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Cheney on domestic spying by the Pentagon and CIA: 'There's nothing wrong with it or illegal'

Ron Brynaert
Published: Sunday January 14, 2007
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On Sunday morning, Vice President Dick Cheney confirmed a news report that the Pentagon and Central Intelligence Agency were checking the financial information trails of hundreds of suspected terrorists or spies, including American citizens, but said that it wasn't against the law.

"It's a perfectly legitimate activity," Cheney told host Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday. "There's nothing wrong with it. Or illegal."

"It doesn't violate people's civil rights," the vice president continued. "And if an institution that receives one of these national security letters disagrees with it, they're free to go to court to try to stop its execution."

"The vast majority of national security letters are issued by the FBI, but in rare circumstances they have been used by the CIA before and after Sept. 11, according to a U.S. intelligence official," the Associated Press reports. "The CIA has used these noncompulsory letters in espionage investigations and other circumstances, the official said."

On Saturday, The New York Times reported that the "Pentagon has been using a little-known power to obtain banking and credit records of hundreds of Americans and others suspected of terrorism or espionage inside the United States, part of an aggressive expansion by the military into domestic intelligence gathering."

"The C.I.A. has also been issuing what are known as national security letters to gain access to financial records from American companies, though it has done so only rarely, intelligence officials say," Eric Lichtbau and Mark Mazzetti wrote. "Banks, credit card companies and other financial institutions receiving the letters usually have turned over documents voluntarily, allowing investigators to examine the financial assets and transactions of American military personnel and civilians, officials say."

One liberal blogger asks, "What's with all the military spying inside the US?"

"Maybe the Pentagon ought to spend more time gathering intelligence in Iraq and Afghanistan and leave the spying on US citizens to the FBI, DHS, INS, DEA, ATF and state and local police agencies," Digby writes. "I think they can handle the illegal wiretapping, mailreading and bank account tracking all by themselves."

On the other end of the political spectrum, a blogger at Right Voices writes, "I was surprised that the New York Times didnít call it illegal."

Right Voice Peejz adds, "Note that this is a power that the Pentagon has! What troubles me about this is that I see the same problems that we had prior to 9/11. The intelligence agencies are not working together and the infighting is as strong as it was prior to 9/11."

"As usual, the left is in a snit!" Peejz continues. "Gee, big surprise huh?"

Another left-leaning blogger, Susan G. at Daily Kos, mockingly linked by Right Voices, told her readers to enjoy their weekend, and to feel free to "pop open a tall one," since now "the military won't storm your door."

"They're too busy poring over your credit card records and financial transactions, using the excuse of the strengthening of the Patriot Act," Susan G. continued. "Only traitors would object, remember? Because only traitors and other un-American types are concerned about civil liberties and privacy."

Full transcript of Fox Sunday interview with Cheney:

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MR. WALLACE: I'm Chris Wallace. A special interview with the vice president. Next, on "Fox News Sunday." A new plan for Iraq brings new questions. Will more U.S. troops stop the violence? And will the Maliki government finally do its part? We'll talk about Iraq, other hot spots and domestic politics as well, in an exclusive interview with Vice President Dick Cheney.

And good morning again from Fox News in Washington. Joining us now, the vice president of the United States, Dick Cheney. Mr. Vice President, welcome back to "Fox News Sunday."

VICE PRES. CHENEY: It's good to be back, Chris.

MR. WALLACE: Let's start with the president's speech this week, in which he said that U.S. forces in Iraq, and let's put it up on the screen, "are engaged in a struggle that will determine," his words, "determine the direction of the global war on terror and our safety here at home."

If you and the president really believe that, why not send even more troops into Iraq, and why depend on the Iraqi army and government, which have failed us again and again? Why not say this is a U.S. war and we will do whatever it takes to win?

VICE. PRES. CHENEY: Well, in effect, we have said that. And we are putting in the force we think what's required to do the job. It's based on the best military advice we can get. It can't be just a U.S. show, in a sense that ultimately the Iraqis are going to have to be responsible for defending Iraq, for governing themselves. And that's always been our ultimate objective. And that hasn't changed.

But it's clear, based on recent developments, that they need help. We can provide that help by putting additional forces for the foreseeable future, and work in conjunction with the Iraqis. The Iraqis will be there, too. Right alongside us. This is not just an all-U.S. show. It's always been a question of trying to balance what's the right amount of American force and American leadership with the question of handing over authority and responsibility and transition to the Iraqis. We're still very much engaged in that process.

