The current administration faces a potential tsunami of lawsuits and indictments once it leaves office. For the past 8 years the Bush administration has used claims of Executive Privilege and the power of intimidation to fend off Congressional and prosecutorial investigations, but once out of office their ability to protect themselves will be greatly diminished.
In a series of legacy interviews, soon to be ex-V.P. Dick Cheney argues that history will regard the actions of the Bush administration positively. In an interview with The Washington Times, he turns to the example of Gerald Ford who was vilified for pardoning ex-President Richard Nixon before any zealous prosecutor could pursue him for Watergate-related crimes:
President Ford made a decision that was extraordinarily unpopular at the time when he pardoned former President Nixon. He suffered -- he dropped 30 points in the polls in one week as I recall.
By the time of his passing a couple of years ago, opinion had totally turned on that. In fact, most people by then, even many who had been very critical 30 years before, were in agreement that in fact it was a good decision, it was the right thing to do from the standpoint of the country. ...
I'm personally persuaded that this president and this administration will look very good 20 or 30 years down the road in light of what we've been able to accomplish with respect to the global war on terror.
In the context of the interview, the focus on "the global war on terror" gives Cheney the opportunity to talk about abuse of prisoners and "enhanced interrogation techniques". Denying that either is torture, he goes on to argue that it was morally imperative for he and others to use what some have called "torture" in the pursuit of national security:
Was it torture? I don't believe it was torture. We spent a great deal of time and effort getting legal advice, legal opinion out of the office of legal counsel, which is where you go for those kinds of opinions, from the Department of Justice, as to what the red lines were out there, in terms of, this you can do, this you can't do. ...
You come to the question of morality and ethics. In my mind the foremost obligation we had from a moral or an ethical standpoint was to the oath of office we took when we were sworn in, on Jan. 20 of 2001, to protect and defend against all enemies foreign and domestic. And that's what we've done.
I think it would have been unethical or immoral for us not to do everything we could in order to protect the nation against further attacks like what happened on 9/11. We made the judgment -- the president and I and others -- that wasn't going to happen again on our watch. And I feel very good about what we did, I think it was the right thing to do. If I was faced with those circumstances again I'd do exactly the same thing.
And why is the vice president doing all the talking about the administration's record?
In terms of whether or not [I was] the most powerful and influential [vice president], I'll let somebody else make those judgments. I think, um, I do believe that the vice presidency has been a consequential office, if I can put it in those terms, in this administration. But that's first and foremost because that's what the president wanted.
He's the one who asked me to take the job, he's also the one who decided during the course of the process eight years ago that he wanted somebody who would be another member of the team, who had a certain set of experiences and so forth, who could be an active participant in the process.
If you're a prosecutor pursuing charges against members of the Bush administration for authorizing torture, then you look for a smoking gun that connects individuals with specific activities. Cheney is now on record as one of the officials who authorized the CIA to use waterboarding, among other enhanced interrogation techniques. So you have his own words to use against him.
But in this latest interview Cheney has added a twist to the argument. While seeming to be deferential to his boss, saying "that's what the president wanted," he's actually laying blame clearly at George W. Bush's feet. Whatever he, Cheney, did during the course of 8 years, he did because his president told him to do it. Cheney has laid the blame-pipe right to the door of the Bush White House.
In effect, Dick Cheney is letting George W. Bush know that if there are prosecutions, they won't stop with the VP, they'll lead all the way to the soon to be ex-president. So, in the best traditions of the Republican Party, as exemplified by Gerald Ford and his own father, George W.H. Bush, Bush better pardon all those members of the administration who could be prosecutorial targets, because if you don't, you're only opening the door for them to come after you.
Vice President Cheney has laid his cards on the table and he's a hard-nosed competitor. The only thing that would trump his play would be if President Bush does use his pardon power, but not to pardon Dick Cheney but George W. Bush. Then the game's over and Dick Cheney and the others will be left to deal with whatever history has in store for them.