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Robert J. Elisberg Headshot

In Defense of the White House Exemption from Oversight

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Many harsh attacks have been directed at Vice President Dick Cheney's claim that he's not part of the executive branch of government and therefore exempt from oversight.

President George Bush himself has subsequently claimed exemption from oversight requirements of his own executive order, as well, since the chief executive office is apparently not part of the executive branch of government either.

However, this simply acknowledges what 74% of the country has already long-known, that the president and vice president don't consider themselves restricted by the United States Constitution. Indeed, despite criticisms, they are taking positions completely understandable and well-justified.

Honestly, put yourself in their place.

If you'd shot a man in the face, wouldn't you try to claim as much protection as possible, and exempt yourself from scrutiny, not to mention the law?

If your office had treasonously revealed the identity of an undercover agent fighting terrorism, wouldn't you want that exempted from public discourse, and the hands of prosecutors?

Be fair now. You know you would.

Just like you'd most definitely want to be exempted from legal complications of having lied to the nation the reasons to justify a war.

And if you had ignored a briefing that explained your enemy was going to do something which he then did, causing 3,000 deaths, surely you'd pray to be exempted for that. At the very least, you'd want a do-over.

It's not fair to be outraged about protections you'd want yourself. Oh, sure, you might argue that you wouldn't do these heinous things, or use your office to illegally fire U.S. Attorneys. Or wouldn't concoct reasons to violate the Geneva Convention and justify torture . But that's merely hypothetical. The reality is that if you did these things, you'd surely want to be exempted from the scorn, impeachment, jail, eternal damnation, whatever you want to call it, to follow.

President George Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney are just doing what any American would do if they abused power and breached the laws of the United States Constitution. They're only claiming to be exempt from those laws. Nothing more.

You might think that simply ignoring such laws and rewriting them with 750 presidential signing statements might be enough, but it's not. You know how prosecutors are, always finding some loophole to convict criminals. Why take the chance? You wouldn't for yourself or your loved ones. Why expect anything less from the good fellows elected to lead the United States?

(Certainly, with public approval now at 26%, few Americans do expect anything less of the president and vice president.)

For goodness sake, if you illegally used your government email account and for crimes, wouldn't you delete them all, too? Of course you'd want to be exempt from laws about that.

When President Bush's executive order to protect national security states, "Our democratic principles require that the American people be informed of the activities of their government," it is only the partisan who try to twist those words. Actual words don't matter anyway, the intent does. And the president "knows what his intentions were," insists White House spokesman Tony Fratto.

Okay, some may insist that Mr. Bush doesn't always appear to know what even his own sentences are, and often needs a GPS to navigate them, but they are ignoring the White House's very simple point:

The executive order for oversight of the executive branch applies only to executive agencies, and not the actual executive office itself. "It does take a little bit of inference," spokesman Fratto said.

(Note: "inference" is generally referred to as "nuance," but the White House is officially against the concept of "nuance," finding it to be beneath contempt and somewhat French.)

Oh, sure, some may quibble that the executive order states that it covers "any other entity within the executive branch" - but since the Chief Executive and his entity have both exempted themselves from the executive branch, clearly they are not at risk here.

And that's one more reason to applaud their having exempted themselves, wouldn't you say? If you were being honest.

Oh, sure, some may also quibble, as does Tom Blanton, director of the National Security Archive, when he complained to the Los Angeles Times, "If the president and the vice president don't take their own rules seriously, who else should?" But that supposes that Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney don't take their own rules seriously. Of course they do! Why else do you think they exempted themselves?!!

Blanton also whines that since the executive order was to create national security safeguards, exempting oneself demonstrates a failure of the order: "If there are all these great safeguards in place, then where are the e-mails?"

Well, buster, they're gone, deleted, vanished. And that makes it pretty close to impossible to fall into the wrong hands. Score another one for exemption. The system works.

In the end, the executive order simply does not grant the oversight organization authority to examine the executive office, White House spokesman Fratto says emphatically, and that's as it should be. When you allow an oversight organization the right to do the oversight you have directed by executive order, you are only creating one more level of redundant, red tape bureaucracy. And we should all applaud any government that fights waste.

Or at least exempts themselves from it.