We've clearly made a judgment here, both the Iraqis have, and the United States, that we need to do more to get a handle on the situation in Baghdad.

MR. WALLACE: But to repeat my opening question, ultimately, will the U.S. do whatever it takes to win?

VICE PRES. CHENEY: I believe we will. I think that if you look at the conflict that's involved here, and remember that Iraq is just part of a larger war, it is, in fact, a global war that stretches from Pakistan all the way to North Africa. We've been engaged in Pakistan, we've been engaged in Afghanistan. We clearly are working closely with the Saudis, with the Gulf states, with the Egyptians. That we have gone in and aggressively since 9/11 gone after state sponsors of terror. Gone after safe havens where terrorists train and equipped and planned and operated to strike the United States.

And we've got people like Karzai in Afghanistan, and Musharraf in Pakistan, who are great allies, who put their lives on the line every single day that they go to work. Assassination attempts on their lives. And for us to succeed in all other areas, those people have got to have confidence in the United States, that they can count on us.

Now, if the United States doesn't have the stomach to finish the task in Iraq, we put at risk what we've done in all those other locations out there. Remember what bin Laden's strategy is. He doesn't think he can beat us in a stand-up fight. He thinks he can force us to quit. He believes that after Lebanon in '83 and Somalia in '93, the United States doesn't have the stomach for a long war. And Iraq is the current, central battlefield in that war, and we must win there. It's absolutely essential that we win there. And we will win there.

MR. WALLACE: Over the last 46 months, the president and you have repeatedly said that you are on the path to victory, sometimes proposing exactly the opposite policy of what the president did this week. Let's take a look.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: (From videotape.) Sending more Americans would undermine our strategy of encouraging Iraqis to take the lead in this fight. Not only can we win this war in Iraq, we are winning the war in Iraq. Will we be nimble enough? You know, we will be able to deal with the circumstances on the ground? And the answer is, yes we will. Absolutely we're winning.

MR. WALLACE: Mr. Vice President, why should we believe that this time you've got it right?

VICE PRES. CHENEY: Well, I think if you look at what's transpired in Iraq, Chris, we have, in fact, made enormous progress. Remember where we were four years. Saddam Hussein was in power. A guy who had started two wars, who had produced and used weapons of mass destruction, violated 16 U.N. Security Council resolutions, prime sponsor of terror, paying the families of suicide bombers. Saddam has been brought to justice. He's dead. He was executed, as we all know here, a few weeks ago. His government is gone. There have been three national elections in Iraq. There's a new constitution, there's a new government that's been in place now for all of nine months. And a lot of people are eager to go out and write them off now. I think it's far too soon.

The fact is, we've come a long way from where we started in Iraq. We still have a lot to do. It's been tougher and taken longer than we thought it would. One of the things, obviously --

MR. WALLACE: But the fact is, some of these policies that you've proposed, that we've talked about there, haven't worked. Why should we believe this policy will?

VICE PRES. CHENEY: One of the things that, in fact, transpired that's changed the circumstances over there, was the successful strategy that Zarqawi pursued. We went up until the spring of '06, the Shi'a sat back and did not respond to the attacks on them. Sat there and took it. But after they got hit at the Golden Dome in Samara, precipitated the sectarian violence that we're seeing now. We've got to get a handle on that in order to be able to succeed.

We do have to change and adjust and adapt our tactics if we're going to succeed from a strategic standpoint. But that's what we're doing.

Now, no war ever goes smoothly all the way. Lots of times you have to make adjustments and that's what we're doing here.

MR. WALLACE: Throughout this war, the president has said that he listens to the generals on the ground and he gives them what they want. But in November, General Abizaid, the commander of all U.S. forces in the Middle East, spoke before the Senate committee and said that meeting with every divisional commander, that sending more troops into Iraq would prevent the Iraqis from taking on the responsibility they should take. Let's take a look.

GENERAL JOHN ABIZAID, COMMANDER, UNITED STATES CENTRAL COMMAND, CENTCOM: (From videotape.) General Casey, the core commander, General Dempsey, we all fought together, and I said, in your professional opinion, if we were to bring in more American troops now, does it add considerably to our ability to achieve success in Iraq. And they all said no.

