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Cheney sought Rice's role at National Security Council, Vanity Fair to report

Ron Brynaert
Published: Tuesday May 2, 2006

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Bush apparently gave Cheney power to preside over National Security Council meetings

Shortly after taking office, Vice President Dick Cheney fought to take over one of the national security adviser's key duties, claims an unnamed ex-official in the June issue of Vanity Fair.

"At one point early in this Bush administration, a former official tells me, Cheney wanted to chair meetings of the National Security Council "principals"— the secretaries of state and defense, the C.I.A. director, and so on—in Bush’s absence, co-opting the usual role of the national security adviser, then Condoleezza Rice," writes Vanity Fair national editor Todd Purdum in an advance copy provided by the magazine to RAW STORY.

"He lost," Purdum adds within parenthesis.

Although Cheney's alleged desire to chair principals meetings has been reported before, the results of a RAW STORY investigation suggest that the Vice President may have gotten what he wanted.

Practically unnoticed, a National Security Presidential Directive issued Feb.13, 2001, and signed by President George W. Bush, formally gave the vice president that duty, albeit at the President's discretion.

"When I am absent from a meeting of the NSC, at my direction the Vice President may preside," Bush wrote.

But before the document was officially released, an article in the New York Times published in February, 2001 claimed that "officials who read the directive today and who were familiar with its development" said that it "rejected suggestions that Vice President Cheney head important meetings of the National Security Council."

"Given Mr. Cheney's broad powers and his past posts as defense secretary in the first Bush administration and chief of staff to President Gerald R. Ford, there were expectations at the White House that he would assume a more prominent role in the security council," the Times' Jane Perlez wrote.

"But the directive today affirmed Ms. Rice's primacy," Perlez claimed. "The directive means that Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld will sit "deferentially" beside Ms. Rice at the meetings."

The directive was formally approved for release by the National Security Council staff on Mar. 13, 2001, but the vice president's new role went unnoticed.

A Washington Post article from February, 2001 noted that Bush's directive was issued later than usual, which may have been related to Cheney's jockeying for more power.

"Bush still has not issued the traditional presidential directive formally spelling out his national security structure -- a document his two immediate predecessors signed their first day in office," wrote Karen DeYoung and Steven Mufson for the Post.

In his book, Against All Enemies, Richard A. Clarke, former special advisor to the National Security Council, mentioned Cheney's attendance at the principals meetings.

"In the first weeks of the Administration, however, Cheney had heard me loud and clear about al-Qaida," Clarke wrote. "Now that he was attending the NSC Principals meetings chaired by Condi Rice (something no Vice President had ever done), I hoped he would speak up about the urgency of the problem, put it on a short list for immediate action. He didn't."

Clarke was taken off the principals committee by Rice in Bush's first year before the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

In April 2004, a U.S. News & World Report article claimed that the vice president's unprecedented role on the N.S.C. caused it to become "dysfunctional."

"This is the most dysfunctional NSC that ever existed," an unnamed senior U.S. official told the magazine. "But it's not Condi's fault. The person that's made it so dysfunctional is Cheney."

"For the first time, a vice president is sitting in on meetings with other NSC principals and is constantly involved in the policymaking," wrote Kenneth T. Walsh for U.S. News. "A copy of every NSC memo goes to the vice president's staff, so that Cheney can play an active role on issues that interest him."