Ridge, Cheney Assail Holder’s Decision

By Caitlin Taylor

Aug 31, 2009 8:42am

Officials from the Bush administration this week entered the debate over national security, though President Obama's was not the only administration subject to criticism.

While former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge's new book "The Test of Our Times: America Under Siege…And How We Can Be Safe Again" indicated that he wondered whether some national security decisions by various Bush administration officials were based upon political, and not counterterrorism, concerns, former Vice President Dick Cheney took to the airwaves to assail President Obama's commitment to making the nation safe.

On Sunday, Cheney told his preferred venue, Fox News, that Attorney General Eric Holder's decision to allow a preliminary review into whether any CIA officers crossed the line in their interrogations of detainees "outrageous."

"I think he's right, pure and simple," Ridge said on "Good Morning America" Monday. Ridge said of Holder's decision, "it's wrong, it’s chilling, and it’s inappropriate."

Even though Ridge said he believed waterboarding was "wrong" and "wasn't the appropriate way for America to be conducting itself," the former Pennsylvania governor told Diane Sawyer that "to suggest four or five years later what they (CIA officers) did was criminal — I think that's criminal."

In his book, Ridge suggested that the Bush administration's warrantless wiretapping program was unconstitutional and he wrote of a time just before the 2004 election when some in the administration pushed for the terror threat level to be raised — and he wasn't sure whether their concerns were based in politics or national security.

After noting a Cornell University study indicating that President Bush's approval rating between 2001 and 2004 "increased by nearly three percentage points each time the government issued a terror alert," Ridge recalled the Friday, October 29, 2004, video message released by Osama bin Laden, at a time when President Bush led Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., in the polls "by no more than two or three points."

The next morning, officials of the Department of Homeland Security, intelligence community, FBI, and Departments of Justice, State, and Defense, participated in a videoconference. "A vigorous, some might say dramatic, discussion ensued. (Attorney General John) Ashcroft strongly urged an increase in the threat level, and was supported by (Defense Secretary Donald) Rumsfeld. There was absolutely no support for that position within our department. None. I wondered 'Is this about security or politics?'"

On Good Morning America today, Ridge said that "a lot of people are hyperventilating about that passage," but he suggested that "this was one of several times that the process worked" since ultimately the threat level was not elevated. He said he never questioned "any of my colleagues' motives or rationales."
 
Such is not the case with former Vice President Cheney who Sunday criticized Attorney General Holder for ordering a preliminary investigation into whether any CIA officers went, in detainee interrogations, beyond the letter of what they were told was the law.

"I just think it's an outrageous precedent to set, to have this kind of, I think, intensely partisan, politicized look-back at the prior administration," Cheney said on Fox News Sunday. "I guess the other thing that offends the hell out of me, frankly… is we had a track record now of eight years of defending the nation against any further mass casualty attacks from al Qaida."

Cheney assailed how President Obama said "a few months ago there wouldn't be any investigation like this, that there would not be any look-back at CIA personnel who were carrying out the policies of the prior administration.  Now they get a little heat from the left wing of the Democratic Party and they're reversing course on that."

In actuality, President Obama said it was his general personal preference that his administration not focus on the past, but that the decision would be left up to his attorney general, who would make his decision independently.

Cheney didn't buy that idea, saying, "the president of the United States is the chief law enforcement officer in the land. The attorney general's a statutory officer."

The Justice Department website states that the Judiciary Act of 1789 created the Office of the Attorney General "which evolved over the years into the head of the Department of Justice and chief law enforcement officer of the Federal Government."

Regardless, Cheney said "the president's the one who bears this responsibility, and for him to say, 'Gee, I didn't have anything to do with it,' especially after he sat in the Oval Office and said this wouldn't happen, then Holder decides he's going to do it, so now he's backed off and is claiming he's not responsible, I just — I think he's trying to duck the responsibility for what's going on here, and I think it's — I think it's wrong."

Democrats say the former vice president's furor does not come as a surprise.

"Dick Cheney has shown through the years, frankly, a disrespect for the Constitution, for sharing of information with Congress, respect for the law, and I'm not surprised that he is upset about this," Kerry said on "This Week with George Stephanopoulos."

"In fact, I think there is a little bit of a tension between the White House itself and the lawyers in the Justice Department as they see the law and as what their obligation is. And in a sense, that's good," Kerry added. "That's appropriate, because it shows that we have an attorney general who is not pursuing a political agenda, but who is doing what he believes the law requires him to do."

-jpt

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