MR. WALLACE: Mr. Vice President, why did you and president decide to overrule the commanders?

VICE PRES. CHENEY: Well, I don't think we've overruled the commanders. The fact is, the plan we've got here now has been embraced by Abizaid, by General Casey, by Fox Fallon --

MR. WALLACE: But how do you explain what he said right then? That's less than two months ago.

VICE PRES. CHENEY: Well, it was two months ago. We've, in fact, looked very carefully at this situation and we have a plan now that has, in fact, been endorsed by the generals, including Fox Fallon, who's the new CENTCOM commander, who's about to replace General Abizaid. Bob Gates, who's the new secretary of defense. Part of the debate has been, Chris, over this question about how much emphasis you put on the priority of transitioning to Iraqi control, and how much you put on the question of using U.S. forces to deal with the security situation.

And there's a balance to be struck there. And the old balance, basically in the past, places the emphasis on transitioning to the Iraqis. But we've made the decision, and came to the conclusion that until we've got a handle on the security situation in Baghdad, the Iraqis weren't going to be able to make the progress they need to make on the economic front, on the political front, and so forth. And so, the conclusion is that with the plan that we've put in place now, that we're going to place a greater emphasis upon going after the security problem in Baghdad. That has to come first. Political reconciliation's important. Economic progress is important, but that we've got to get a handle on the security situation in Baghdad. That means more Iraqi forces. That means more U.S. forces.

MR. WALLACE: Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki, I think it's fair to say, has disappointed us over and over again. Let's take a look at the record. In mid-October, he demanded that the U.S. military free an aide to Muqtada al-Sadr, who was suspected of leading a death squad. On October 31st, he made the U.S. end a blockade of Sadr City, where we were searching for a missing U.S. soldier. On December 30th, he ignored our calls to delay the execution of Saddam Hussein, leading on an event the president says was right below Abu Ghraib as an embarrassment for our country. Question, how direct has the president been with Maliki that he can't fail us again?

VICE PRES. CHENEY: You know, we've been very direct with him. And I think Maliki and his government understand very well that they, in fact, need to step up and take responsibility. That we need to have new rules of engagement. That there will not be any political interference, if you will, phone calls from government officials that interfere with the legitimate military activities of the security forces --

MR. WALLACE: Let me ask you a specific question about that, sir. If U.S. forces want to go into Sadr City and take on Muqtada al-Sadr, do you promise, do you pledge to the American people we'll do that regardless of what Maliki says?

VICE PRES. CHENEY: I believe we'll be able to do whatever we need to do in order to get a handle on the security situation there. And Prime Minister Maliki will be directly involved in it. This is just as much his program as it is ours. He's the one, ultimately, who has to perform in terms of the capabilities of Iraqi forces. So, I think we do have the right understanding. Time will tell.

We'll have to wait and see what happens here. But I do believe that, based on the conversations we've had with Prime Minister Maliki and with his senior people, direct conversations between the president and Prime Minister Maliki, commitments he's made to him, and that we've made to him, and that he's made to us, that, in fact, we do have an understanding that will allow us to move forward and get the job done.

MR. WALLACE: The question a lot of people have is, or else? In other words, as the Iraq Study Group said, if Maliki didn't live up to his promises, we would begin to cut aid, support, troops. What do we do if he doesn't live up to his promises? Is there an or else? And specifically, because, there's all this talk about, well, it's a democracy, would the U.S. consider backing another Iraqi?

VICE PRES. CHENEY: I'm not going to get into that, Chris. We've got a good plan. We're just now beginning the execution of the plan. Why don't we get together in a couple of months and see how it worked?

MR. WALLACE: Well, that's an invitation that I'll accept. But, the question is, is there an or else?

VICE PRES. CHENEY: I'm not going to go beyond what I've said. We're focused on making this plan work.

MR. WALLACE: But it's not an open-ended commitment?

VICE PRES. CHENEY: We're focused on making this plan work.

MR. WALLACE: Does Congress have any control over how you and the president conduct this war?

VICE PRES. CHENEY: Well, Congress certainly has a significant role to play here. They have clearly been instrumental, a major player in terms of appropriating the funds to support the force and the activities in the global conflict, as well as our operations in Iraq. We talk to the Congress a lot. We consulted with over 120 members of Congress before the president made his pronouncement. We've agreed to set up an advisory group, if you will, that draws on the chairmen and ranking members of the committees of the House and Senate as we go forward.

