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4TH BRANCH OF GOVERNMENT?

Published Jun. 28, 2007

What do you do when you are the vice president of the United States and some nitpicking outfit like the National Archives and Records Administration wants you to comply with the law? Why, you try to abolish the pesky agency.

That was Dick Cheney's response when asked to adhere to an executive order signed by President Bush to provide reports on the handling of classified information by his office. He hasn't bothered to file the required reports since 2003, and after blocking inspection of his records, he tried to shut down the archives office charged with making sure the executive branch protects classified information.

Cheney takes the position that the disclosure law does not apply to him because his office is not an "entity within the executive branch.'' The vice president's only constitutional duty is to preside over the U.S. Senate, but he doesn't answer to the Senate either. In Cheney's world, he is neither accountable to the executive nor the legislative branch. So what is he - a rogue vice president or a fourth branch of government?

Since Cheney insists he is not a member of the executive branch, U.S. Rep. Rahm Emanuel, D-Ill., says he will file an amendment to the spending bill for executive operations that places a hold on funds for the vice president's office until Cheney clarifies to which branch of government he belongs.

From the start, Cheney has been obsessed with secrecy, and he will go to almost any length to keep his office dark - even admitting that he is a member of the executive branch, if that's what it takes. In 2001, Cheney asserted executive privilege in brushing off a congressional probe of his dealings with oil industry lobbyists in shaping the administration's energy policy.

So the question remains: To whom, if anyone, is Dick Cheney accountable?