What has Dick Cheney told Liz Cheney about his role in CIA controversy? Morning Joe didn't ask
Research ››› ››› JOCELYN FONG
Liz Cheney repeatedly defended her father on Morning Joe, but at no point was she asked to explain what conversations she's had with Dick Cheney about CIA practices and policies during the Bush administration, or whether her father provided her with classified information.
On July 14, MSNBC's Morning Joe hosted Liz Cheney to discuss recent reports that her father, former vice president Dick Cheney, instructed the CIA not to disclose to Congress an intelligence program that CIA director Leon Panetta recently discontinued. Cheney repeatedly defended her father during the interview, and at one point stated, "[Dick Cheney] doesn't comment on classified programs, and obviously I'm not going to comment on classified programs on his behalf." But at no point was she asked to explain what conversations she's had with Dick Cheney about CIA practices and policies during the Bush administration, or whether her father did in fact provide her with classified information that he reportedly withheld from Congress.
During her Morning Joe appearance, Cheney stated of reports that her father told the CIA not to brief Congress about intelligence activities, "there's simply no evidence" that Dick Cheney broke any rules or guidelines and later stated as fact that "[l]aws were not broken." In addition, after Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson said Dick Cheney made the "wrong judgment" if he ordered the CIA not to disclose certain information to Congress, she also said: "You don't have any facts upon which to make that assessment, Eugene. ... You don't know what these programs were, so you can't sit there without knowing the programs and say the law was somehow not abided by." But while co-host Mika Brzezinski and Time's Mark Halperin each asked Cheney if her father instructed the CIA on whether to brief Congress -- a question she refused to answer -- neither Brzezinski, Halperin nor anyone else asked Cheney what, precisely, Dick Cheney had told Liz Cheney about his activities, or what basis she had for defending her father if he hasn't spoken to her about details beyond those publicly reported by news outlets such as The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.
From the July 14 edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe:
BRZEZINSKI: Here with us now, daughter of former vice president Dick Cheney and former principal deputy assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, Liz Cheney, also mother of Elizabeth, who's here -- adorable. Liz has been critical of the Democrats' calls for investigations into the CIA programs, and on foreign policy, she recently wrote in The Wall Street Journal this: "Mr. Obama thinks he is making America inoffensive to our enemies. In reality, he is emboldening them and weakening us." I think I've heard something like that before from someone you might know. So, you're in agreement with a very high-profile former vice president. But let's start -- let's start with the big story of the past few days, the CIA information. Did your father prevent any information on anything from going to Congress? Did he authorize that? Did he tell anyone to keep information from Congress?
CHENEY: Well, he -- this is clearly a classified program, and he doesn't talk about classified programs and won't comment on it. So I want to be clear that I'm not here to speak for him in that regard.
BRZEZINSKI: I'm not asking what --
CHENEY: But I think that it's important for us all to sort of take a step back here and look at what's going on. This appears to have been a series of plans to capture or kill Al Qaeda. And for the Democrats to have used that now, you know, to politicize it, for the speaker of the House of Representatives to be talking about investigations, really, you know, sort of trying it looks like to cover up the difficulties she's in because of her own press conference, strikes me as just incred -- excuse me -- incredibly irresponsible. And I think that the American people really do have a serious question to ask and are beginning to wonder, you know, are the Democrats up to handling national security issues.
BRZEZINSKI: Look, I don't deny that it looks to me or could look to many like political rehab under way on Capitol Hill. So that's why I'm asking the question. Is it just that? Is it simply that, or is there a there there? Whether it's this plan, this program or this effort, or any effort, was there any attempt by your father in any way to keep the CIA from telling Congress information they should have heard?
CHENEY: Well, I think you have to look, for example, at what General Hayden said yesterday. General Hayden, the former director of the CIA, came out publicly on the record and said he was under absolutely no restraint for briefing Congress, and that he had a series of triggers about when Congress needed to be briefed and that those triggers were not met with this particular program. I think it does a disservice to former directors of the CIA to politicize this issue, and I think it does a disservice to the Bush administration, frankly. We kept the nation safe for eight years, and the nation has been down this path before. You know, we went through the Church Commission. We went through a whole series of investigations into the CIA after Vietnam, and what we see is that it weakens our ability to gather intelligence. It damages morale at the agency --
BRZEZINSKI: I don't disagree with that.
CHENEY: -- it weakens our ability to be able to win this war. And so I think the Democrats have got to, you know, think long and hard before they send us down that path again.
BRZEZINSKI: If the guidelines or the laws were broken, I think there are some who would argue that we need to look into it and maybe there should be prosecutions. I would say pertaining to your father, the question is: Did he bend any rules? Did he break any guidelines in terms of trying to keep information --
CHENEY: Mika, there's simply no evidence of that. I mean, what you have --
BRZEZINSKI: Well --
CHENEY: -- what you have was the director of the CIA, Panetta, apparently going up on the Hill and talking about a program. And as a result of that, you had a huge front-page New York Times story, which was discounted by the director of the CIA himself prior to Leon Panetta. He also had a story in the LA Times which said not just General Hayden but the other previous CIA directors as well said they felt no pressure not to reveal this program; that, in fact, when programs are in the planning stages, you don't go to the Hill every moment and say, "We're planning this, we're planning this." And I will also point out that President Obama himself believes that the White House and the executive branch have to have the ability to decide when to brief, and that's why he's issued a veto threat for the current intelligence legislation.