So, Congress clearly has a role to play.

MR. WALLACE: Well, that's a consultative role. The question I'm asking --

VICE PRES. CHENEY: It is a consultative role.

MR. WALLACE: In other words, if they want to stop it, can they?

VICE PRES. CHENEY: The president is the commander-in-chief. He's the one that has to make these tough decisions. He's the guy who's got to decide who to use the force and where to deploy the force. And the Congress, obviously, as to support the effort, through the power of the purse. So, they've got a role to play. And we certainly recognize that.

But you also cannot run a war by committee. You know, the Constitution, very clearly, the president is, in fact, under Article 2, the commander-in-chief.

MR. WALLACE: So, let me ask you a couple of specific questions. If Congress passes a resolution opposing increasing the troops in Iraq, will that stop you?

VICE PRES. CHENEY: It would be a sense of the Congress resolution. We're obviously interested in it and what Congress has to say about it. But it would not affect the president's ability to carry out his policies.

MR. WALLACE: What do you say to members of Congress who may try to block your efforts, your policy in Iraq? Would they be, in effect, undercutting the troops?

VICE PRES. CHENEY: Well, I think they would be. But I think more than that, Congress clearly has every right to express their opinion. And to agree or disagree with administration policy.

And they will. And they haven't had any qualms about that. But there's a new element here, I think, Chris. And that is to say, the Democrats have now taken control of the House and the Senate. That's not enough for them to be critics anymore.

We have these meetings with members of Congress, and they all agree we can't fail. The consequences of failure would be too great. But then they end up critical of what we're trying to do. Advocating withdrawal, or so-called deployment of the force. But they have absolutely nothing to offer in its place. I have yet to hear a coherent policy out of the Democratic side with respect to an alternative to what the president's proposed in terms of going forward.

They basically, if we were to follow their guidance -- the comments, for example, that a lot of them made during the last campaign about withdrawing U.S. forces, we simply go back and revalidate the strategy that Osama bin Laden has been following from day one. That if you kill enough Americans, you can force them to quit. That we don't have the stomach for the fight. That's not an answer.

If, in fact, this is as critical as we all believe it is, then if the Democrats don't like what we're proposing, it seems to me they have an obligation to put forward their proposal. And so far, we haven't seen it.

MR. WALLACE: Mr. Vice President, it's not just Democrats who oppose the plan. This week there were a number of leading Senate Republicans who also came out against it. Let's watch.

SENATOR NORMAN COLEMAN (R-MN): (From videotape.) I'm just not prepared at this time to support that.

SENATOR DAVID VITTER (R-LA): (From videotape.) Too little, maybe too late.

SENATOR CHUCK HAGEL (R-NE): (From videotape.) The most dangerous foreign policy blunder in this country since Vietnam.

MR. WALLACE: Aren't you -- you're losing a lot of support in your own caucus.

VICE PRES. CHENEY: I don't think Chuck Hagel's been with us for a long time. The most dangerous blunder here would be if, in fact, we took all of that effort that's gone into fighting the global war on terror, and the great work that we've done in Pakistan and Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia and across the globe out there, and saw it dissipated because the United States now decides that Iraq's too tough and we're going to pack it in and go home. And we leave high and dry those millions of people in that part of the world that have signed on and supported the U.S., or supported governments that are allied with the U.S. in this global conflict.

This is an existential conflict. It is the kind of conflict that's going to drive our policy and our government for the next 20 or 30 or 40 years. We have to prevail, and we have to have the stomach for the fight long-term. And for us to do what Chuck Hagel, for example, suggests, or to buy into that kind of analysis, it's not really analysis, it's just criticism, strikes me as absolutely the wrong thing to do. These are tough decisions. But the president's made it. It's a good decision. It's a good policy. We think, on reflection, it's the best way for us to move forward to achieve our objectives in Iraq.

MR. WALLACE: I want to ask you one last question about this. And then we'll talk about other issues. Iraq was a big issue in the November election. I want you to take a look at some numbers from the election. According to the National Exit Poll, 67 percent said the war was either "very" or "extremely" important to their vote. And, only 17 percent supported sending in more troops.

By taking the policy that you have, haven't you, Mr. Vice President, ignored the expressed will of the American people in the November election?

