In a report on the revelation that Vice President Dick Cheney exempted his office from an executive order requiring the executive branch to protect classified materials, Fox News' Bret Baier read a statement from the vice president's office in which it claimed that it "protects the nation's secrets from unauthorized disclosure," but Baier did not mention several recent controversies surrounding the handling of classified information by aides in Cheney's office.
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On the June 25 edition of Fox News' Special Report, during a report on the recent disclosure that in 2006 Vice President Dick Cheney exempted the Office of the Vice President (OVP) from an executive order requiring the executive branch to protect classified materials, Fox News chief White House correspondent Bret Baier read the following statement from the OVP: "The vice president, of course, protects the nation's secrets from unauthorized disclosure." Baier did not challenge the assertion and specifically failed to note several recent controversies surrounding OVP aides' handling of classified information.
In a June 21 letter to Cheney, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, asserted that the committee "has learned that over the objections of the National Archives, you exempted the Office of the Vice President from the presidential executive order that establishes a uniform, government-wide system for safeguarding classified national security information." Waxman further stated: "[I]t would appear particularly irresponsible to give an office with your history of security breaches an exemption from the safeguards that apply to all other executive branch officials," and added: "Your office may have the worst record in the executive branch for safeguarding classified information." The letter went on to offer three examples of such "security breaches":
- The letter noted that special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald "established" that former OVP chief of staff I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby had "leaked the identity of a covert CIA operative to several reporters in June 2003." Indeed, Libby's October 2005 indictment on charges of perjury, obstruction of justice, and lying to the FBI, asserted that Libby mentioned Valerie Plame's CIA employment to then-New York Times reporter Judith Miller on June 23, July 8, and July 12. In the indictment, Fitzgerald asserted that Plame's CIA "employment status was classified" at the time of Libby's disclosure. On March 6, a federal jury convicted Libby on four of the five counts listed in the indictment. As washingtonpost.com columnist Dan Froomkin noted, in a May 25 court filing, Fitzgerald stated that his investigation was "necessary" partly because "there was an indication from Mr. Libby himself that his disclosures to the press may have been personally sanctioned by the Vice President."
- Waxman wrote that Cheney "reportedly instructed Mr. Libby to leak to the media portions of an October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate [NIE] regarding Saddam Hussein's purported efforts to develop nuclear weapons." As Media Matters for America noted, according to an April 5, 2006, filing by Fitzgerald, Libby testified that he had disclosed to Miller portions of the NIE after Cheney "advised him that the President had authorized defendant [Libby] to disclose the relevant portions of the NIE." Fitzgerald subsequently submitted a correction to the brief on a different point (that Cheney specifically instructed Libby to present one of the NIE's conclusions as one of its "key judgments"). Following this disclosure, an unnamed senior administration official told The New York Times that President Bush had ordered portions of the NIE declassified. Moreover, in an April 14, 2006, National Journal article, Murray Waas reported that Cheney had also "directed [Libby] to leak to the media portions of a then-highly classified CIA report" detailing former ambassador Joseph Wilson's March 2002 debriefing following his trip to Niger. Waxman further wrote that the "selective declassification of this information was apparently made outside the formal declassification process and done as part of a damage-control effort you undertook to defend the Administration's rationale for going to war in lraq."
- Waxman noted that former Cheney aide Leandro Aragoncillo "pleaded guilty in May 2006 to passing classified information to plotters allegedly trying to overthrow Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo." According to the Associated Press, Aragoncillo "admitted that for five years he passed classified information gleaned from White House and FBI computers to conspirators he said were trying to overthrow" Arroyo. According to Aragoncillo's indictment, Aragoncillo was staff assistant to the Vice President's Military Advisers in the OVP from July 26, 1999 (under then-Vice President Al Gore), to February 13, 2002. The indictment said that Aragoncillo met with "Executive Official #1" on January 12, 2001 (while Gore was still vice president) but did not begin removing or transmitting documents until April 2001, when Cheney was vice president.
In his June 25 report on the Cheney controversy, however, Baier reported the OVP's claim that the office "protects the nation's secrets from unauthorized disclosure" without noting the evidence laid out by Waxman in his letter. By contrast, in a June 22 article, McClatchy White House correspondent William Douglas noted the "recent controversies involving members of Cheney's staff and classified information":
Waxman ... questioned ''both the legality and wisdom'' of the vice president claiming an exemption from the order, noting recent controversies involving members of Cheney's staff and classified information.
Former Cheney Chief of Staff I. Lewis ''Scooter'' Libby was convicted in March of perjury and obstruction of justice in connection with a federal investigation into the identification, in a leak to the media, of CIA undercover operative Valerie Plame.
In May 2006, Leandro Aragoncillo, an aide in the vice president's office, admitted in federal court that he stole classified U.S. intelligence information and passed it on to officials plotting a coup in the Philippines.
Similarly, a June 22 Los Angeles Times article noted that the National Archives' proposed inspections of OVP's security procedures "would have come at a particularly delicate time -- when Cheney's former chief of staff, I. Lewis 'Scooter' Libby, and other aides were under criminal investigation for their suspected roles in leaking the identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame."
From the June 25 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume:
BAIER: But Democrats have been eager to try to capitalize on what they perceive as a weakness -- the vice president's secrecy. Presidential candidate [Sen.] Barack Obama [D-IL] released this statement, quote: "Throughout this administration, Vice President Cheney has consistently sought to operate in secrecy and thwart rules designed to ensure the public's right to know how their business is being done. I believe strongly that democracy works best when it does its work in the daylight."
The vice president's office did not have any further comment on this issue today or any response to Democratic critics, other than to add that, quote, "The vice president, of course, protects the nation's secrets from unauthorized disclosure" -- Brit.