Dick Cheney- Corporate Criminal

Most powerful vice president in history really

Some vice presidents have been dubbed "the most powerful vice president in American history" while they were in office.

Reporters during the Carter administration gave that title to Vice President Walter Mondale, the former U.S. senator serving in the administration of the former governor of Georgia.

When veteran Washington insider George H. W. Bush was vice president in the administration of Ronald Reagan, we got the sense that Bush was highly influential in Reagan's major policy decisions. So Bush then became the most powerful vice president in American history.

In the Clinton era, Al Gore -- another Beltway veteran in the administration of a former governor -- was often dubbed "the most powerful . . ." etc.

Those casual references made sense at the time. Each of the vice presidents had lengthy Washington experience while their bosses were former governors with impressive political resumes but novices when it came to working the gears of the federal government.

But I think the current vice president -- Dick Cheney -- may retire the title, given his vast influence in the Bush administration. He makes his predecessors look like Little Leaguers.

Former member of Congress, former White House chief of staff, former secretary of defense -- Cheney came to the job with a blue-ribbon resume of Washington experience to help out another former governor who had won the presidency.

He is the Bush administration's eminence gris, wielding power behind the scene. In some ways he is also a mystery man, leaving few finger prints on administration policies, as befits a vice president who knows that his job is to help make the boss look good.

The super-secret Bush administration provides scant clues about Cheney's exact roles, though we know that he is the chief hawk in the White House flock and was one of the masterminds of the U.S. attack on Iraq.

Despite his unique position, Cheney has no accountability. He does not hold news conferences. He did go on Sunday talk shows when the administration needed to pile on to justify its surge to war. But he's otherwise invisible to the public.

He still refuses to reveal the names of the people he chose for the White House energy task force -- and you have to wonder why. Was there something to hide?

The public's need to know more about the task force is made more urgent because of the U.S. takeover of the Iraqi oil fields and the recent electrical blackout on the East Coast and in the Midwest.

Judicial Watch, the watchdog group that has sued to get this information, was able to spring some documents from the hush-hush Cheney task force and, interestingly, they contained maps of the Iraqi oilfields.

The vice president was in the vanguard of administration officials who pumped up the war with Iraq with scary rhetoric.

Some of his predictions have proven flat wrong -- such as his March 16, 2003, claim on NBC's Meet the Press that Saddam Hussein "has, in fact, reconstituted nuclear weapons." The facts now show otherwise. The jury is still out on other near-panic forecasts from the vice president about weapons of mass destruction.

Before the U.S. attack, when the CIA wasn't coming up with the "right" answers about Iraq for the pro-war administration, Cheney visited the agency's headquarters several times apparently to argue with analysts in an efforts to persuade -- pressure? -- them to come to conclusions that supported the administration's prior decision to go to war.

It would be wrong to mistake his quiet and unassuming demeanor as indicating something that he is not. The fact is, Cheney is the big man on campus.

He also is one of the pipelines to the Oval Office for the neo-conservatives who dominate the nation's foreign policy.

Although he has a heart ailment, health-wise, Cheney says he is ready for the 2004 election campaign and hopes for another four years in the vice presidency. Responding to a question at a news conference last November, Bush said he wanted Cheney to be his running mate again in 2004, and that Cheney had accepted. "He's done an excellent job," Bush said.

In the five years before returning to government, he was chief executive for Halliburton Co., a Houston-based oil services engineering and construction firm.

Fast-forward to 2003: Halliburton has been on the ground floor in obtaining some of the lucrative government contracts to rebuild the oil fields in Iraq. Some competitors have dropped out from the first round of bidding, certain that Halliburton with the Cheney connections has the inside track.

Early on there were quips about "President Cheney" and some concern that he was stealing the limelight.

But not to worry, Mr. President, Cheney seems quite content to be the power behind the throne.

Thomas is a Washington, D.C.-based columnist for the Hearst Newspapers. helent@hearstdc.com

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