ford, who replaced Richard Nixon after his resignation from the Watergate scandal, was remembered well after his death.
"[J]ust last year, when he passed away and we had memorial services and so forth for him, he was held in very high regard; across the country his praises were sung for some of the really tough decisions he made that were very unpopular at the time," Cheney insisted.
The Vice President's paralleling of Bush's 6 1/2 years with Ford's abbreviated succession into a disgraced presidency stood out in the pre-recorded interview, in which a largely defiant Cheney stood by his decisions and acknowledged little error or wrongdoing.
Note: An earlier preview clip with commentary by Larry King can be viewed at this link.
Vice President challenges 'too powerful' criticisms
Cheney attempted to insist that as Vice Presidents have gone, he was more modest because he was not 'angling' for future elected office.
"I made the decision when I signed on with the President that the only agenda I would have would be his agenda, that I was not going to be like most Vice Presidents," he told King. "And that was angling, trying to figure out how I was going to be elected President when his term was over with."
But one verbal slip appeared to show that the Vice President saw himself 'making decisions' for the president.
"Brent doesn't walk in my shoes these days. He's not in the job I'm in," Cheney said, deflecting a criticism by Brent Scowcroft, a George H.W. Bush administration official who is a long time friend of the Vice President. "He's not responsible for making the decisions the President has had to make and those of us who support him and advise him."
As one example, Cheney did not rule out directing then-White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales to visit Attorney General John Ashcroft in the hospital. Gonzales asked Ashcroft to overrule his deputy, who had refused to certify the legality of a counterterrorism spying program.
"I don't recall that I was the one who sent them to the hospital," Cheney said.
However, he acknowledged that "[C]ertainly I was involved because I was a big advocate of the Terrorist Surveillance Program, and had been responsible and working with General Hayden and George Tenet to get it to the President for approval."
At the same time, Cheney attempted to put to bed the notion that he was not bound by controls on the executive branch because his office was in the legislative branch. However, he also seemed to hold out that the President could give him any authority he needed.
"In the executive branch, you do only what the President asks you to do -- he gives you assignments -- but whatever authority you have is delegated by the President himself," Cheney told King. "The Constitution, on the other hand, provides for your role as the President of Senate."
Cheney acknowledges underestimating Iraqi insurgents
On Iraq, the Vice President admitted he was 'incorrect' when he said that the insurgency was in its 'last throes' in mid-2005.
"I thought there were a series of these milestones that would in fact undermine the insurgency and make it less than it was at that point," he told King. "I think the insurgency turned out to be more robust."
But he insisted that success was not far off, pointing to an op-ed in the 'not exactly...friendly' New York Times from Michael O'Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack of the Brookings Institution. Cheney noted the two were strong critics of the war effort, and saw success coming.
"They're just back from visiting over there," he said. "They both have been strong critics of the war, both worked in the prior administration; but now saying...that we could be successful."
Cheney also called Gen. David Petraeus, the commander in Iraq, "a great soldier," and said his September report would point the way toward progress. But he tried to deemphasize the General's role, too.
"I don't want to put the whole burden on him," Cheney said, pointing to the "literally hundreds of thousands of people, especially the young men and women serving, who deserve credit for the effort that's currently underway."
Earlier in the interview, Cheney also invoked the spirits of earlier Presidents, particularly George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, to say that America should fight on in Iraq.
"[I]f you looked simply at public opinion, for example, a lot of the key decisions in our history would never have been pursued or followed through on," he said. "Washington never would have carried through for seven years of the Revolution. Abraham Lincoln would never have stayed with it in order to win the Civil War. We would have been two separate nations by then.
'Glad' Bush commuted Scooter Libby's sentence
Larry King brought up the subject of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, the Vice President's former chief of staff. After being convicted for perjury and other charges in the probe of the outing of covert CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson, President Bush commuted Libby's sentence.
Cheney supported the decision.
"I am glad that the President saw fit to commute Scooter's sentence," he said. "I thought that was a good outcome, and I supported the President's decision."
Cheney demurred when asked if Libby should have been pardoned. Instead, he focused on Libby's 'burden' from his guilty sentence.
"[H]e still has a very difficult road," he said. "[H]e needs to find work. He's got legal bills. He carries the burden of having been convicted."
'No crime' in US Attorneys controversy
The Vice President strongly defended embattled Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who he said had the President's full confidence.
"[T]he President is the one who has to evaluate the individuals who serve for them," he said. "He has confidence in Al, and that's good enough for me."
Cheney instead dismissed the investigation of the firing of the 8 US Attorneys as a 'witch hunt.'
"What's the allegation of the wrongdoing here? Frankly, there isn't anything," he asked, and answered. "With respect to the U.S. attorneys, there's been, I think, a bit of a witch hunt on Capitol Hill, as they keep rolling over rocks hoping they can find something."
The Vice President went on to reason that the assertion of executive privilege against Congressional subpoenas of key White House advisers needed to be done to protect future presidents.
"[I]t's important for us to pass on these offices we occupy to our successors in as good a shape as we found them," the Vice President argued. "And that means protecting and preserving the integrity of those processes."
Knocks Hillary Clinton; 'probably' done in 2009
Toward the end of the interview, King lured Cheney into 2008's political waters.
First, he praised a letter written by Pentagon official Eric Edelman to Senator Hillary Clinton, accusing her of 'aiding the enemy' by seeking contingency plans for withdrawal from Iraq.
"I agreed with the letter Eric Edelman wrote. I thought it was a good letter," he said.
He described himself as "totally neutral in the upcoming presidential contest," only endorsing the Republican Party generally.
"I will support the Republican nominee," he said. "And the fact that others have signed on with Fred [Thompson] or John McCain or Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney, they're all good men, I hope one of them is the next President."
And ultimately, Cheney said he 'probably' was done with public service for good.
"Probably not. I can't think of one," Cheney said when King asked if he would serve in any other Republican administration.
He added, "I've had a great tour, Larry....the time comes when you need to recognize it's over, and for me that will be January of '09."
The full transcript of Cheney's interview with King has been published on the White House website.
The following video clips are from CNN's Larry King Live, broadcast on July 31.