Cheney faced little pressure from Schieffer in Face the Nation interview

››› ››› RAPHAEL SCHWEBER-KOREN & BEN ARMBRUSTER

During an interview with Vice President Dick Cheney on CBS' Face the Nation, Bob Schieffer failed to challenge assertions Cheney made regarding the war in Iraq, the Bush administration's warrantless domestic surveillance program, and recent low polling numbers.

During an interview with Vice President Dick Cheney on the March 19 broadcast of CBS' Face the Nation, host Bob Schieffer failed to challenge assertions Cheney made regarding the war in Iraq, the Bush administration's warrantless domestic surveillance program, and recent low polling numbers.

On Iraq, Schieffer did not challenge either Cheney's statement that "the Iraqis met every single political deadline" or his assertion about the progress of training Iraqi security forces. On the issue of domestic surveillance, Schieffer ignored Cheney's baseless assertion that the administration's warrantless domestic surveillance program has been a "major success in preventing attacks against the United States," and allowed Cheney to claim, without challenge, that the program is "totally in compliance with the laws and Constitution of the United States" -- a claim disputed by many, including several congressional Republicans. Additionally, Schieffer allowed Cheney to repeat the myth -- debunked by Media Matters for America -- that the Bush administration does not follow polls.

Schieffer did not challenge Cheney's false assertion that "the Iraqis met every single political deadline," nor his claim about Iraqi troop levels

The interview, broadcast during the entire half-hour show, began with Schieffer discussing the war in Iraq. He asked if Cheney's past statements -- "my belief is we will, in fact, be greeted as liberators" and the insurgency is "in its last throes" -- "may be one of the reasons that people seem to be more skeptical in this country about whether we ought to be in Iraq." Cheney replied: "No, I think it has less to do with the statements we've made, which I think were basically accurate and reflect reality." Cheney then falsely asserted: "The Iraqis met every single deadline that's been set for them. They haven't missed a single one."

In fact, in February 2004, the Iraqi Governing Council failed to meet an imposed deadline for drafting an interim constitution, which was to provide the basis for the handover of power later that year. Additionally, in August 2005, the interim Iraqi government failed to meet three deadlines for reaching a consensus on a draft constitution. Iraqi citizens eventually approved the constitution in an October 15, 2005, referendum. Cheney then claimed that Iraq's security forces have seen "major progress." He claimed that "the reality" is that the Iraqi military has "been very successful now in terms of training and equipping over 100 battalions of Iraqi troops, and it continues to improve day-by-day."

While Schieffer immediately challenged Cheney, claiming that it is "also a reality that the violence continues," he failed to correct Cheney's assertion that the Iraqis have "met every single deadline." Also, as Cheney touted the progress in training Iraqi security forces, Schieffer failed to note that in February, the Pentagon reported that the number of Iraqi battalions capable of conducting operations without assistance from U.S. troops had been downgraded from one to zero.

CHENEY: The facts are pretty straightforward. The Iraqis met every single political deadline that's been set for them. They haven't missed a single one. They took over in terms of sovereignty 21 months ago. They held national elections the following January.

They wrote a constitution, one of the best constitutions in that part of the world. They held a referendum on it last October, and last December had turnout of about 78 percent in terms of the election. And now, we're putting together a government, which they'll have formed up here shortly.

SCHIEFFER: Well --

CHENEY: On the security front, we've seen major progress in terms of training and equipping Iraqi forces. Today, roughly half of all of the missions that are being conducted over there are with Iraqis in the lead. They've been very successful now in terms of training and equipping over 100 battalions of Iraqi troops, and it continues to improve day-by-day. Those are the facts on the ground. That's the reality. Now --

SCHIEFFER: But, may I just interrupt you?

CHENEY: Sure.

SCHIEFFER: Isn't it also a reality that the violence continues? They keep finding these people that have been executed. And isn't it also reality that they can't seem to put a government together? They can't seem to find a way, a compromise, to get this government together.

Schieffer allowed Cheney to distort Sen. Ted Kennedy's position on fighting terrorism

During the interview, Schieffer asked Cheney to respond to an assertion Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA) made in a speech commemorating the Iraq war's third anniversary: "The administration," Kennedy was quoted as saying, "has been dangerously incompetent, and its Iraq policy is not worthy of the sacrifice of our men and women in uniform." Even though Kennedy's speech focused only on the war in Iraq, not the wider struggle against terrorism, Cheney replied that Kennedy's view "is sort of the pre-9-11 mentality about how we ought to deal with the world," adding that he would "not look to Ted Kennedy for guidance and leadership on how we ought to manage national security." He also claimed that an "aggressive, forward-leaning strategy is one of the main reasons we haven't been struck again since 9-11, because we've taken the fight to them. Senator Kennedy's approach would be, 'Pack your bags and go home, retreat behind your oceans, and assume you can be safe.' " But Schieffer's follow-up question did not challenge Cheney's claim that Kennedy supports a policy of "retreat."

