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Cheney asks rockefeller commission to coverup { February 20 2004 }

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Bush's Iraq commission won't investigate key WMD issue
How the executive order fatally limits their agenda
By John W. Dean
FindLaw Columnist
Special to
Friday, February 20, 2004 Posted: 2:18 PM EST (1918 GMT)


Bush's WMD commission is reminiscent of the Rockefeller Commission

Bush's executive order's with its limited scope invites a comparison not to the Warren Commission or Challenger inquiry, rather with the Rockefeller Commission. This advisory panel, named after Vice President Nelson Rockefeller who chaired it, was very familiar to the current vice president, which suggests Cheney's hidden hand in this inquiry.

In December 1974, during the Ford presidency, a four-column headline-grabbing story by Seymour Hersh appeared in the New York Times. The headline was as follows: "Huge CIA Operation Reported In U.S. Against Antiwar Forces, Other Dissidents In Nixon Years." Hersh laid out a "massive, illegal domestic intelligence operation" by the CIA, which by its charter was restricted to foreign intelligence gathering.

Dick Cheney was well aware of the story. At the time, he was deputy chief of staff under Donald Rumsfeld at Gerald Ford's White House (and traveling with the president during the holiday). Cheney can't have forgotten the lessons that were garnered from President Ford's response, given his role in crafting it.

The story broke after Sy Hersh picked up a few trinkets from the CIA's later infamous "family jewels." In 1973, as Watergate was falling apart, CIA Director James Schlesinger had sent a memorandum throughout the agency requesting information about past "questionable activities." The responses were summarized in a seven-hundred page document that became known as the CIA's family jewels. More accurately, it was a time bomb.

President Ford's initial response to the Hersh story was to do nothing. But in Washington, Ford's CIA Director, William Colby, later wrote, Hersh's story "triggered a firestorm." Colby told Ford it was likely to get worse, for amongst the "jewels" were detailed reports of the assassination plots against foreign leaders (Castro in Cuba, Lumumba in the Congo and Trujillo in the Dominican Republic).

Ford's staff recommended that the way to deal with information buried and away from Congress was for Ford to initiate his own investigation and preempt the issue. In 1967, Lyndon Johnson had similarly used a commission to head off a Congressional investigation of the CIA. (Later, Ronald Reagan would, again quite similarly, use the Tower Commission to stall the Congress from looking into the Iran-Contra matter.)

Indeed, this stalling tactic, in fact, is as old as the Republic. George Washington used a presidential commission to deal with the Whiskey Rebellion.

Cheney's advice to ford then, may also be his advice to Bush now

On December 26, 1974, Dick Cheney drafted a memo to President Ford in which he cautioned that when the commission was selected, it was important that it not appear to be "a 'kept' body designed to whitewash the problem."

On December 27, 1974, in another memo to President Ford, Cheney spelled out the goals for a proposed commission: it would prevent Ford from being put on the defensive; it could minimize damage to the CIA by heading off the "Congressional efforts to further encroach on the executive branch" (a refrain that Cheney repeats to this day three decades later); and it would show Ford's leadership.

Fortunately, the Rockefeller Commission did not prove to play quite the role Cheney had scripted for it -- but that was not for lack of trying.

Kenneth Kitts, a political scientist who focuses on relationships between presidential power and national security decisionmaking, reported on Ford's "commission politics" in the Presidential Studies Quarterly (Fall, 1996). Kitts notes that Ford's executive order creating the commission limited the scope of the inquiry (seeking to prevent examination of the assassination plots). Cheney may have taken a page from the Ford administration if he helped to draft Bush's very limited Iraq/WMD executive order this year.

Kitts also notes that while the members selected for the panel appeared "to be quite conventional," in truth, the commission had been stacked. Ford had personally called each appointee in order to brace each of them -- stressing "the need to protect the [CIA's] ability to operate" and advising them about "any public positions on CIA activities that might be troublesome."

Kitts also found that the Ford White House controlled the commission's staff selection. Moreover, once the commission was in operation, "[b]ehind-the-scenes maneuvering shaped the panel's activity throughout the investigation and even altered the content of the final report."

In the end, the Rockefeller Commission did not do what Ford and Cheney had hoped. For they did a good job, and when Ford tried to suppress their report, public and Congressional outrage forced its release. Rather than make the issues disappear, the entire drill only focused more attention on those issues.

Congress and the news media saw through the fašade. As a result Congress launched two highly aggressive investigations: the Pike committee in the House of Representatives, chaired by Congressman Otis Pike (D. -Texas), and the Church committee in the Senate, chaired by Senator Frank Church (D. - Idaho).

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