Vice President Cheney was at the center of several serious stories this week. The one about how he shot his friend and didn’t tell the press definitely won the most coverage, but it also became a symbol for the other more complicated stories about cherry-picking intelligence in the lead-up to war and authorizing the dissemination of classified information. Murray Waas, a writer for The National Journal, joins Brooke to recap the Veep’s big week in the press and assess whether the news media took aim at the right story.
BOB GARFIELD: From WNYC in New York, this is NPR's On the Media. I'm Bob Garfield.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And I'm Brooke Gladstone. This week the press had a buffet of Dick Cheney's stories to dig into, and there's no question about which story they chose to gorge on.
REPORTER: Tough questions hanging over the Vice President and his behavior this weekend. There was a shooting accident -[SOUND TRAILS OFF]
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Vice President Dick Cheney accidentally shot a prominent Republican lawyer as they were both hunting for quail. [OVERLAPPING SOUND]
REPORTER: Seventy-eight-year-old Harry Whittington remains in this hospital with birdshot on the right side of his face and chest. Doctors say-- [OVERLAP]
REPORTER: Reporters wanting to know, but not finding out, why no official told the public.
REPORTER: I mean, the Vice President knew immediately - oh no, I've shot somebody accidentally, and it takes 22 hours for that? [OVERLAP]
REPORTER: And you know what his first reaction was? His first reaction was - [SOUND TRAILS OFF]
BROOKE GLADSTONE: On MSNBC's "Hardball," Bill Maher said to Chris Matthews that he found it interesting that the hunting accident was, quote, "only the third worst thing that happened to Dick Cheney this week, with the Valerie Plame thing and the Paul Pillar revelation." So the question is, in the midst of hunting mania, is anyone paying attention to what Maher called "the Paul Pillar revelation and the Valerie Plame thing?" Well, here's the "Pillar revelation." The former CIA official, in an article in Foreign Affairs Magazine, accused the White House of manufacturing a connection between 9/11 and Iraq in the lead-up to war. As to the "Valerie Plame thing" well, Murray Waas, who's been covering the investigation into who leaked CIA operative Valerie Plame's identity for several years now, and he joins us with the latest.
MURRAY WAAS: Well, what happened last week is that court documents became unsealed in which Scooter Libby, the former Chief of Staff and National Security Advisor of Vice President Cheney, who's going to stand trial for five felonies, he essentially had told the prosecutors, according to the court papers, that although Cheney didn't specifically authorize him to leak Plame's name, Cheney had authorized him, in a more general sense, to leak classified information to defend the Vice President, President Bush more generally regarding allegations that they distorted or twisted intelligence to make the case to go to war with Iraq.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Do you think that this story about Libby basically pointing the finger at Cheney has been somewhat underreported in the scheme of things?
MURRAY WAAS: It got fairly big play. It was one of the first stories on the CBS Evening News and the second lead story on the NBC Evening News that night. The Washington Post and the New York Times played it on the inside pages. That's more of a function of they were second to get the story. Brit Hume did address this in the interview that he had with the Vice President. The Vice President said - he declined to say whether he specifically authorized them to leak, but he implicitly, I think, acknowledged that what Libby said is correct. The second thing he said, which is extraordinary, which has gotten underplayed, is he said that he has the right as the Vice President, at his whim and will, as does the President, to declassify any information he likes. Therefore, there's no wrongdoing.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: The interview with Fox News' Brit Hume was on Wednesday. A couple of years ago, President Bush did delegate the right to classify information to the Vice President, but it was never clear that the Vice President also had the right to declassify information, except information that he directly oversaw that was coming out of his office. So that does seem to be the new wrinkle here. If they can claim the ability to declassify anything, then he never gets called up on charges of revealing classified information because by dint of revealing it, he's declassified it.
MURRAY WAAS: True. I mean, what he asserted in the Brit Hume interview was an extraordinary and radical expansion of executive authority that gives the President almost imperial authority to control the flow of information. And it raises profound issues, I think, for democracy.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Well, let me ask you, as somebody who's covered the Plame affair so closely, which of the Dick Cheney stories of recent days do you think is the most important? The Valerie Plame wrinkle that Scooter Libby has pointed the finger at his boss, the revelation in Foreign Affairs Magazine that a former CIA official is accusing Cheney and the Administration of manufacturing a connection between 9/11 and Iraq, or the fact that Dick Cheney accidentally shot his hunting partner in the face?
MURRAY WAAS: Well, I think they're all, in an interesting way, interrelated. They all relate to the fact that the Administration, and Cheney in particular, they think that they should control the flow of information to the public. Whether it's about [CHUCKLES] a hunting accident, whether it's how we got into the war, each separate incidence the White House is asserting bold authority to restrict and control information that goes beyond what's been traditionally done. And the hunting incident is kind of emblematic of the other two.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Libby's trial is scheduled to begin in January of 2007. What -
MURRAY WAAS: Correct.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: - do you think we should expect in the intervening 10 months -- another shoe going to drop?
MURRAY WAAS: The investigation of the Deputy White House Chief of Staff, President Bush's Chief political advisor Karl Rove continues. We could see other criminal charges in the case. It looks like, however, that Libby will go to trial and there won't be a plea bargain in this case most likely at this point in time. Or there's no indication of that.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Do you think they'll finish his trial before the '08 election?
MURRAY WAAS: The best guess right now is that the trial should be over by the 2008 elections, yes.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Okay. Murray, thank you very much.
MURRAY WAAS: Thanks for having me.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Murray Waas is a staff writer for The National Journal.