In fact, just after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Kennedy, along with every other Democratic senator, voted to give President Bush the authority to use the "United States Armed Forces against those responsible for the recent attacks launched against the United States." Subsequently, coalition forces led by the United States assisted the Afghan Northern Alliance in destroying Al Qaeda training bases and ousting the Taliban regime. Also, in April 2003 and May 2005, Kennedy voted to increase funding for U.S. troops fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

SCHIEFFER: Let me read to you what Senator Kennedy, a liberal Democrat from Massachusetts and a long-time opponent of the war, said on the third anniversary.

Here's part of his statement. He said: "It is clearer than ever that Iraq was a war we never should have fought. The administration has been dangerously incompetent, and its Iraq policy is not worthy of the sacrifice of our men and women in uniform. Yet, President Bush continues to see the war through the same rose-colored glasses he's always used. He assumes the America -- assures the American people we are winning while Iraq's future and the lives of our troops hang so perilously on the precipice of a new disaster." "Dangerously incompetent" is what he is saying. I want to give you a chance to respond.

CHENEY: Well, I -- I would not look to Ted Kennedy for guidance and leadership on how we ought to manage national security, Bob. I think what Senator Kennedy reflects is sort of the pre-9-11 mentality about how we ought to deal with the world and that part of the world.

[...]

CHENEY: We changed all that on 9-11. After they hit us and killed 3,000 of our people here at home, we said, "Enough is enough. We're going to aggressively go after them. We'll go after the terrorists wherever we find them. We'll go after those states that sponsor terror. We'll go after people who can provide them with weapons of mass destruction."

[...]

CHENEY: That kind of aggressive, forward-leaning strategy is one of the main reasons we haven't been struck again since 9-11, because we've taken the fight to them. Senator Kennedy's approach would be, "Pack your bags and go home, retreat behind your oceans, and assume you can be safe." But we learned on 9-11 that, in fact, what's going on 10,000 miles away in a place like Afghanistan or Iraq can have a direct impact here in the United States when we lost 3,000 people that morning.

[...]

CHENEY: And I think we are going to succeed in Iraq. I think the evidence is overwhelming. I think Ted Kennedy's been wrong from the very beginning. He's the last man I'd go to for guidance in terms of how we should conduct U.S. national security policy.

Schieffer failed to challenge Cheney's assertion that Bush "ignores the background noise that's out there in the polls"

When Schieffer asked about "this charge of incompetence" regarding Iraq, Hurricane Katrina, the Harriet Miers Supreme Court nomination, the Dubai Ports World controversy, and whether the White House needed a "staff shake-up," Cheney said that, because "administrations go through peaks and valleys," "I don't think we can pay any attention to that kind of thing [polls]." He then claimed that the president "ignores the background noise that's out there in the polls that are taken on a daily basis."

As Media Matters has noted, while Bush and his administration have gone to great lengths to create the impression that the president does not rely on polling, there is ample evidence that polling data play a substantial part in his administration's political strategy and messaging. Yet Schieffer, in his follow-up, did not challenge Cheney's claim, asking instead about news reports that the White House staff is "just worn out."

SCHIEFFER: Well, let me ask you about this charge of incompetence, because we hear that not just about Iraq, but we hear it more and being raised sometimes by members of your own party on a variety of issues: the bumbling after Katrina, the Harriet Miers nomination, the failure to see the political implications of the Dubai ports deal. Some people are even saying you need a staff shake-up over at the White House, Mr. Vice President.

CHENEY: Bob, you know what this reminds me of? It reminds me of 30 years ago, when I was [former President] Gerry Ford's chief of staff and you were the CBS correspondent covering the White House.

SCHIEFFER: That's right.

CHENEY: We had the same kind of stories then, the same kinds of controversy. Administrations go through peaks and valleys. It's a tough business that we're involved in, and when you're down in the polls, you're going to take shots that you don't deserve, and when you're up in the polls, you're probably going to get praise you don't deserve. So, I don't think we can pay any attention to that kind of thing. The president's got a job to do. I've worked very closely now with this man for over five years. He's a superb leader. He's tough. He's decisive. He's willing to take tough decisions. He ignores the background noise that's out there in the polls that are taken on a daily basis. He's doing a superb job. He's got great people around him, and I simply don't give credence to those kinds of comments.