VICE PRES. CHENEY: Well, Chris, this president, and I don't think any president worth his salt, can afford to make decisions of this magnitude according to the polls. The polls change --

MR. WALLACE: But this was an election --

VICE PRES. CHENEY: The polls change day by day, week by week. I think the vast majority of Americans want the right outcome in Iraq. The challenge for us is to be able to provide that. But you cannot simply stick your finger up in the wind and say, gee, public opinion is against, we better quit. That is part and parcel of the underlying, fundamental strategy that our adversaries believe afflicts the United States. They are convinced that the current debate in Congress, that the election campaign last fall, all of that, is evidence that they're right when they say the United States doesn't have the stomach for the fight in this long war against terror. They believe it. They look at past evidence of it. In Lebanon in '83, in Somalia in '93. Vietnam before that.

They're convinced that the United States will, in fact, pack it in and go home if they just kill enough of us. They can't beat us in a stand-up fight. But they think they can break our will. And if we have a president who looks at the polls and sees the polls going south, and concludes, oh my goodness, we've got to quit, all it'll do is validate the al-Qaeda view of the world. It's exactly the wrong thing to do. This president does not make policy based on public opinion polls. He should not. It's absolutely essential here that we get it right.

MR. WALLACE: Mr. Vice President, we have to take a quick break here. But when we come back, we'll talk about Iran and the Democrats taking control of Congress. Back in a moment.

(Commercial break.)

MR. WALLACE: And we're back now with Vice President Cheney. The president talked very tough about Iran this week. And it's not just rhetoric. He has authorized the arrest of Iranians making trouble in Iraq. He has moved against Iranian banks. You've sent two carrier groups and air defense systems into the region. What's the message that you're sending to Iran? And how tough are you prepared to get?

VICE PRES. CHENEY: Well, I think it's been pretty well known that Iran is fishing in troubled waters, if you will, inside Iraq. And the president has responded to that, as you suggest. I think it's the exactly the right thing to do. And Iran's a problem in a much larger sense. They have begun to conduct themselves in ways that have created a great deal of tension throughout the region.

If you go and talk with the Gulf states, or if you talk with the Saudis, or if you talk with the Israelis, or the Jordanians, the general -- the entire region is worried, partly because of the conduct of Mr. Ahmadinejad, the president of Iran who appears to be a radical. A man who believes in an apocalyptic vision of the future. And who thinks it's eminent.

At the same time, of course, they're pursuing the acquisition of nuclear weapons. They are in a position where they sit astride the Straits of Hormuz, where over 20 percent of the world's supply of oil transits every single day; where 18 million barrels a day. They use Hezbollah as a surrogate. In working through Syria with Hezbollah, they're trying to topple a democratically elected government in Iran. Working through Hamas, and their support for Hamas in Gaza, they're interfering with the peace process.

So that the threat Iran represents is growing. It's multi- dimensional. And it is, in fact, of concern to everybody in the region.

MR. WALLACE: So what message are you sending to Iran, and how tough are you prepared to get?

VICE PRES. CHENEY: I think the message that the president sent clearly is, that we do not want them doing what they can to try to destabilize the situation inside Iraq. We think it's very important that they keep their folks at home. They've been important, for example, in providing improvised explosive devices to some of the forces inside Iraq. The presence of U.S. military out there, not only in terms of what we're doing in Iraq, but also with our carrier task forces, for example, is indicated as reassurance to our friends in the region that the United States is committed to their security. And that we're a major presence there now, and we expect to continue to be one in the future.

MR. WALLACE: So, you're increasing the pressure on Iran to stop these activities?

VICE PRES. CHENEY: Of course. The pressure -- obviously, we're focused diplomatically on the nuclear problem. We've gone to the United Nations. We've gotten a U.N. Security Council resolution, unanimously, through that body, to impose sanctions on Iran. There's no reason in the world why Iran needs to continue to pursue nuclear weapons. But if you look down the road a few years, and speculate about the possibility of a nuclear, armed, Iran, astride the world's supply of oil, able to affect adversely the global economy, prepare to use terrorist organizations and/or their nuclear weapons to threaten their neighbors and others around the world, that's a very serious prospect and it's important that that not happen.

MR. WALLACE: Well, you say it's important that it not happen. In fact, it was the basis of the Bush doctrine, you will not allow the world's most dangerous powers to get access to the world's most dangerous weapons. Can you pledge, before you and the president leave office, you will take care of the threat of Iran?

