The Magazine

Cheney Speaks

On Clinton's pardons, 9/11 as seen from the White House bunker, mistakes made in Iraq, and more.

Jul 23, 2007, Vol. 12, No. 42 • By STEPHEN F. HAYES
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Buy Cheney: The Untold Story of America's Most Powerful and Controversial Vice President, by Stephen F. Hayes.

On January 20, 2001, Dick Cheney and his wife Lynne accompanied George and Laura Bush to worship services at historic St. John's Episcopal Church. The weather was dismal, cold and rainy. When the service ended, they climbed into limousines for the one-block trip across Lafayette Park to the White House, where, according to the schedule, they were to have coffee with the Clintons and Gores before the inaugural ceremony.

Clinton wasn't ready.

"We got in the cars and we had to wait," says Cheney. "And then we had to wait some more, and then we had to wait some more, and then we had to wait some more." The famously unpunctual Clinton was finishing his term in signature style. "We must have waited about half an hour before we could go over there."

Once they got to the White House, the couples passed some time in the kind of small talk Cheney typically avoids. "We got over there and made nice-nice and so forth," he says, "waiting to go up to the Hill." Bush and Clinton rode to the ceremony together, while Cheney joined Gore and several members of the congressional leadership for the short drive down Pennsylvania Avenue.

The conversation on the way to the Capitol was more substantive than the one at the White House. Gore joked about the last-minute presidential maneuvering that required Bush and Cheney to wait for their host. "We were laughing," Cheney recalls, "because Gore was explaining the reason we'd been delayed and they hadn't been ready to receive us on time was Clinton had been upstairs pardoning people."

Cheney felt a sense of familiarity as he arrived at the Capitol. He had taken many oaths of office before--as White House chief of staff, six times as a member of Congress and later, as secretary of defense--and he had been on the platform for the inaugural ceremonies of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

"Vice President Cheney, an old, old Washington hand," said ABC News anchor Peter Jennings, as the cameras captured Cheney joining the ceremony. "Sometimes said, particularly among the skeptical about George W. Bush here, that he'll be the one with real influence in the city. It's not to say that George W. Bush hasn't had experience here, but Dick Cheney knows this town extremely well. Served in the House of Representatives, served as the secretary in various cabinets, and certainly knows that this town is not--not always paved with goodwill."

"It's a terrorist act"

Shortly before 7:00 A.M., September 11, 2001, Cheney sat for his regular CIA briefing in the small, first floor library of the vice president's residence. The session was unremarkable. On a typical day, Cheney gets into the car waiting to take him to the White House at 7:30. In a six-car motorcade that races across downtown Washington, D.C., blowing through stoplights, it takes five minutes to cover the three miles from Cheney's home at One Observatory Circle to the White House. When he arrives, he joins President Bush for his intelligence briefing at 7:45.

Cheney's solo briefing is more detailed than Bush's because the vice president asks for more material; Bush is the big picture guy, Cheney wants details. The vice president will sometimes ask questions in his briefings with Bush to make sure the president is exposed to in-depth treatment of issues Cheney deems important.

On this day, with Bush on the road, there was no intelligence briefing at the White House.

Cheney met briefly in his West Wing office with Scooter Libby, his chief of staff. Cheney was wearing a grey pinstriped suit, a crisply pressed white shirt, and a black tie with a silver, linked-chain pattern. The vice president has offices in both the White House and the Eisenhower (Old) Executive Office Building, with most of his staff located in the latter--what President Bush calls "The Ike."

When Libby returned to his office in the Old Executive Office Building, Sean O'Keefe, the number two official at the Office of Management and Budget, stopped by Cheney's office for an unscheduled visit. O'Keefe, a tall, slender man whose graying hair and push-broom mustache give him a striking resemblance to Peter Sellers in The Pink Panther, had worked closely with Cheney at the Pentagon as the military's chief financial officer and comptroller. Though he considered Cheney a friend, he knew better than to drop in for an idle chat. Cheney was accessible--he deliberately left gaps in his schedule for "staff time"--but his White House colleagues quickly learned to keep their impromptu sessions with the vice president short and to the point.