SCHIEFFER: So, what -- but, you know, many people say that they're just worn out. And we all know, whether you like him or don't like him, respect him or don't respect him, people who work at the White House work very long hours. They work very, very hard. Is it possible that maybe they just are suffering a little fatigue here and it would be good to bring in some people?

Schieffer ignored Cheney claims that warrantless domestic spying program is "a major success in preventing attacks" and completely legal

On the subject of Bush's authorization of the National Security Agency (NSA) to conduct the warrantless domestic surveillance program, Schieffer did not question Cheney's assertion that the program "is totally in compliance with the laws and Constitution of the United States," and that it has "been a major success in preventing attacks against the United States." In fact, both of these claims are highly disputed. Moreover, Schieffer did not question Cheney's assertion that a proposal by several Republican senators, negotiated with the administration for what Cheney called "broad [congressional] oversight" of the program, would not give the Congress any authority to stop individual acts of surveillance.

In response to Cheney's assertion that the warrantless surveillance program is legal, Schieffer could have noted that numerous lawmakers, such as Sens. Arlen Specter (R-PA) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and legal scholars of all political stripes, question the administration's assertion that it has the legal authority to bypass the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) to conduct warrantless wiretapping. Even members of the administration criticized the administration's legal argument. As Media Matters has noted, former deputy Attorney General James Comey, who was serving as acting attorney general while then-Attorney General John Ashcroft was in the hospital, objected strenuously to the continuation of the program, refusing to reauthorize it in 2002. Comey's refusal reportedly prompted White House chief of staff Andrew H. Card and then-White House counsel Alberto R. Gonzales to visit Ashcroft in the hospital to obtain Department of Justice approval.

David S. Kris, the former associate deputy attorney general in charge of national security issues from 2000 to 2003, argued, in the words of The Washington Post, that "the Bush administration's contention that Congress had authorized the NSA program by approving the use of force against al-Qaeda was a 'weak justification' unlikely to be supported by the courts." Another example: Bruce Fein, former associate deputy attorney general under President Reagan, recently said that the administration's justifications for the program's constitutionality "would permanently shift the political and constitutional landscape towards one-branch government contrary to the intent of the Founding Fathers." The nonpartisan Congressional Research Service (CRS) published a January 5 report that concluded, according to a January 7 Post article's description of the report, that the Bush administration's legal justification for the program "conflicts with existing law and hinges on weak legal arguments." *

Regarding Cheney's assertion that the program is "a major success," Schieffer might have pointed out, as Media Matters noted when PBS' Jim Lehrer also failed to challenge Cheney on this point during a February 7 interview, intelligence officers who have eavesdropped on the phone calls of Americans under the program, "have dismissed nearly all of them as potential suspects after hearing nothing pertinent to a terrorist threat." Further, according to "current and former [FBI] officials," "virtually all" of the tips provided by the NSA to the FBI "led to dead ends or innocent Americans." The administration's oft-cited example of the program's success -- the arrest of truck driver Iyman Faris, who has since pleaded guilty to providing material support to Al Qaeda in a plot to destroy the Brooklyn Bridge -- has been contradicted by FBI officials "with direct knowledge of the Faris case," who dispute the claim that "N.S.A. information played a significant role."

As for Cheney's claim that proposed legislation by Sen. Mike DeWine (R-OH) legalizing the program would allow for "broad oversight" by the Congress, Schieffer could have noted that DeWine's bill would not require congressional approval for any surveillance to occur, meaning that, unlike under current law, the administration would not be required to obtain approval from a neutral third party in order to listen in on Americans' phone conversations. Currently, FISA requires that a federal judge approve any wiretap targeting U.S. residents within 72 hours after the wiretap is started. As Media Matters documented, DeWine's bill allows surveillance of U.S. residents without court approval for a period of 45 days. Under his proposal, if the administration seeks to conduct this surveillance for a period longer than 45 days, it has two options -- either seek a warrant with the FISA court or swear an oath to the "terrorist surveillance subcommittees." Nowhere in the bill are the subcommittees granted the authority to take adverse action if they disapprove of the administration's rationale in any given case.

Indeed, as Media Matters has noted, Schieffer received some of the same misinformation on the March 7 edition of his own CBS Evening News, where contributor Gloria Borger apparently misrepresented the terms of DeWine's legislation, reporting that in order to conduct surveillance without a warrant under the new legislation, the president would first be required to "explain why he needs to eavesdrop to a newly created congressional subcommittee."