VICE PRES. CHENEY: I think we're working right now today as we speak on the key elements of that problem, specifically through the United Nations, for example, with the nuclear program --

MR. WALLACE: Their contention, that cascades --

VICE PRES. CHENEY: Through our military presence in the Gulf, with respect to our friends and allies in that part of the world, and obviously inside Iraq in terms of the actions we've taken or ordered be taken against cuts force personnel that are making trouble inside Iraq.

MR. WALLACE: There's a report in The New York Times today that's been confirmed by administration officials, that the Pentagon and the CIA have been obtaining financial records about hundreds of Americans suspected of involvement in either terrorism or espionage. Why involve the CIA and the Pentagon in domestic intelligence gathering?

VICE PRES. CHENEY: Well, remember what these issues are. This is a question, as I understand it, of issuing national security letters that allow us to collect financial information, for example, on suspected, or on people we have reason to suspect. The Defense Department gets involved because we've got hundreds of bases inside the United States that are potential terrorist targets. We've got hundreds of thousands of people, innocent Americans --

MR. WALLACE: Well, why couldn't the FBI do that, sir?

VICE PRES. CHENEY: Well, they can do a certain amount of it, and they do. But the Department of Defense has legitimate authority in this area. This is an authority that goes back three or four decades. It was reaffirmed in the Patriot Act that was renewed here about a year or so ago. It's a perfectly legitimate activity. There's nothing wrong with it. Or illegal. It doesn't violate people's civil rights. And if an institution that receives one of these national security letters disagrees with it, they're free to go to court to try to stop its execution.

So, this is -- you know, this is a dramatic story. But I think it's important for people to understand here, there's a legitimate security effort that's been underway for a long time and it does not represent a new departure from the standpoint of our efforts to protect ourselves against terrorist attacks.

MR. WALLACE: Your former chief of staff, Scooter Libby, goes on trial this coming week on charges of obstruction of justice and perjury. As I mentioned to Mrs. Cheney when she was here a few weeks ago, I happened to notice you invited Mr. Libby to your Christmas party that you also invited me to. Given his legal troubles, why?

VICE PRES. CHENEY: Why what?

MR. WALLACE: Why invite him to your party?

VICE PRES. CHENEY: He's a friend. He's a good man. He is one of the finest individuals I've ever known. And I did invite him to the Christmas party. The last two years he's been at our Christmas party.

And before that, we was working for me.

MR. WALLACE: Is he honest?

VICE PRES. CHENEY: I believe he's one of the more honest men I know. He's a good man. And I obviously appreciate his service on my staff over the years. And I have very high regard for him and his family.

MR. WALLACE: Libby's lawyers say they're going to call you as a witness. And we've had presidential scholars scurrying. It appears that it may be the first time ever that a sitting vice president has testified in a criminal trial. Will you do -- participate in a videotaped deposition? Or will you go into court and raise your right hand?

VICE PRES. CHENEY: Chris, I'm not going to get into the trial. That's a matter that's before us. I have indicated from the very beginning my wholehearted cooperation with the investigation and with whatever legal proceedings emerge out of that. And this'll all unfold here in the very near future -- (inaudible.) --

MR. WALLACE: You have any problems going into open court, sir?

VICE PRES. CHENEY: I'm going to leave it right where it's at. I'm not going to comment on the trial itself.

MR. WALLACE: Given the fact that it now turns out that Libby wasn't the one who first leaked the name of Valerie Plame, what do you think of the fact that he's the only one who's being prosecuted in this case?

VICE PRES. CHENEY: I have strong views on this subject, but I'm not going to talk about it.

MR. WALLACE: Well, let me ask you, because your wife, when she was on, and let's put it up on the screen, said, "it's bizarre and does not reflect well on our judicial system."

VICE PRES. CHENEY: I'm not going to talk about it.

MR. WALLACE: Do you agree with your wife?

VICE PRES. CHENEY: (Chuckles.) I'm not going to talk about it, Chris. I have strong feelings on the subject. I am likely to be a witness in this trial. It would be inappropriate for me at this point, shortly before the trial begins, to enter into a public dialogue with you about my views on --

MR. WALLACE: But there's nothing that you have heard, nothing that you have read, that shakes your confidence in Scooter Libby's integrity?

VICE PRES. CHENEY: That's correct.

