WASHINGTON - Vice President Dick Cheney said Wednesday it would be a mistake for President-elect Barack Obama to scrap the Bush administration's terrorist-fighting policies designed to prevent future attacks on the U.S.
"It would be a tragedy if they threw over those policies simply because they had campaigned against them," Cheney said in an interview with CBS Radio's Mark Knoller. "I think they need to proceed very cautiously before they begin to change the policies that are in place. They need to know what they're doing."
Obama has criticized practices that he says amount to torturing detainees during interrogations and has promised to close the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
"He was rather critical during the campaign of some of the policies we pursued, for example, in terms of terrorist surveillance or interrogation of terrorist prisoners," Cheney said.
"If I had advice to give it would be, before you start to implement your campaign rhetoric you need to sit down and find out precisely what it is we did and how we did it, because it is going to be vital to keeping the nation safe and secure in the years ahead."
The Terrorist Surveillance Program was secretly authorized by Bush shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks and was disclosed in late 2005, sparking questions about its legality. The Bush administration vigorously defended the program as essential to national security, but brought it under the purview of the federal Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which requires investigators to obtain a warrant from a secret court in Washington to eavesdrop on suspected terrorists inside the country.
In the wide-ranging, 20-minute interview in his West Wing office, Cheney also debunked his public persona as someone who worked behind the scenes controlling the levers of the Bush presidency.
"The notion that somehow I was pulling strings or making presidential-level decisions. I was not," he said. "There was never any question about who was in charge. It was George Bush. And that's the way we operated. This whole notion that somehow I exceeded my authority here, was usurping his authority, is simply not true. It's an urban legend, never happened.
Cheney also said the financial rescue plan was essential to keeping the finance system functioning. He said that he viewed the automobile bailout as a "stopgap" and that the industry will have to find a way to become a viable industry again. And he said that while the Republican Party currently is in a "trough," he was not worried about the future of the party.
Asked to identify the biggest misimpression people have about him, Cheney laughed and said, tongue-in-cheek: "That I'm actually a warm, lovable sort."
Cheney said he wasn't troubled by the fact that there were some people who felt hatred for him.
"It goes with the turf," he said. "No, we got elected in one of the closest elections in American history in 2000. Some people never got over that. And then I've had to, in my capacity as vice president, be actively involved in some very tough decisions that some people find controversial."