BRZEZINSKI: And some of his issues --
CHENEY: So this is not a partisan issue.
BRZEZINSKI: And some of his positions on Guantánamo have evolved since they've been in office.
CHENEY: Well, he's having a real problem on Guantánamo.
BRZEZINSKI: But let me try -- let me try this issue on -- let me try this question a different way: If guidelines or laws were broken, do you think that it should be looked into and that people should be prosecuted? High-level administration officials in the Bush administration.
CHENEY: Laws were not broken, and I think that you've got a real problem here because the potential prosecution that we're talking about now from the attorney general is of CIA operatives. Now, the president of the United States himself stood in the White House and issued a statement saying, you know, "I'm going to release the details of the enhanced interrogation program, but we aren't going to prosecute the people who carried out the program." People can get this statement online. The president said that himself. Now you've got the attorney general saying, "Well, maybe we will." You know, that has not happened before in American history, and it's a real, very dangerous precedent to set that somebody comes into office and begins to treat policy differences with the predecessor as criminal differences.
HALPERIN: Let me ask you a question, not about the specific program, but just the history of the Bush-Cheney administration. Did your father, as part of his job, ever instruct the CIA whether to brief Congress or not on a particular matter? Was that part of what he did?
CHENEY: I was not in every meeting my father had. I was not in probably, actually, most meetings my father had, so --
HALPERIN: But do you know if he did that as part of his duties, either on his own or at the president's request?
CHENEY: Look, I -- he doesn't comment on classified programs, and obviously I'm not going to comment on classified programs on his behalf. I think that it is very, very clear, if you look at the law, if you look at the 1947 National Security Act, that the White House does in fact have the right to decide when to brief the CIA. And --
HALPERIN: Right. But do you know if that's something he did personally, that was part of his responsibility, either on his own or at the president's request? Not about any particular program.
CHENEY: Again, I'm not going -- I'm not going to comment --
HALPERIN: I'm not asking about a particular program --
CHENEY: No -- right, but I'm not going to comment --
HALPERIN: -- I'm asking about how he functioned in the White House.
CHENEY: Well, I wasn't there. I didn't work in the White House --
HALPERIN: So you don't know whether he ever did -- you don't know whether he ever did that?
CHENEY: -- but I think it's very important to look at the fact that not only do they have the right to decide when to brief Congress, but they have a right to look at a particular set of issues and say, if we brief Congress on this issue, we're worried that it's gonna potentially expose sources and methods. So there's absolutely --
HALPERIN: Without question -- without question he could have. I'm just asking --
CHENEY: -- nothing nefarious about the possibility that anybody in the White House said, "here's when you should brief and here's when you shouldn't" --
HALPERIN: I'm not raising --
CHENEY: -- but I'm not going to comment on whether they did or they didn't.
HALPERIN: Or whether that was his role.
BRZEZINSKI: OK -- all right, let me -- and also, you know, the one thing I always try and struggle with, because we're on different sides, different points of view on this, and I love that you come on the show so that we can try and explore it together. But the time after 9-11 is so different than the way we think now. And it's the one thing where I really struggle in my mind about some of the decisions that were made because the entire country would have supported exactly what is being accused here in many ways if they were asked at that moment, do you think we ought to do A, B, and C, and do you think we ought to keep it secret?
CHENEY: And I should -- I would -- I think that's an important point, Mika, because I would also point out that the -- there was really, you know, unanimity. The Democrats themselves supported the programs that the president put in place, the vice president supported, to keep the nation safe. They supported those programs when it was politically expedient --
CHENEY: -- and now that we're in a situation where it seems to be politically expedient, although I would argue --
BRZEZINSKI: But the moral high ground is easier now than it was then.
CHENEY: Right. But it's very dangerous -- it's a dangerous path for them to go down from the perspective of the national security of the nation.
ROBINSON: I actually have a question for Liz in a minute. But, you know, look, it is inconvenient that there is a law, there is a 1947 law that requires that Congress be briefed on significant intelligence operations or activities or anticipated significant intelligence activities. So it seems to be clear they should have been briefed, and if the vice president told the CIA not to brief Congress, than that was wrong.
ROBINSON: If the executive branch can just decide not to brief about anything, because it would affect sources and methods, then you don't have a law, and you're certainly not following the spirit or the letter of the law.
CHENEY: No, but that's not the argument, Eugene --
ROBINSON: So clearly, it's a judgment call.
CHENEY: It's a judgment call.
ROBINSON: -- and I believe the wrong judgment was made in this case. But you can't have absolute discretion --
CHENEY: But you don't have any facts upon which to make that assessment, Eugene. You don't have any facts.
ROBINSON: -- and the executive branch not to follow the law. You can't -- you can't have that.
CHENEY: You don't know what these programs were --
ROBINSON: You can't have that.
CHENEY: -- so you can't sit there without knowing the programs and say the law was somehow not abided by.