MR. WALLACE: What's your reaction to what the congressional Democrats, especially in the House, have done during their first 100 legislative hours?

VICE PRES. CHENEY: Well, I think it's interesting to watch. We've got a lot of people around town on my side of the aisle sort of wringing their hands, and you know, my gosh, what do we do now that the Democrats are back in control of the Congress? The fact is, for the nearly 40 years I've been in and around Washington, the Democrats were always in control of Congress. We've had a relatively new period of time in recent years, but the fact that the Democrats now have control of the Senate and the House isn't unique at all. Some of my friends have to adjust to minority status, if you will, and that's not pleasant always if you've been in the majority.

But I think the Democrats are proceeding in about the way I would expect them to proceed. They've got a few things they want to push, and they're doing that early on. But I think they've got to come to grips as well, too now, with being in the majority. The fact of the matter is, when you control the levers on Capitol Hill, it's not enough for you simply to be a critic of the administration. You've got to put forward positive proposals of your own.

MR. WALLACE: Well, let's talk about at least one key issue. Treasury Secretary Paulson says he wants to engage the Democrats on Social Security reform without any preconditions. Does that mean that you and the president would consider an increase in the payroll tax as part of a grand bargain, to make sure the system doesn't go bankrupt.

VICE PRES. CHENEY: No. What it means is, that Secretary Paulson is trying to get people to the table to sit down and talk about the subject of Social Security.

MR. WALLACE: Does that mean, then, that you wouldn't consider an increase in payroll taxes?

VICE PRES. CHENEY: We -- the president's been very clear. I think if you look at his philosophy over the years, he's been very consistent about it. We believe in keeping taxes as low as possible. We think that's been key to our economic success and to the progess that we've made on the economy. The creation of 7.2 million jobs in the last several years. And so, we don't believe a tax increase is necessary.

MR. WALLACE: So, conservatives --

VICE PRES. CHENEY: I want to sit down and talk about trying to get people to the table to talk about Social Security. We've set no preconditions. And that's exactly what it means. Come to the table and talk.

MR. WALLACE: So conservatives who are worried that you're going to sell them out on payroll taxes shouldn't worry?

VICE PRES. CHENEY: I think that this president has been very, very clear on his position on taxes. And nothing's changed.

MR. WALLACE: A number of the new Democratic chairmen say they're going to conduct investigations of various things that have gone on over the last six years in the Bush administration and are going to go on. You're considered something of a hardliner when it comes to executive authority. What's the White House position going to be when it comes to requests for either documents or witnesses from the administration?

VICE PRES. CHENEY: We've been, I think, very responsible in that regard. And when there's a legitimate need for those documents to be presented to the Congress and they have a legitimate constitutional or statutory reason to have access to them, we try to accommodate them. Sometimes requests have been made that clearly fall outside the boundaries. That clearly try to get into an area, for example, and that is preserved and protected for the president.

The president's ability to consult, for example, with people in private without having to publicize or tell the Congress who he's talking to. We took that case on my energy task force, for example, all the way to the Supreme Court and won on a 7-2 decision. So, it depends. But we'll do everything we can to cooperate and would with the Congress. We want good relations with the Congress.

But if they come down and seek something that we don't think is appropriate, we'll defend our constitutional obligations and responsibilities. We take an oath just like they do, to protect, preserve and defend the Constitution of the United States. And so, we have strong feelings about it, and we've operated accordingly.

MR. WALLACE: We've got about thirty seconds left. Do you and the president feel embattled these days? Do you feel isolated? Do you see the Democrats on Capitol Hill lining up against you? Do you see some of your support among Republicans falling away?

VICE PRES. CHENEY: I don't. And the president doesn't either. I've been here, off and on, a long time, Chris, going back to 1968. I've seen embattled administrations. This isn't one of them.

MR. WALLACE: (Chuckles.) Yeah, we just went through discussions of that with Watergate, right?

VICE PRES. CHENEY: Um hmm.

MR. WALLACE: With President Ford's funeral.

VICE PRES. CHENEY: Right.

MR. WALLACE: This is nothing compared to that.

VICE PRES. CHENEY: Correct.

MR. WALLACE: Mr. Vice President, we want to thank you so much for sharing part of our Sunday with us. And please come back, sir.

VICE PRES. CHENEY: Good to be here, Chris.

MR. WALLACE: Thank you.

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