When The Prince of Darkness Visits

"I want to know when the Prince of Darkness comes to visit Mr. Cheney," the wife of a colleague said in response to the Vice President's most recent power grab.

The most secretive VP in US history has arbitrarily decided that the Secret Service logs of visitors to his official residence at the Naval Observatory are none of the people's business. In September 2006, Cheney's Counsel, Shannen Coffin, wrote the Secret Service that all logs should be handed over to the Office of the Vice President and that the agency "shall not retain any copy of these documents and informationAC/a,!A|. If any documents remain in your possession, please return them to OVP as soon as possible."

The letter was written as the Washington Post requested the logs under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) -- a watchdog group targeting officials who "sacrifice the common good to special interests" -- had sued the Secret Service for access to the records under the FOIA as well. CREW is seeking to identify conservative religious leaders who visited both the White House and Vice President's residence and the Coffin letter was filed by the Justice department in an effort to get the group's lawsuit dismissed.

"The latest filings make clear that the administration has been destroying documents and entering into secret agreements in violation of the law," said Anne Weisman, CREW's chief counsel.

Against Cheney's wishes, the Secret Service has retained copies of the records (though it maintains that these records -- despite being "created as part of the Secret Service's performance of its statutorily-mandated function of protecting the President and Vice President" -- are not subject to disclosure under the FOIA.) The Bush administration maintains that all of these records are protected under the Presidential Records Act of 1978, and it "quietly" signed an agreement to that effect with the Secret Service a year ago as the media sought to investigate Jack Abramoff's White House access.

"The scary thing about this move by the vice president's office is the power grab part of it," Tom Blanton, head of the National Security Archive, told the Associated Press. "We're looking at a huge problem if the White House can reach into any agency and say certain records have something to do with the White House and they are presidential from now on. This White House has been infinitely creative in finding new ways and new forms of government secrecy."

And no one has been more aggressive on this battle against transparency than the Man Who Should Be Impeached (first). From secret meetings with energy executives to craft an energy policy that does nothing to alleviate oil dependence and everything to increase their own profits; to setting up a rogue agency (Office of War Policy) that cherry-picked intelligence and lied our nation into this catastrophic war; to his close involvement with a parallel Justice Department (Office of Legal Policy -- with David Addington and cronies) that sought to justify torture, use Presidential signing statements to ignore laws, and expand Executive powers at the expense of our system of checks and balances under the unitary executive theory. And now the Vice President is using and abusing his power to make secret what is the rightful knowledge of US taxpaying citizens.

What's next?

Katrina Vanden Heuvel is editor of The Nation.

(c) 2007 The Nation

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