SCHIEFFER: Well, let me -- since you just brought that up -- will you support the move now under way in the Congress to give them more congressional oversight on the eavesdropping program?

CHENEY: I've been directly involved, on behalf of the president, in negotiating with the members of both the House and the Senate and the Intelligence Committees in setting up the new arrangements. We negotiated an arrangement whereby there will be subcommittees in both the House and the Senate of the intelligence committees that a larger number of members, for example, seven members now in the Senate instead of just the two that have been briefed previously of the committee, will be fully briefed into the program. And we've already had that briefing. Shortly, we'll have a similar briefing for the House. We are working with them to give them broad oversight with respect to this program. But it's a very important program. It is totally in compliance with the laws and Constitution of the United States. It's been a major success in preventing attacks against the United States. And it needs to be preserved and protected. Now, intelligence areas are one of the areas the president asked me to work on when I first came on board. And I've had an interest in this subject going back 30 years to my days in the Ford administration. So, it's an appropriate one for me to work on, but it also means going out publicly and defending it. A lot of people would perhaps run for the hills or avoid controversy. And, obviously, I don't feel that way.

SCHIEFFER: Let me go back to one thing you said about serving out your term because some -- you hear some of these Republican pundits and strategists that say, well, since the vice president does not have any aspirations to be president, maybe a year or so before his term is up, he might step aside for one reason or another so you could put somebody else into the job and that that person would then have a heads-up on getting the nomination.

Schieffer let Cheney off the hook on actions after he shot Whittington

In addition, Schieffer accepted Cheney's statements regarding his recent shooting of Texas lawyer Harry Whittington. Cheney stated: "[T]he way we did it [notified the public about the shooting] I thought was appropriate, which was to have Katharine Armstrong, who was a witness to all of these events, call the local newspaper. They immediately got it, immediately put it on the wire, and everybody had it."

Schieffer failed to note the contradictions in Armstrong's account, as Media Matters has noted.

SCHIEFFER: I must ask you about what you have called the worst day of your life: the day that you accidentally shot your friend Harry Whittington down in Texas on that hunting expedition. You didn't make it public for almost a day. Now, you told [Fox News Washington managing editor] Brit Hume the other day that you still thought that was the right way to go about it. But I just want to ask you: Now that you've had some time to reflect on it, could that have been better handled?

CHENEY: Well, I think it's one of those situation or circumstances that is obviously difficult and generates controversy. It's probably the first time the Secret Service ever had to worry about a protectee shooting somebody else instead of being shot at. As the president said the other night, he's at 38 percent in the polls, and as a result of this incident, I shot the only trial lawyer in Texas who supported him. So, people can laugh about it now, but at the time, it was deadly serious.

SCHIEFFER: Well, I can imagine.

CHENEY: And the -- I must admit the first thing I thought when I saw what had happened and rushed over to help Harry, I did not think, "Gee, I better call the press corps and tell them what's going on here."

SCHIEFFER: Sure. But later on, shouldn't you have --

CHENEY: This is about 6 o'clock at night. By the time we got him to the hospital -- and we did not know until the next morning exactly the status of his medical condition. And that's when we began to notify the press. There'd been controversy over whether we should have called the White House press corps. I didn't have any press people with me. This was a private trip -- or do it the way we did it. And the way we did it I thought was appropriate, which was to have Katharine Armstrong, who was a witness to all of these events, call the local newspaper. They immediately got it, immediately put it on the wire, and everybody had it. So, it struck me as a bit of a tempest in a teapot over the question of how it was announced. It was announced by us, I believe, in a timely fashion as soon as we knew what Harry's status was.

SCHIEFFER: Well, you do believe that elected officials owe the public an explanation for their actions?

CHENEY: Sure. I mean, this was not part of my public duty and responsibility or my official duties at all. But there is bound to be interest in it when something like that happens because I am the vice president, and we treated it that way.

SCHIEFFER: All right, Mr. Vice President, thank you so much for coming.

* This item originally attributed the phrase "conflicts with existing law and hinges on weak legal arguments" to the January 5 Congressional Research Service report. In fact, this text appears in The Washington Post's January 7 analysis of the report but not in the report itself. The relevant quote from the CRS report is as follows: "Given such uncertainty, the Administration's legal justification, as presented in the summary analysis from the Office of Legislative Affairs, does not seem to be as well-grounded as the tenor of that letter suggests." We regret the error.

Correction: 

1

We've changed our commenting system to Disqus.
Instructions for signing up and claiming your comment history are located here.
Updated rules for commenting are here.