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Frank Rich examines 'why Dick Cheney cracked up'

Published: Saturday February 3, 2007
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In his latest Sunday New York Times column, Frank Rich examines "why Dick Cheney cracked up."

"In the days since Dick Cheney lost it on CNN, our nation's armchair shrinks have had a blast," Rich writes. "The vice president who boasted of 'enormous successes' in Iraq and barked 'hogwash' at the congenitally mild Wolf Blitzer has been roundly judged delusional, pathologically dishonest or just plain nuts."

(A video clip and full transcript of the Jan. 24 Wolf Blitzer/Dick Cheney interview can be found at this link)

Rich adds, "But what else is new? We identified those diagnoses long ago. The more intriguing question is what ignited this particularly violent public flare-up."

Rich believes it has to do with the fact that the vice president may have to testify under oath at the CIA leak trial, where his former aide I. Lewis Libby stands accused of obstructing justice and lying.

"Cheney was the hands-on manager of the 24/7 campaign of press manipulation and high-stakes character assassination, with Libby as his chief hatchet man," Rich argues. "Though Libby's lawyers are now arguing that their client was a sacrificial lamb thrown to the feds to shield [President Bush's Deputy Chief of Staff Karl] Rove, Libby actually was -- and still is -- a stooge for the vice president."

Excerpts from column:


The answer can be found in the timing of the CNN interview, which was conducted the day after the start of the perjury trial of Cheney's former top aide, Scooter Libby. The vice president's on-camera crackup reflected his understandable fear that a White House cover-up was crumbling. He knew that sworn testimony in a Washington courtroom would reveal still more sordid details about how the administration lied to take the country into war in Iraq. He knew that those revelations could cripple the White House's current campaign to escalate that war and foment apocalyptic scenarios about Iran. Scariest of all, he knew that he might yet have to testify under oath himself.

Cheney, in other words, understands the danger this trial poses to the White House even as some of Washington remains oblivious. From the start, the capital has belittled the Joseph and Valerie Wilson affair as "a tempest in a teapot," as David Broder of The Washington Post reiterated just five months ago....


The explanation for the hysteria has long been obvious. The White House was terrified about being found guilty of a far greater crime than outing a CIA officer: lying to the nation to hype its case for war. When Joseph Wilson, an obscure retired diplomat, touched that raw nerve, all the president's men panicked because they knew Wilson's modest finding in Africa was the tip of a far larger iceberg. They knew that there was still far more damning evidence of the administration's WMD lies lurking in the bowels of the bureaucracy.