Addington Displays Contempt for Congress
David Addington, chief of staff to Vice President Cheney, was testifying under subpoena yesterday to the House Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties. He took great delight in being a complete jackass, as Dana Milbank details.
Could the president ever be justified in breaking the law? “I’m not going to answer a legal opinion on every imaginable set of facts any human being could think of,” Addington growled. Did he consult Congress when interpreting torture laws? “That’s irrelevant,” he barked. Would it be legal to torture a detainee’s child? “I’m not here to render legal advice to your committee,” he snarled. “You do have attorneys of your own.”
He had the grace of Gollum as he quarreled with his questioners. In response to one of the chairman’s questions, he neither looked up nor spoke before finishing a note he was writing to himself. When Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) questioned his failure to remember conversations about interrogation techniques, he only looked at her and asked: “Is there a question pending, ma’am?” Finally, at the end of the hearing, Addington was asked whether he would meet privately to discuss classified matters. “You have my number,” he said. “If you issue a subpoena, we’ll go through this again.”
When John Conyers (D-Mich.) inquired about Addington’s pet legal concept, a “unitary executive theory” that confers extreme powers on the president, Addington dished out disdain.
“I frankly don’t know what you mean by unitary theory,” Addington replied. “Have you ever heard of that theory before?” “I see it in the newspapers all the time,” Addington replied. “Do you support it?” “I don’t know what it is.” The usually mild Conyers was angry. “You’re telling me you don’t know what the unitary theory means?” “I don’t know what you mean by it,” Addington answered. “Do you know what you mean by it?”
While I must admit chuckling all the way through the story at the spectacle, Phil Carter is not amused. “Calling Addington and Yoo hostile witnesses doesn’t begin to describe the level of their contempt for Congress, the hearing and the democratic processes that brought them to testify by way of a subpoena.”
Then again, it’s easy to have contempt for this particular process. Unlike Phil, I’m not an attorney. But it seems to me that these are precisely the kind of answers one ought expect from a hostile witness presented with inane, hypothetical questions.
Congress has every right — indeed, a duty — to investigate suspected wrongdoing on the part of the executive branch. But it’s far from clear how this set of questioning was supposed to be helpful toward that end. The man is an adviser to the vice president, not a would-be Supreme Court Justice. What difference does it make what his pet theories of executive power are? What matters is what actions the president and his team actually took.
Wouldn’t it have been far more useful, then, to ask specific questions about specific activities that took place in Addington’s presence? Indeed, it appears that, in the rare times that was the case, Addington was much more forthcoming.
Addington didn’t submit written testimony and barely had an oral presentation, preferring instead to simply answer — or, as the case often was, not answer — questions presented to him. Nor does the subcommittee yet have a transcript of the testimony available. But, relying on other press accounts such as Dan Eggen’s report for WaPo, Scott Shane’s NYT account, and this AP report it appears that Addington in fact cooperated when Members asked him substantive questions.
Addington, who has been widely described as one of the key forces behind the Bush administration’s most aggressive counterterrorism policies, said some reports of his involvement were overstated. He said, for example, that he was briefed by Yoo about his 2002 memo but that he had no role in shaping it. Addington also said he was more deeply involved in the CIA’s interrogation program than the one used by the Pentagon at the military detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Under the CIA program, high-level detainees were kept in secret prisons abroad and subjected to harsh interrogation tactics, including waterboarding, or simulated drowning.
Mr. Addington recalled discussing the document with Mr. Yoo and Alberto R. Gonzales, then counsel to President Bush.
“My memory is of Professor Yoo coming over to see the counsel to the president and I was invited in the meeting with the three of us, and he gave us an outline of ‘here are the subjects I’m going to address,’ ” Mr. Addington said.
“We said, ‘Good,’ ” he added. “And he goes off and writes the opinion.”
More questioning along those lines might have gotten us somewhere. Instead, we got nonsense about hypothetical child torture or questions based on journalistic fantasies of Bush’s mind.
UPDATE: Kevin Drum and Steven Bainbridge offer interesting insights on this that are in line with my own impressions. I’m rather pleased, having expected to be an outlier with this take. This, despite Drum seeing my “complete jackass” and raising it with an “Addington is not only an arrogant prick, he’s the kind of person who revels in being an arrogant prick.”