For four years, Vice President Dick Cheney has resisted routine oversight of his office's handling of classified information, and when the office in charge of overseeing classification in the executive branch objected, the vice president's office suggested that the oversight office be shut down, according to documents released yesterday by a Democratic congressman.
The oversight office, a unit of the National Archives, appealed the issue to the Justice Department, which has not yet ruled on the matter.
The effort by Cheney to shut down the oversight office was disclosed by California Rep. Henry A. Waxman, chairman of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. Waxman, who has played a leading role in the intensified efforts by Democrats since they took control of Congress to investigate the Bush administration, outlined the matter in an eight-page letter sent yesterday to the vice president and posted, along with other documentation, on the committee Web site.
Officials at the archives and the Justice Department confirmed the basic chronology of events outlined in Waxman's letter.
The letter said that after repeatedly refusing to comply with a routine annual request from the archives for data on his staff's classification of internal documents, Cheney's office in 2004 blocked an on-site inspection of records that other agencies of the executive branch regularly undergo.
"I know the vice president wants to operate with unprecedented secrecy," Waxman said in an interview. "But this is absurd. This order is designed to keep classified information safe. His argument is really that he's not part of the executive branch, so he doesn't have to comply."
A spokeswoman for Cheney, Megan McGinn, said, "We're confident that we're conducting the office properly under the law."
But other officials familiar with Cheney's view said that he and his legal adviser, David S. Addington, do not believe the executive order applies to the vice president's office because it has a legislative as well as an executive status in the Constitution.
J. William Leonard, the head of the Information Security Oversight Office, has argued in letters to Addington that the order does indeed apply to the vice president's office. He noted that previous vice presidents have complied with the request for data on documents classified and declassified, and that Cheney did so until 2003.