For Cheney, office's relocation out of executive is nothing new
While news of the re-location of the Vice President's office outside of the executive branch surprised many political observers Thursday, earlier news reports reveal that Dick Cheney and his staff have long maintained that for the purposes of certain laws, the Office of the Vice President is a unique part of the government that is not part of the executive or legislative branches.
In 2005, the Center for Public Integrity reported that Cheney's office has considered itself outside the executive branch since 2002 when it argued that it was exempt from disclosing trips taken by its employees paid for by non-federal sources.
"Instead of making disclosures like most of the White House, Cheney's office since March 2002 has periodically responded to [Office of Government Ethics] inquiries by stating that it is not obligated to file such disclosure forms for travel funded by non-federal sources," wrote Kate Sheppard and Bob Williams. "The letters were signed by then-Counsel to the Vice President David Addington...In the letters to the Office of Government Ethics, Addington writes that the Office of the Vice President is not classified as an agency of the executive branch and is therefore not required to issue reports on travel, lodging and related expenses funded by non-federal sources."
Tom Fitton of the group Judicial Watch went on to tell the CPI that for Cheney and his staff, "Their view is that the vice president is a constitutional office that is not subject to the laws that others in the executive branch are. They have been consistent in that."
Earlier this year, the blog Talking Points Memo also highlighted the Office of the Vice President's unwillingness to disclose the names of its staff-members in a resource known as the "Plum Book" that is published by the executive branch. In place of the Vice President's staff, the Office published an entry outlining Addington's constitutional argument.
"The Vice Presidency is a unique office that is neither a part of the executive branch nor a part of the legislative branch, but is attached by the Constitution to the latter. The Vice Presidency performs functions in both the legislative branch (see article I, section 3 of the Constitution) and in the executive branch (see article II, and amendments XII and XXV, of the Constitution, and section 106 of title 3 of the United States Code)," the section noted.
TPM contributor David Kurtz remarked at the time, "I've gone from being open to the idea of an Imperial Vice Presidency to being convinced that historians will debate whether something approaching a Cheney-led coup d'etat has occurred, in which some of the powers of the Executive were extra-constitutionally usurped by the Office of the Vice President."
While criticism mounted regarding the argument offered by Cheney's office, the White House deflected expressed concerns, saying that the story was not a newsworthy subject.
"This is an interesting constitutional question that legal scholars can debate...the Vice President has a unique role in our United States government," said Dana Perino Friday afternoon at the White House.
She went on to say that Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), the Chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, had no standing to investigate the compliance of the Vice President's office with the activities of the Internal Security Oversight Office.
"The executive order is enforced solely by the President of the United States. I think this is a little bit of a non-issue," she added.
The group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington instead suggested that a counterpart office in the Senate should probe the Vice President's office's activity with regard to classification and declassification of government documents, if Cheney's argument that his office is part of the legislative branch is to be believed.
"By claiming the Office of the Vice President is within the legislative branch does Mr. Cheney agree that he is subject to Senate security procedures?" asked Melanie Sloan, the group's executive director, in a Friday release. "To safeguard sensitive information, in 1987 the Senate created the Office of Senate Security, which is part of the Secretary of the Senate. The Security Office's standards, procedures and requirements are set out in the Senate Security Manual, which is binding on all employees of the Senate."
The office of Senator Harry Reid, Democratic Majority Leader, did not respond to RAW STORY's inquiries of whether it would call on the Office of Senate Security to look into whether it had oversight on the Office of the Vice President's activities
As far as constitutional debate goes, founding father Alexander Hamilton opined on the need for an 'extraordinary person' to be elected Vice President in no. 68 of the Federalist Papers. Hamilton made clear in the March 1788 essay, signed by 'Publius,' that there were distinctly separate legislative and executive branch responsibilities for the Vice President.
The appointment of an extraordinary person, as Vice-President, has been objected to as superfluous, if not mischievous. It has been alleged, that it would have been preferable to have authorized the Senate to elect out of their own body an officer answering that description. But two considerations seem to justify the ideas of the convention in this respect. One is, that to secure at all times the possibility of a definite resolution of the body, it is necessary that the President should have only a casting vote. And to take the senator of any State from his seat as senator, to place him in that of President of the Senate, would be to exchange, in regard to the State from which he came, a constant for a contingent vote. The other consideration is, that as the Vice-President may occasionally become a substitute for the President, in the supreme executive magistracy, all the reasons which recommend the mode of election prescribed for the one, apply with great if not with equal force to the manner of appointing the other. It is remarkable that in this, as in most other instances, the objection which is made would lie against the constitution of this State. We have a Lieutenant-Governor, chosen by the people at large, who presides in the Senate, and is the constitutional substitute for the Governor, in casualties similar to those which would authorize the Vice-President to exercise the authorities and discharge the duties of the President," Hamilton wrote in March 1788
With research assistance from Muriel Kane.